BURBANK — Nearly 70 of the area’s hungry and needy filled Burbank’s Emmanuel Church auditorium Saturday for a free lunch and an opportunity to stock up on toiletries, canned gods and clothes.
The meal was provided by staff members and congregants of Emmanuel and is part of a rotation of Burbank churches that provide monthly Saturday lunches as part of the Lord’s Kitchen program.
“Our goal is to serve the hungry and treat our guests like they are dining in a fine restaurant,” Executive Pastor Bob Drumond said. “We want to treat everyone with dignity.”
Part of that was exemplified by the tablecloths, the rice pilaf that filled the plates and the smiles of volunteers who served food and drinks to each of the 69 guests.
“It’s fun,” said 7-year-old Megan Labus. “I like helping, and everyone is really nice.”
Megan is not without her own needs.
The third-grader at Jefferson Elementary school was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor but continues to help others in an attempt to lead a normal life, her father Ron Labus said.
“She heard about this [program] in Sunday school and really wanted to do it,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience.”
Since October 2006, Emmanuel has been providing food and clothes to the area’s needy from donations and money squared away in the church budget on the first Saturday of every month, Drumond said.
The church serves 70 to 80 people each meal, and 80% of those are regular guests, he said.
Volunteers, like Dan Lapwing, 49, help cook the meals, which church officials try to make as healthy as possible.
“We have about 50 pounds of meat but lots of vegetables and a salad before every lunch,” he said. “It’s a balanced meal.”
Other churches that provide meals include First Presbyterian and Village Church.
Corky Parks, 45, has been attending the 11 a.m. lunches since the church began serving food and handing out clothes.
In the late ’70s, the Air Force veteran was disabled during a training exercise in which a piece of shrapnel tore through his elbow, which is now made of plastic and held together by metal pins.
The inability to use his right arm for long periods of time has limited his professional opportunities and left him without a steady income or a home to call his own.
“I stay on a friend’s couch and pay rent, but I consider myself homeless,” he said. “But I’m happy. I have no hang-ups about my situation. The food is great here and the people are nice. I go to all the churches on Saturdays and use the services at [Burbank Temporary Aid Center]. Other cities don’t have programs like these.”
Some guests, like Lupe Posos, were new to Emmanuel and impressed with the overall tenor of the church’s operation.
“The food is great, the people are great, and I like the praying,” she said. “I look forward to this every Saturday.”
Posos has a home in Burbank, but because of a disability she cannot spend money on food and clothing.
The religiousness of Saturday’s meal was inherent in both the volunteers’ rationale for serving food and the prayer that preceded lunch.
For the non-religious, like Brian Jones, who has stayed at Burbank’s winter shelter at the National Guard Armory off and on since it opened in December, prayers are something he tolerates but does not take to heart.
“I’m not very religious, so I don’t pay it no mind,” he said. “This country was founded on religious freedom. I have respect for what they say. I like it here.”
Since Burbank’s winter shelter opened on Dec. 12, the faith-based community has stepped in to help the homeless through donations, meals and volunteerism, said officials with the Union Rescue Mission, which operates the shelter.
For Lapwing, it was never a question of if he would help, but how much.
“We just gotta help,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity. Burbank’s a special place.”