Little Caesars warmed the hearts of the homeless when its 53-foot-long semi truck, known as the Love Kitchen, rolled into the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program’s (GRIP) parking lot on 165 22nd Street on Saturday to give away free slices of piping hot pepperoni pizza.
Staff from nearby San Pablo, El Cerrito and Richmond Little Caesars franchises volunteered their time to serve 250 pizzas to those in need. It was the Love Kitchen’s first visit to the city of Richmond.
“The (Little Caesars) owners wanted to give something back to the communities in which they did business,” said driver Jeff Omara, 49, as a long line of people formed and extended from the parking lot to the corner of the building and around the block of 22nd Street. “Little Caesars corporate headquarters calls local organizations and they choose stops according to need. You never know where the truck will show up next.”
Since its start in 1985, the Love Kitchen has helped more than two million people in 48 states and three Canadian provinces. Their goal is to feed the hungry, the homeless and victims of disasters. According to a press release, the traveling food kitchen has provided relief to hundreds of thousands of victims and rescue workers in times of need, including after the Oklahoma City tornadoes in 2013, the east coast’s Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and California’s San Fernando Valley earthquake in 1994.
Omaha, who hails from Detroit, said the truck travels to a different city every day. From Richmond, they’ll head to northern California and make their way through Portland and Seattle. On his days off, Omara hands the truck over to his partner, Rick, alternating shifts to operate it seven days a week.
GRIP, a vibrant community advocacy and outreach organization founded in the late 1960’s, opened their first food pantry in 1971. Their family shelter houses 20 families, or 60 or so people a night. They also have a Homeless Prevention and Rapid re-housing Program helping more than 41 families to remain off the streets.
“Contra Costa County has more than 5,000 people who are homeless,” said Kia Croom, GRIP program director. “The city of Richmond by far has the most vulnerable and needy.” Croom said that along with Richmond residents, people from Hercules, Fremont, San Pablo and El Cerrito visit GRIP. “Little Caesars has helped us in achieving our mission by giving food to all who are hungry,” she added.
Elizabeth Casado, 21, has been staying with her family at GRIP for the last couple of months. “We were pregnant and homeless,” said Casado, whose husband couldn’t find stable employment. She gave birth to her daughter Stephanie a month before things started hitting bottom. “We had no choice but come to GRIP,” she added. “We are slowly working our way out.”
Lorena Valencia, a volunteer working at GRIP with her children, said that the money the people in need would have used for the meal could now be used elsewhere. “It gave people a reason to believe that somebody else in the community cares about them, too, other than the shelter,” she said.
Omara said that the Love Kitchen fed 700 people at a shelter in Stockton on Friday. “I loved seeing the smiling faces,” he said.