The rich, delicious flavor of biscuits and gravy greeted the guests of St. Vincent de Paul's Phoenix Dining Room on an early Wednesday morning in August. The comfort food was the first meal cooked in-house by SVdP since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nonprofit's switch to grab-and-go meals provided mainly by restaurant partners.
As guests lined up, they rejoiced at the much-missed SVdP menu item. Many had just spent the night on the streets around downtown where the dining room is located.
"It's like having a home-cooked meal again," one guest said.
Since pivoting services in response to COVID-19, SVdP has been able to bring cooking back to its kitchen while still operating with limited staff. Much of that is thanks to the U.S. National Guard, who has helped fill the gap of volunteers SVdP asked to remain home in an effort to reduce potential exposure or spread of the virus.
At the height of SVdP's restaurant partnership, the nonprofit relied on 16 different local food businesses to help continue offering the 4,000 daily meals it serves across five Valley dining rooms. The partnerships made it possible to continue feeding people in need, while also supporting local businesses so that they could keep their employees on payroll throughout the shutdown. But as restaurants re-opened and to-go services picked up, both SVdP and the restaurant partners settled back into business and a "new normal."
"We'll forever be grateful to our restaurant partners," SVdP Food Services Director Danielle McMahon said. "Together, we saw each other through tough times and transitions none of us ever expected. And we've come out a stronger community for it. We hope this won't be the end of our work together and look forward to future opportunities — hopefully in happier times — to serve our community together again."
As of September, SVdP has almost entirely shifted to cooking its own meals again and packaging them in to-go containers with the exception of a few partnerships continued at individual dining rooms.
"We're enjoying our new moment," Danielle said. "It's great to see our kitchen staff back in their groove, doing what they love and serving up some delicious food."
As the pandemic wears on, need continues to rise and St. Vincent de Paul continues to be there as more and more individuals and families slip into crisis. Our relief efforts aren't waning. They're expanding. The urgency of response is daily even after the initial shock of a pandemic wears off. Only with your dedicated support can we continue. Donate today to our COVID-19 Relief Fund.