By Kristi Scott
Special to The Outlook
Many supporters of Door of Hope, a Pasadena-based nonprofit which helps families transition out of homelessness, are familiar with the organization’s meal donor program. The popular program, which allows volunteer groups to serve a prepared dinner to the families at Door of Hope’s transitional housing locations, has been temporarily halted because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Last year, nearly 300 people volunteered as Door of Hope meal donors. And on nights when meal donors are not available, parents take turns cooking for all of the house’s residents.
“In the midst of COVID-19, we’ve had to change the way we operate in order to feed families,” said Door of Hope Executive Director Megan Katerjian. “It’s not healthy to have families eat together or have various people in and out of the kitchen cooking any longer. Our families are facing a whole new challenge in the midst of experiencing homelessness.”
Chef Tony Lancaster knows what this feels like. He came to Southern California in 2008 while experiencing homelessness, with nothing but a backpack and the will to make his life better. Today, he’s the owner of HOPE Cafe & Catering in Pasadena. Lancaster uses a simple acronym for “HOPE”: Help One Person Everyday.
“He’s a wonderful example of someone who has worked hard to reach his goals against all odds – just like most of our families,” Katerjian said.
When COVID-19 hit the San Gabriel Valley in mid-March, Lancaster’s catering business changed dramatically.
“We’re under a lot of stress, just like everybody else. Our business may not make it through this downturn in business,” he said shortly after he was forced to lay off his entire staff due to event cancellations. “But if you’re a believer like me in God and Jesus Christ, you know that we’re all going to be okay.”
“You probably remember the headlines just weeks ago asking people not to hoard groceries,” Katerjian said. “Instead of stockpiling supplies, Chef Tony decided to give out what he had! In the midst of his own business laying off employees, he came to the rescue for Door of Hope families by donating the groceries he was going to use for his upcoming events.”
And Lancaster’s giving didn’t stop there. He offered to prepare meals for Door of Hope’s homeless families so they wouldn’t have to risk their health while using a shared kitchen and dining room.
“We had to figure out a way to feed the families, which was more difficult than usual because the kids are not in school so it’s literally three meals a day for 29 adults and 50 kids,” Katerijian said. “That’s a job that took 290 volunteer meal donors last year, and Chef Tony is doing it alone every day.
“Chef Tony has been able to prepare delicious and safe meals, individually packaged, and delivered daily to Door of Hope families. He’s also trained our staff and families on how to serve the meals safely. Families safely eat meals in shifts while maintaining social distance guidelines, and the dining room is disinfected in between shifts.
“Chef Tony is an angel who has given so much of his time and resources,” Katerjian added.
In the meantime, Lancaster’s business has pivoted. Because virtually all of the upcoming events he was to have catered have been canceled, he has opened a weekday curbside meal service, with many of the same items that have been available from his regular catering menu.
There are custom-made breakfast burritos (bacon, ham, chorizo, sausage or veggie) from 6:30-9:30 a.m. The lunch menu (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) offers Chinese chicken salad and grilled vegetable salad or a host of sandwiches, including turkey cranberry, old town roast beef and ham Dijon. All of the breakfast and lunch items are $8 or less.
Each weekday has a special dinner entrée, with “Chef’s Lasagna” and Caesar salad on Monday, carne asada with rice and beans on Tuesday, citrus herb chicken with garden salad and red-roasted potatoes on Wednesday, “Chef’s Chili” and Santa Maria tri-tip with mashed potatoes on Thursday, and mushroom chicken breast with rice pilaf and green salad on Friday. Dinners are available for $12 each or a “family pack” of four dinners for $40. (All dinners must be pre-ordered by 2 p.m. by calling 626-533-6885.)
Furthermore, he has used his business connections to open a “curbside corner store,” which is stocking some items which are difficult to find in local stores. For instance, toilet paper is $1 per roll, kitchen two-ply paper towels are $2 per roll, and latex power-free gloves (100 quantity in any size for $10). He is also selling eggs, tomatoes, flour, sugar, peanut butter, pecans and many other items.
“We are repacking our restaurant-quality packs for local residents, and if you have items that you would like us to offer you, then just let us know,” Chef Tony said. “Our goal is not to be out of stock.”
The “curbside corner store” and meal orders (with curbside delivery or takeout) are located at 2094 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena (next to In-N-Out Burger). All orders must be pre-ordered and paid for online. For further information, call (626) 533-6885.