The Ongoing Miracle: Our Dining Room Program

On any given day, our Dining Room Program can serve between 350 to 1,000 homeless men, women, and children. We strive to provide a warm, nutritious, and filling meal to every guest that enters into the Dining Room for lunch and based on feedback from our guests, we seem to be achieving this goal.

Yet, I remained curious about the Dining Room Program and decided to discuss this program with Chris Delany, co-founder of Loaves & Fishes. I wanted to know what her initial vision was for the Program and what she has learned along the way.  Here is what she had to say:

What has been your overall hope for the Dining Room Program?

My hope was that it would keep going as long as it was needed, that we would have enough volunteers, and that we would have staff who understood and appreciated our mission, plus who would treat our guests like they would Jesus Christ.

Do you think the program has achieved this goal?

Yes, for all these years it has gone beautifully. I think of it as an “on-going miracle”.

How have you seen the program change over the years?

The program has not changed very much over the years, except for the location and the physical size.

Did you ever expect the Dining Room Program to expand as much as it has? Where do you see the program in the future?

No. When we started the Dining Room, I thought it would die down after a few years, yet the numbers kept growing. It seems there is always going to be a need. The numbers continue to grow. There will always be a need.


What has been the most rewarding part?

People are amazed that we started Loaves & Fishes. When I talk with groups, I like to tell them that Dan and I planted a tree with Loaves & Fishes. And that tree has grown so much that it now bears fruit and the people take the food and sleep under that tree. I am just amazed. And I call it a miracle.

If you could change one thing about the Dining Room Program, would you?

I don’t think I would change anything. It’s doing God’s work.

What is your favorite meal served in the Dining Room?

Taco Casserole!

What do you wish the greater Sacramento community understood about our homeless community?

Everything. Have heart for people who live in poverty, who don’t have any breaks. There really could be no poverty if everyone had a job, had housing, had money. But, that doesn’t seem to be coming. I’m 85 years old, but it hasn’t changed very much in people helping others.

Jerry Ryle, Dining Room and Jail Visitation Volunteer

At over six feet tall, Jerry Ryle’s deep voice has a slight Irish lilt. Now, a retired priest, he grew up in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento. At the time, the neighborhood was composed of working class families and Sacramento was a small city – with a population of just 240,000 people.

“Back then no one locked their doors,” he said. “I always wanted be a soda jerk at Vic’s Ice Cream Shop. They had the best ice cream.”

Jerry never got the job, but he worked as a bag boy at the Arata Brothers grocery store next to his family’s bar, the Irish Tavern.

“Oak Park was heavily Irish and then it was mostly black and now it’s getting gentrified,” he said.

Jerry entered the seminary when he was a freshman in high school. Twelve years later, he finished his studies and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sacramento.

His first assignment was at St. Patrick’s in Grass Valley – a community rich in California Gold Rush history. He then taught at St. Francis High School. Following that, he spent two and a half years at The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian farming monastery nestled in the northern Sacramento valley. Though Jerry was attracted to the communal monastic life, he realized that his true vocation was in the parish community. He loves people and savors listening to the stories of their lives.

After leaving the monastery he was sent for several years to St. Philomene’s Church in Sacramento. He then was entitled to a new sabbatical year which he spent at the University of California in Berkeley. There he pursued studies in medieval European history. After this, he served as an assistant pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Vallejo. From St Catherine’s he was sent to St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, located in the neighborhood of North Highlands. There he was finally made a pastor.

During Jerry’s 14 year tenure at St. Lawrence, three homes near to the church blew up in meth lab explosions and the church’s glass tower was shattered with gunshots on three different occasions.

Once, a lover’s quarrel occurred right across the street from church after evening mass. The victim of the shooting crawled over to the church asking for help. Jerry left his parishioners to meet the man outside  so that he didn’t bring the crossfire to the congregation.  Two parishioners — Mary, a nurse and Carol, a PE teacher — came with Jerry to help the man before an ambulance arrived.

“Mary automatically took off her white wool coat and made a pillow for his head and I thought that was the sweetest thing,” Jerry said.

The man survived, but it took over a year for the shooting to come to trial.

“It was just another day in North Highlands,” Jerry said.

Because North Highlands had an emerging Mexican population, Jerry decided to study Spanish for two months in Cuernavaca, Mexico to be able to reach out to new parishioners.

But after his schooling in Mexico, the Diocese transferred him to the heavily Spanish speaking parish of St. Christopher’s in Galt. In the rural and predominantly Mexican farming community, Jerry says that he gradually learned conversational Spanish. It took a year for him to become oriented to the culture of the vineyards and the dairies. But, once he was welcomed into the community’s Mexican culture, Jerry said that Galt became a dream come true.

As a retiree, Jerry lives in Campus Commons, and is an avid reader. He enjoys cooking and having friends over for dinner. His favorite dishes include chicken Provencal and pasta Bolognese.

On Tuesdays, he volunteers in the Loaves & Fishes dining room and performs food prep from 6:30 to 10 AM. After that, he volunteers with the Jail Visitation program.

For the past year and two months, he has visited a man named Robert in the Sacramento county jail.

Though Robert spent over a year in solitary he has yet to receive a hearing. He is a poet, an artist and a committed Christian. Robert has come to know God and Jesus Christ through his bible study while in jail.

“You listen, but you also share,” Jerry said about his time visiting Robert.

Jerry has sent Robert paperback books to read including an inspirational book about the lives of saints and a book about colored pencil drawing techniques, recommended to Robert by another inmate.

Robert has shared his artistic talents with Jerry sending him and his family members some of the greeting cards he has designed.

A Mother’s Day card that Robert designed for Jerry’s niece.

Jerry says that the experience of visiting Robert in the jail has taught him that we are built to encounter one another and learn the healing power of love.

GivingTuesday Live AMA with Sister Libby

Sister Libby and I did a live AMA this morning straight from the Loaves & Fishes Dining Room. Give it a watch and learn what Sister Libby’s favorite hobby is.

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