OCEANSIDE — More than 250 men, women and children enjoyed a hearty feast of turkey, ham and all the trimmings at Brother Benno’s soup kitchen Christmas morning.
The soup kitchen serves breakfast Monday through Friday and brunch on Saturday to those in need. On Christmas Day the nonprofit pulled out all the stops to make the meal memorable.
Preparations began three days ahead of time to ready food donated through the Feeding San Diego program, and other foods bought with community donations.
The estimated cost to provide a hot meal is $3 a person. Dennis Martinek, volunteer president of the Brother Benno Foundation, said the Christmas Day brunch is cooked and served for under $1,000.
The nonprofit has a small staff. Most of the hands-on work to feed the community is done by volunteers. More than 250 volunteers help out each month.
About 40 cheery volunteers helped cook, serve and ensure guests were comfortable Christmas Day. Martinek said the day was all about giving. Individuals, families, church members and community group members lent a hand.
“They’re good-hearted people who want to help others,” Martinek said. “A lot of families come out.”
A musical group of 15 performers also volunteered to play uplifting Hawaiian Christmas songs during the hour and a half holiday brunch.
Brother Benno’s is closed for New Year’s Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, but stays open to serve a meal to those in need on Christmas.
Martinek said he feels Christmas Day is when a warm meal and a place to gather is most needed.
“People need somewhere go and eat on Christmas,” Martinek said.
The holiday meal draws about 100 more guests than the organization’s daily breakfasts.
Martinek said Brother Benno’s goal remains the same year round.
“More than anything else Brother Benno’s tries to uplift the dignity and help provide people with basic needs,” Martinek said. “Volunteers want to share in that and provide their time.”
To help move people to self-sufficiency, Brother Benno’s provides men’s and women’s 12-step recovery programs, clothing, hot showers and laundry facilities. Guests can also access mail and telephone services, receive bus passes, apply for emergency assistance with rent and utility costs, and get help to replace personal identification.
Guests can make free long-distance calls to family and loved ones on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Laundry services and replacement of identification are provided in exchange for volunteer work at the Brother Benno’s center.
The organization delivers monthly supplemental food boxes to Camp Pendleton military families.
College scholarships for high school students, and help with education costs for adults who are returning to the workforce, are also available.
Free meals have been served for 34 years. Most guests are working poor, disabled individuals and seniors.
Services are provided free of charge and are funded through community donations and Brother Benno’s Thrift Shop and furniture sales profits.
Brother Benno’s is located at 3260 Production Avenue, Oceanside.