TRACY -- The homeless can find a free hot meal every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening at Dr. Powers Park thanks to the efforts of several local church congregations. This program, dubbed Potluck in the Park, is a continuous effort throughout the year and helps feedthose who are hungry.

On Tuesday, as the sun started to set and temperatures dropped, members of Grace Church in Tracy served more than 20 home-cooked hot meals to those in need at the park. Those receiving the meals explained that it was a combination of not only the food but the camaraderie and care that brings them back week after week.

"This is quality time with friends and loved ones," said Darmor White, 36, known to his friends as "D-Mo." White travels with his 2-year-old dog Precious, a German Shepherd and Yorkie mix.

"It's great to have something warm in your stomach and to know someone cares about you. My friend Denny (sitting down the table) started going to church because of this. I think it's cool what they do."

Along with the hot meal and fellowship with friends, D-Mo's dog received a new chew toy Tuesday evening from a member of the church junior high youth group that was helping out.

"I started this program with one bag of sandwiches," Tracy resident Kathy Goddard said. "The first hot meal I served was corn beef and cabbage, and the man just sobbed. There's so many hungry people out there.

"God gave me the strength to do this. Once this program started to grow, I went around to the local churches and got them involved taking different days to serve those in need. Now we have about nine churches helping."

In addition to the park meals three days a week, food is also served at different churches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she said. A special dinner will be served in the park on Christmas Day.

"When I heard about this, I felt convinced to reach out and help," said Dave Vallotton, outreach pastor at Grace Church. "Sometimes, the homeless feel invisible, but they are people and it's up to us to let them know they are not invisible and that they do matter."

A typical meal could include homemade chili or soup as a main dish and vegetables as one of the two side dishes served. On average, three church families will sign up to cook and serve the meals, which can often draw 20 to 40 people in need. Dinner at the park starts at 4:30 p.m.

"I really appreciate the people that do this," said resident Joanne Anthony, 55."I live on a fixed income, and without this program, a lot of us would have nothing to eat. It's more than the food, it's the good company. The group also helps supply needed things like blankets, clothes and personal hygiene products. I think it's great how they help the community, how they really care."

"Tonight was my first time being here and helping serve," said Steve Allgoewer, a member of Grace Church. "I was once homeless, and this program is a way I am able to give back. Jesus delivered me, and this is a way for me to pass along the baton to someone else.

"The best thing is being able to be together with people in need and helping make a difference in someone's life."

FREE MEALS
Dr. Powers Park is at 900 W. Lowell Ave. in Tracy. Dinners are served every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening at 4:30 p.m. There will also be a special dinner served to the homeless and hungry on Christmas evening.