Gail Hoffman believes she was called upon by God to feed the hungry.
Approaching retirement in 2013 after a teaching career, she was approached by her former pastor who suggested that she start a preschool at her church. Hoffman decided to pray about it, at which time she received a surprising message: “feed the hungry.”
“But I’m not a cook,” Hoffman said she replied.
Two times more, she asked the question and received the same response. The third time, she got the answer she needed.
“I prayed about it again: ‘I’m not a cook.’ The third time, he said, ‘I am,’” Hoffman recounted. “In the Bible, he tells us ‘I’m the Great I Am.’ … I had this vision of people coming in one door and going out the (other), both getting fed and spiritually uplifted.”
Hoffman approached the board of the San Andreas Community Covenant Church, where she was a parishioner, and told them that she had been called upon to start a meal for the hungry.
A first meal of spaghetti was brought to fruition with money out of Hoffman’s savings and help from her family. About 35 people attended, but each week there were more.
Soon, the church was preparing approximately 200 meals each Wednesday. Four teams of unpaid volunteers, each with a head cook, were formed to plan, prepare and serve a hot meal for every week of the month. Rain or shine, the volunteers feed any and all who attend, free of charge.
The Community Meal is now funded by donations from parishioners as well as from the Catholic and Episcopal Churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Hoffman estimates that about one-third of those served are struggling with homelessness, while others are workers and elderly people who are hungry for a good meal and togetherness. During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the meal pivoted to take-out only and still served over 10,400 meals.
Yet Hoffman is excited to announce that the Fellowship Hall at the church will reopen for indoor dining on June 16.
“(The) hall was a meeting place for not only the homeless to get inside and get a hardy meal, but for people living alone and lonely to come and enjoy a meal while visiting with others, for working people to find a good meal after a long workday, and for families who were unable to afford the cost of dining out to stretch their income,” Hoffman said. “For many it was, and will be again, the special place where once a week they relax and visit with old and new friends. Health workers in our community have reported that they are grateful, as they hear frequent stories of how this meal is the mainstay for individuals and families that struggle to provide food for themselves and their families.”
Recently, parishioner Julie Youngblood took on the duties of kitchen manager, volunteering roughly 20 hours per week alongside Hoffman. Other church members have spearheaded expanded services at the Wednesday meals, bringing bread from the Resource Connection, as well as nonperishable goods and personal hygiene products for visitors to take home.
The church also offers a free clothes closet for diners to shop after their meal, open 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Always in need of more volunteers, Hoffman requests that those interested visit the church website at saccc.net. Each volunteer must complete an online Servsafe test before getting to work.
“It is work, but it is such a joy,” Hoffman said. “I get so much enjoyment out of helping other people, and I know Julie is the same. We want to lift their spirits and help other people. We get blessed more than we give, and everybody that works (here) feels the same way.”
The Community Meal runs from 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the San Andreas Community Covenant Church, located at 261 Treat Ave. in San Andreas. Call Gail Hoffman at (209) 754-3085 for more information.