After three and a half years of serving meals in take-out containers, Hope’s Corner reopened its doors to sit-down, cafeteria-style dining on Sept. 16, much to the delight of its diners who missed the experience of eating together at a table.
Since 2011, Hope’s Corner has served free breakfast every Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Mountain View. It has never missed a meal, even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while steadfast in its mission to provide hot meals to anyone in need, the nonprofit organization had to pivot in its operational delivery during the pandemic. It served “to-go” breakfasts only, with visitors eating hurriedly in the parking lot or opting to take their meals elsewhere.
“It was hard to maintain community,” said Maria Gines, a volunteer and board member. “People would pick up (food) and then leave.”
With the return to congregate meals, Hope’s Corner aims to build back the community it fostered before the pandemic, when people sat together and had the opportunity to socialize with one another. These connections are even more critical now, said Volunteer Coordinator Alice Cota, noting that Hope’s Corner tends to draw in a lot of elderly and unhoused people who are particularly vulnerable to social isolation.
Hope’s Corner ramped up its food services during the pandemic, providing more than 39,000 meals in 2022, according to its operations report. It also reinstated its shower and laundry program as pandemic restrictions eased, in addition to a host of other critical services provided by non-profit organizations and public health agencies.
But the nonprofit cites continual surges of COVID-19 since 2020 as a reason to hold back on the return of in-person dining, at least until now. On Saturday morning, more than a hundred people lined up and picked out a hot breakfast, which volunteers served on a plate. They also took another meal in a to-go box, along with bagged snacks.
Conversations were muted, as diners mostly focused on eating and occasionally talking to one another. Several smiled and bantered with the volunteers over cups of coffee and hot chocolate.
“This is a good food program,” said Michelle, 56, who has been coming to Hope’s Corner since the start of the pandemic.
“There’s no judgment here. I didn’t know anybody before and didn’t have a lot of friends. But here they welcome you like family,” she added.
Michelle was forced to move out of the apartment that she shared with her brother after their father died. She eventually found a room at LifeMoves Mountain View and learned about Hope’s Corner from a social worker. “Food is a big thing for me,” she said, explaining that she did not have a lot to eat when she was living with her brother.
“I’m able to eat well now,” she said.
The volunteers also remarked on the subdued atmosphere, with many noting that the sit-down breakfast was an exciting step for the organization but still an adjustment for the diners. It will “take a minute” to get used to the new routine, Gines said.
Mike Hacker, a volunteer and board member, said Hope’s Corner provided 422 meals on Saturday, which included meals at off-site locations like the city's RV safe parking lots and Day Worker Center of Mountain View. “Although I was a bit nervous about reorienting breakfast guests and volunteers to sit-down meals, it worked out pretty well,” he said in an email.