A line of people eager for a hot lunch began forming outside a nondescript building in Costa Mesa shortly after 11 a.m. Friday.
The visitors knew the doors wouldn’t open for an hour, but they wanted to grab a spot at one of the long lunchroom-style tables inside Someone Cares Soup Kitchen on 19th Street.
The site’s capacity is 65 guests at a time, so it was to diners’ benefit to get a place at the front of the line to ensure a prompt noon meal.
Executive Director Shannon Santos and her staff and volunteers serve 200 to 300 people per day. But she said she is always looking for a way to help even one more person.
“They’re like our family,” Santos said of those who frequent the soup kitchen. “We want to be able to open our doors to as many people as we can that are in need of a meal.”
With the help of $10,000 in store credit from IKEA, Santos’ goal may soon become reality.
The prize from the international furniture retailer will enable Santos to buy larger tables, new chairs and other items for the soup kitchen’s dining room. She also will be able to move the boxes full of hygiene items and other supplies that have accumulated in her small office.
Santos plans to place the toothbrushes, razors, shampoo, sunscreen and other toiletries in cabinets in the dining room so people can pick them up without having to ask.
“The goal is to have this be a warm environment where people can come, eat and really put their worries aside,” she said.
Each year, employees from IKEA’s stores throughout the United States nominate charitable organizations for a chance to receive merchandise or gift cards from the Netherlands-based company.
Each store selects up to three organizations and asks employees and customers to vote online. The charity that ranks first in votes receives $10,000 in merchandise and a design team to help make the most of the funds. The second- and third-place groups receive IKEA gift cards.
Longtime soup kitchen volunteer Chip Prevost, a salesman at IKEA’s Costa Mesa store, had planned for years to nominate Someone Cares Soup Kitchen for the annual award, but he would miss the deadline or get too busy, he said. This year, however, he did it.
“This year seemed like the right time,” he said. “We received so much positive feedback from the community. The love really poured in.”
Santos was driving when she received the call that the nonprofit her grandmother founded almost 29 years ago had won.
“I shouldn’t have answered, but I knew it was the call,” she said. “I immediately screamed and then cried. I was completely overwhelmed.”
On April 8, Santos will meet with an IKEA design team that will help her pick out merchandise and enhance the efficiency of the soup kitchen’s dining room and office.
In the meantime, hundreds of people dropped by the facility Friday afternoon to feast on homemade vegetable beef soup, meat pies from Pie-Not on 17th Street, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, salads and baked goods donated by various businesses in the area.
For some, it would be their only meal of the day.
Jeanne Gambardella of Costa Mesa is a daily fixture at the soup kitchen for a hot meal and a chance to catch up with friends.
“You can always depend on it,” said Gambardella, who has a fixed income from Social Security. “If I went out [to a restaurant] and had a lunch like this every day, I would have no money to live.”