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Enhancing ‘Feed. Clothe. House. Heal.’ through dining halls across the Valley

Former police officer, new SVdP dining rooms manager shares vision, success at Sunnyslope

Jim Baker will tell you that his job has only just begun after he’s helped supply a dining room guest with a hot meal.

That’s because the new dining rooms manager at St. Vincent de Paul believes in carrying out SVdP’s full mission—to feed, clothe, house and heal—at each of its five dining hall locations across the Valley.

“I think our mission is to go through our credo step by step, not just one specific ministry, and to do so across the board,” Jim said. “Our concentration abroad in dining halls should offer even more of the heal and soul work to the people we serve, a lot of whom deal with addictions, mental and physical health issues.”

Jim’s already seen the beauty of the full mission at work at SVdP’s Sunnyslope Dining Room on 10th Avenue in north Phoenix. Prior to his promotion, Jim served as a cook and dining room coordinator at SVdP’s main campus and then as the dining room supervisor at Sunnyslope for almost two years. There, he helped more than 200 families and individuals get off the street through employment and/or sustainable housing assistance. 

That was possible because of his work to build partnerships with fellow community nonprofits and agencies who could offer other services in addition to SVdP’s resources and assistance programming. Partners agreed to regularly bring their programs to the dining room, helping to increase access to services not always readily or easily available to Sunnyslope people in need.

Jim established partnerships with Circle the City, Community Bridges Inc., Desert Mission Food Bank, Native Health, Homeless ID Project, St. Joseph the Worker and eight different temp agencies that are felon-friendly and specialize in industries like construction and landscaping.

“We’ve made friendships and bridges with so many different organizations,” Jim said. “When you reach out into the community, it’s amazing how many people actually want to get involved. And really in my eyes, that’s the solution to the problem of homelessness—is having everybody involved.” 

That’s why Jim also focused on building relationships with the local business community around the dining room as well. 

“I wanted to educate our neighbors about our work and how we’re not enabling people by only feeding them,” he said. “We’re actually offering these programs that actively get people off the street.”

Jim, who is a native Phoenician, comes to this work with a unique resumé. He’s a retired police officer, who worked 20 years on the force—many of those in the narcotics unit. But he had a range of assignments from special operations to the mental evaluation unit, vice and even the detective bureau.  After an injury he left and returned to the food and beverage industry.

“My mom had a restaurant when I was growing up, and I loved food,” Jim explained. 

He saw a startup catering company to success and then ran a couple of national restaurants, including a five-star restaurant for Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Burnout and a move to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren resulted in another career change, where he supervised a distribution center in Tolleson, Arizona. There, he had another injury. With no light-duty positions at the plant, the company chose to send him 40 hours a week to volunteer at SVdP and write off his hours. 

“That’s how I ended up here,” said Jim, who started by volunteering in the kitchen and eventually worked his way up to the managing all five SVdP dining rooms. “It seems like everything I’ve done in my professional careers led me to be successful at this job.”

Now Jim is hoping to help implement his full-mission model and mindset across the dining halls and its staff. He knows this may look different at each location, especially considering individual spaces, contexts and advantages (such as the Phoenix Dining Room already having access to most services based on being part of the downtown Human Services Campus). But it’s that extra-mile attitude and step-by-step follow through on SVdP’s mission that complete his vision.

“I prayed a lot about this new position because I’m so vested in the Sunnyslope community, and I care very deeply about them,” Jim said. “But it’s funny how God answers. And the answer was: What if this could happen at the rest of these [dining halls]? How many more people can be helped? Because the bottom line is it’s about how many people we can touch.”

Clothe.

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