Fire forces St. Vincent de Paul lunch guests to dine down the street

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The inside of the St. Vincent de Paul dining room in Mesa was damaged by a fire. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
The inside of the St. Vincent de Paul dining room in Mesa was damaged by a fire. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

By Ambria Hammel
The Catholic Sun

MESA — Investigators are still determining the cause and extent of fire damage to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room.

A passerby called it in around 4:30 a.m. July 4. Firefighters contained the flames largely to the ceiling, and while affected, St. Vincent de Paul’s daily lunch service has continued without a hitch.

The air-conditioned building is unusable, but staff and volunteers were able to hand out sack lunches at its covered outdoor picnic tables July 4-5. Hot lunch service resumed July 6 thanks to a partnership with Paz de Cristo Community Center, which sits one block to the west. The outreach center serves dinner to homeless and low-income guests nightly in addition to a host of other regular services for those trying to get back on their feet.

Many rely on both places for food and both locations are directly on the bus line making the adjustment so far rather smooth.

“We could still get everyone fed who counts on us for a meal,” said Danielle Ricketts, dining room manager for St. Vincent de Paul.

Vincentians serve clients a meal July 7 at their temporary space provided by Paz de Cristo. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Vincentians serve clients a meal July 7 at their temporary space provided by Paz de Cristo. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

It actually harkens back to a 10-week period within the last two years when St. Vincent de Paul served out of Paz de Cristo during a floor remodel. The small move for temporary operations is once again helpful on every front: staff, guest and volunteer. St. Vincent de Paul will serve hot lunches at Paz de Cristo, 424 W. Broadway Road, 9:30-11:30 a.m. almost daily.

“It just made sense,” Arlen Westling said about sharing the dining facility. Westling has spent the last 10 years as a Vincentian and the last four as executive director of Paz de Cristo. “We’re close by and we’re not using it in the morning.”

The move did slightly adjust the hours for Paz de Cristo’s chef. There might be a little more cleanup of the property too, but staff knows it’s for the good of largely the same guests.

The outside of the St. Vincent de Paul Mesa Dining Room following a fire. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
The outside of the St. Vincent de Paul Mesa Dining Room following a fire. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

St. Vincent de Paul will revert to sack lunches at the picnic tables on their own property, 67 W. Broadway Road, on the first and second Tuesdays and fourth Saturdays. That’s when Paz de Cristo’s dining room fills up with guests seeking food boxes.

Signs in front of the gated St. Vincent de Paul property announce the closure with on-site security ready to re-direct guests. Staff and volunteers are also personally spreading the word.

The largest impact the fire had for St. Vincent de Paul guests is the removal of that location as a “heat relief” station. When outdoor temperatures are high, all of its dining rooms, alongside plenty of other church outreaches, government and community buildings, offer respite in the form of hydration stations and refuges. The closest one now is a good two miles to the northeast.

Carol Reed, St. Joseph the Worker’s employment outreach specialist for the East Valley, meets with a client in the parking lot of the St. Vincent de Paul dining room. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Carol Reed, St. Joseph the Worker’s employment outreach specialist for the East Valley, meets with a client in the parking lot of the St. Vincent de Paul dining room. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Partner outreach affected

St. Vincent de Paul is still notifying some of its partner agencies that regularly offer social services during the dining room’s hours. Some will also relocate to Paz de Cristo.

Others, like St. Joseph the Worker, which offers an array of job search help and resources to help the newly employed show up ready to shine, are finding different ways to meet clients. Carol Reed, the employment outreach specialist for the East Valley, usually sees 25-35 clients each Tuesday she visits St. Vincent de Paul’s Mesa dining room.

She resumed regular office hours July 5. Reed helped two with a job search and one with a monthly bus pass so the client could get to work.

“I need to provide the services to my clientele. I don’t want them to think that just because we’ve had this incident our services are going to stop,” Reed said.

Staff from nearby sober living facilities, halfway houses and other shelters regularly send clients there for job resources. Some days, Reed will be aboard St. Joseph the Worker’s Mobile Success Unit stationed in the dining room parking lot or a nearby location. When the renovated RV is at its six other scheduled stops, Reed is willing to personally meet clients in other convenient spots, including the library.

St. Joseph the Worker knows all about continuing its mission following a fire. Flames burned part of the Maryvale Success Center earlier this summer. St. Joseph the Worker staff began sharing space there a year ago and water damage from fighting the fire forced St. Joseph the Worker staff to temporarily work out of the building’s front lobby and on a reduced schedule.

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