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Frequently Asked Questions

First, a reminder about the importance of food safety and community health.

Dinner with Grace would like to remind everyone that food safety and community health are paramount in any group setting. If you feel even slightly ill, please do not put anyone at risk.  Call or email us at any time and we will make arrangements to have your duties covered by someone else.

All volunteers and residents MUST WASH HANDS and wear gloves while cooking or working in the kitchen. The site coordinators and chefs are responsible for the safety and health of this program and they will be making accommodations to ensure that everyone follows these simple steps to keep us all healthy.  Thank you.

General

Cooking

Serving

All questions regarding Dinner with Grace can be emailed to DinnerWithGrace@gracecathedral.org.

General         
 

What makes Dinner with Grace different? 

Dinner with Grace differs in that the food is prepared and enjoyed together by volunteers and the residents of the Hotel. We place equal value on feeding our guests a meal and on fostering social interaction. A trademark of this program is that each dinner is a nutritious, well-balanced, complete meal enjoyed in a setting that stimulates community engagement. Come see more for yourself.

Where am I most helpful? What should I choose to do first?

A major part of volunteering with Dinner with Grace is to experience all parts of the ministry. While we need volunteers in all areas of work, we encourage you to do what you are drawn to do and then explore the other side of this social ministry. Many people begin by volunteering to cook and learn what the program is about, then the next month they go to a hotel and eat with the residents there.

Do I need to be Episcopalian to volunteer?

Certainly not. Anyone and everyone is welcomed and encouraged to participate in this program no matter what they believe.

What if I can only help for a certain amount of time?

Dinner with Grace is a very fluid ministry. Help however you can, for as long as you can. Just let us know via email  if your plans ever change.

I am allergic to some foods, should I not help?

You should alert the coordinator or chef and they will make sure to keep you away from that dish. There is plenty to do both in the kitchen and at the Mentone that does not involve handling every dish.

What is an SRO?

SRO stands for Single Resident Occupancy hotels. These buildings formerly functioned as low-cost housing for those on the edge of homelessness and have been incorporated into San Francisco's "Care Not Cash" program, enacted in 2004. SROs are privately owned and managed. The men and women who reside in the rooms are offered placement in permanent housing as it becomes available. Episcopal Community Services operates several different hotels. Most SROs can be found in the Tenderloin, Mission District and Chinatown communities of San Francisco. Each hotel is different in its arrangements but many have communal spaces such as kitchens and many also offer social services and employment assistance for the residents.

Who is ECS?

Episcopal Community Services is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting lower-income and homeless men and women with shelter, housing and social services.

How can I get more involved with Dinner with Grace? What is the Core Team?

Meal selection as well as the responsibilities of preparing and serving a meal are coordinated amongst a volunteer group of dedicated Core Team members. Core Team members meet once a month to plan meals and discuss future goals of the program. The core team meetings are open to anyone interested and are held at Grace Cathedral. Visit the Core Team section for more information.

Another significant way you can become involved with the program further is to assist in transporting food either from the grocery store to the cathedral kitchen or from the kitchen to the sites. This is a very important responsibility. If you are interested in this, please email us.

How can I help if I cannot make it on the dates scheduled?

If volunteering in the kitchen or at the hotel is not an option, there are many other opportunities to make the Dinner with Grace ministry run smoothly. Shopping for the food, acquiring cooking supplies and equipment, as well as assisting with fundraising efforts are all ways to support the program. 

Contributing financially is an option that is always greatly appreciated.  Contributions can be made to Grace Cathedral designated for Dinner with Grace.  Be sure to select 'Dinner with Grace' in the Program Designation selection box.

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Cooking    

              

Where do we meet in the Cathedral?

Dinner with Grace cooks in the kitchen of the cathedral's Chapter House.

What should I wear?

Be comfortable. Most people stand around the center countertop while working so wear comfortable shoes. We do provide aprons. However there are no guarantees that drips, spills or splatters may not reach you.

What kinds of things will I be doing in the kitchen?

Generally, there are teams of people working on each dish for the meal. Slicing, dicing, mixing and tending the stove and oven are the primary tasks that we do. Be prepared to jump in and do everything from mincing garlic to braising carrots.

How much food do we make?

There are about 70 - 75 residents plus as many as 15 volunteers serving. During the cooking night, volunteers sit down and enjoy the meal as well. Therefore, about 95 servings are prepared in total.

Can children and youth come to cook? 

Young people ages 16 and 17 are welcome when accompanied by a parent or guardian.  We cannot include younger volunteers at present.  

What happens on Wednesday?

Around 3 p.m. a team makes final preparations and heats all the food in the Grace Cathedral kitchen. By 5:30 p.m., it gets packed up and transported to the hotel via a volunteer’s vehicle. This effort can always use more volunteers.  If you are available please let us know via email.

Where can I get the recipes for what we cook?

The recipes for each meal will be available at the kitchen the night of cooking or can be received at a later time. Recipes for all the meals are compiled and Dinner with Grace plans to publish a cookbook of sorts in the future.

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Serving                  
 

I want to serve.  Which hotel should I choose?

Both hotels are equally wonderful places to serve and interact with the community. Many people volunteer at one location and connect with people there which keeps them coming back monthly to that location. Only by trying all the opportunities will you know what you like and don't like.

Where are the hotels? How do I get there?

Parking on the street around the Mentone and the Crosby is hit or miss. The side streets are not well lit after dark.  However, there are some parking structures near the hotel if you cannot find parking on a main street. Safety is a primary concern and another option, especially for newer volunteers, is to meet at the cathedral and leave for the hotel with the food. Many buses and BART lines run near the Mentone & the Crosby.  Click here to see maps of Grace Cathedral, the Crosby, and the Mentone.  Click here to look up nearby public transit options.

What will I be doing as a server?

Volunteer servers and many residents set up the tables and chairs and put out the dinnerware. Once the food arrives, a group of volunteers will serve the plates of food and a another group will serve and eat. At dessert the groups switch so that everyone gets a chance to eat and to serve. Everyone cleans up together to expedite the process. This highly interactive volunteer opportunity is great fun for people who enjoy chatting and making new friends.

Can children serve on Wednesdays? 

Young people ages 16 and 17 can serve if a parent or guardian comes with them and remains with them at all times.  This is not an appropriate activity for individuals under 16.   

How should I interact with the residents?

A key to serving is remembering we volunteers are guests in the residents' home. Many of them have come to Dinner with Grace before and they are very receptive to conversations. Each individual is different, just like in any apartment building. There is no requirement to hold a conversation and we must respect each person’s wishes for privacy and peace. It is most important however to be yourself and be friendly.  Newer volunteers may feel more comfortable tagging along with more experienced volunteers while they serve and eat to become familiar with the group.

How should I dress?

Dress comfortably, as you would when going to a friend's house for dinner. Aprons are available since, while carrying dishes or trays, there might be some spills. Be mindful of your appearance, as your presentation will set the tone for conversations. Clean jeans and casual collared shirts are completely okay.

How can I start a conversation with a resident?

Conversations can start over anything and should not be constrained to specific topics. Use your best interpersonal skills and discuss neutral topics, being mindful of everyone’s privacy. Residents (and some volunteers) do not necessarily have religious practices and our program, while being guided by our faith, must shy away from anything that could be perceived as proselytizing.

Good topics of conversation

Topics of conversation to avoid

If at any time you don’t feel comfortable, you should say so because in many cases the boundaries are not clear. You should not remain in any situation that makes you feel awkward or concerned. Other volunteers are always close by to help conversations along.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Community Relations

The heart of Dinner with Grace is building positive relationships with people. We encourage everyone to interact with each other and share in conversation and stories. Many of the residents of these hotels are living on extremely limited means and some of them require extensive assistance from state and local agencies to survive. Dinner with Grace as a program provides a meal at their residence once a month with the opportunity to participate further in the program. At no time do we endorse any individual, volunteer or resident, personally assisting anyone else in the program financially or otherwise.

If anyone should ask/request for money in any way, please let the site coordinator or chef know immediately. This type of solicitation crosses the boundary of participating in this ministry and while we want to help anyone in need, this program is not the venue for such requests. Please email or call with any concerns or questions.

What do we do if someone does not like the food?

It is impossible to please everyone and some meals are not going to please certain people. The optimal outcome would be to begin a conversation about what they might like to see as a dish for the future. The cooks are trying very hard to vary the meals and the next month will be different. We usually have other dishes that the resident may find more to their taste. You can always refer them to one of the coordinators if the meal selection becomes more than you wish to handle.

What happens to leftovers?

Food that has not been served is kept in the fridge at the hotel for the staff to give to the residents over the course of the next few days. Much of the food is served to the residents either sitting at the table or at the end of the evening in “to-go” containers. To encourage environmentally conscious service, we discard all used containers properly and work very hard to minimize the waste of the evening.

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Still have more questions? One volunteer experience will probably answer most of the questions you have. Come join us to find out more. If you have more specific questions, feel free to ask them by email.

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