Los Angeles Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen Adjusts to Coronavirus

A Los Angeles Catholic Worker member, center, offers hand cleaner to those who need it, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, while distributing free meals in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

By the middle of a typical month, the Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen on Los Angeles’ Skid Row would have served about 80 gallons of beans, to go with the salad and bread it hands out as part of every meal it serves. Since the pandemic struck, said Matt Harper, an organizer with the lay Catholic community, its clientele was going through about double that amount.

Harper, 31, said he’s noticed that many of the church groups and community organizations that provide food services to Skid Row — a 54-block area in downtown LA that is often tagged as the nation’s largest homeless encampment — have been running out of resources. “Folks were going longer and longer in between meals,” Harper said.

For the Catholic Worker’s meal center, known as the Hippie Kitchen, meeting the increased need while preventing the spread of coronavirus has meant improvising — both in how it provides its services and how it prevents the spread of the virus.

Meals are now served in to-go containers. The kitchen’s adjacent garden, where Harper said clients and others normally gather, is now closed to the public. New volunteers aren’t currently being accepted. Instead, a small coterie of longtime staffers and volunteers shows up three mornings a week to prepare meals before the Hippie Kitchen opens at 9:30. On Tuesday (April 28), volunteers in masks and gloves handed out the boxed meals through a side gate to hungry customers.

“If you come to our kitchen, you will get food no matter who you are,” said Harper, who has been with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for a little over three years. That rule of the kitchen’s existence means “we’ve had to prepare more food than I’ve ever seen us prepare before.”

Besides the greater demand for food, COVID-19 has made other needs more pressing, particularly for sanitation. On Tuesday, a Catholic Worker member sat outside the kitchen on a stool with a bottle of hand cleaner.

Harper said that although the city has supplied Skid Row with toilets and wash stations, the facilities are often without water, toilet paper and soap, which have become all the more essential during the pandemic.

Our community has been a part of protests for sanitizing stations and bathrooms for 40 years. This is nothing new,” Harper said. “While it’s good to have the physical structures of hand washing stations and bathrooms there, without the supplies in them they’re pretty useless.”

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Source: Religion News Service