As the clock strikes half past eight and the aroma of fresh breakfast drifts through the air, the Green Valley Saturday Cafe is officially open for anyone to come in and enjoy a hot meal. And for the past century, that’s exactly how it’s been.
Since the start of the 1930’s, the Green Valley Community Church has been a place of care, friendship, and faith. Being that it was founded during the Great Depression, the church provided the community with a much needed space for connection and support, often times for the less fortunate.
Although economic and social conditions have eased over the years, the church still has a valuable niche in the community, making homeless outreaches a priority in addition to its regular church activities. In 1996, a group of individuals founded The Saturday Cafe, a program at the church meant to help those in need. Initially, this meant a simple breakfast and a few free food items to-go, but evolved into many more programs, including a free grocery store and daycare for kids. Hands4Hope volunteers come to the event every other Saturday, preparing food, cleaning dishes, and taking care of the kids while their parents enjoy the meal.
The main part of the Saturday Cafe, as indicated by the name, is the breakfast. Starting at 8:00 a.m. sharp, the meal fills the church with life and the stomachs of roughly three hundred people in a span of three hours. During that time, Hands4Hope volunteers of all ages work together along with volunteers from the church and other agencies to ensure everyone is fed and getting enough groceries. The chefs, who are all volunteers, prepare a variety of food, mainly including traditional breakfast items like eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, and pastries. For the attendees, the event might just be a quick meal, but the volunteers often have a different story. Twelve-year volunteer Susan said, “I’ve been volunteering here for over a decade, coming in at 6:00 in the morning. As soon as I get here, I organize bread and produce and calculate the amount of people coming so everyone can get their fair share.”
After the breakfast, people are welcome to visit the mini-grocery store towards the rear end of the church, where they can claim a grocery bag filled with miscellaneous food items once a month and shop for other grocery items in the pantry. The selection of goods ranges widely, from fresh fruits and vegetables to coconut cakes and brownies, and takes two rooms to store. All of the food comes from the local food bank. To make sure all the guests get what they came for, Hands4Hope volunteers help stock up the grocery store, pack goodie bags filled with food, and help them maneuver through the grocery store.
The Saturday Cafe also branched out to supplying clothes to the community, taking a few donations from anyone willing to give up some gently used clothes and turning it into a full-fledged clothing store. Racks and shelves line the floors and walls of the store, filled with free, quality clothes for anyone.
In 2018 alone, the Green Valley Community Church provided groceries to 7,286 families, served breakfast to 12,737 guests, and gave out almost 90,000 articles of clothing, showing that small institution can make huge impacts on its community through hard work, dedication, and selflessness. And for long-time volunteer and church manager Bobbi, those three traits have been the key to her work at the church. “Volunteering at the church and getting up early on the weekends is hard at times,” she said, “but it keeps me going when I see the amount of help we’ve given out over the years and how we’ve improved so many lives.”
Bobbi’s words ring true for many volunteers, both in Hands4Hope and other organizations, who take a chunk out of their Saturday at the Saturday Cafe and Kids Oasis.
Hands4Hope is a non-profit, youth-driven service learning and outreach organization based in El Dorado County whose mission is to empower youth to make a positive difference in the world around them through exploration, action and leadership. Hands4Hope is comprised of youth volunteers ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.
For more information about the GVCC Saturday Cafe and/or Hands4Hope visit hands4hopeyouth.org or call the Hands4Hope Youth Center at (916) 294-7426.
-Article written by Kiran Belgal