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Share the Spirit: Bay Area Rescue Mission focuses on food — and transforming lives

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RICHMOND — Seven years ago, Joe Quario came to the Bay Area Rescue Mission — homeless, with only the two suitcases that had everything he owned.

“I worked for the post office for nearly 20 years,” he said. “Over 20 years, I was addicted to meth. I was born and raised in San Francisco, and it all came crashing down in 2012: I got evicted, I became jobless, homeless and penniless. I was sleeping in BART stations, sleeping in the streets.”

Quario, 52, is now working full time for the mission training other homeless people the cooking skills that transformed his life. He wiped out his debts and, in August, was finally able to get his own one-bedroom apartment.

“I’m on my own. I’ve recovered not only physically, mentally and emotionally, but financially, too,” he said. “I’m able to be a good, functioning, clean and sober person who has a relationship with Christ. The mission and God have done a lot for me.”

The path that changed Quario’s life began in September 2012, when he signed up for the mission’s one-year discipleship and recovery program. He immersed himself in the Bible and enrolled in the mission’s Culinary Arts Social Enterprise Program, which teaches hands-on skills to cook and work in the kitchen. The program has a partnership with the culinary arts department at Contra Costa College.

Quario excelled in the program and in 2016, won a 17-day culinary arts scholarship to Italy. In 2018, he graduated with honors from the college. He’s been a chef at Bay Area restaurants, takes on catering jobs and has worked the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco every summer. He is currently attending classes in hospitality and restaurant management at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.

Food — whether it’s cooking, feeding or preparing hundreds of meals every day, 24/7, 365 days a year — plays an integral and invaluable role at Bay Area Rescue Mission. Since 1965, the mission has been serving the entire nine-county Bay Area in fighting hunger, homelessness and poverty.

“Our primary focus is on feeding,” said Daryl Burns, the mission’s grants and foundations liasion. “We started out with 12 beds and 36 meals, and we’re up to 800,000 meals a year. When you’re hungry, it’s kind of hard to get things in focus.”

Daryl Burns of the Bay Area Rescue Mission in the facility’s emergency shelter in Richmond. Burns successfully completed the mission’s recovery program and is now working full time at the Bay Area Rescue Mission as the grants and foundation liaison. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

The Bay Area Rescue Mission has received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign that serves disadvantaged residents in the East Bay. Donations helped support 49 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The mission will use the grant to provide food and holiday meals for low-income and homeless people during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The mission’s massive warehouse is stocked and restocked with donations of food, clothing, toys and flowers from Trader Joe’s, Costco, Amazon, Walmart and Safeway — all for its food pantry and to prepare hundreds of meals every day.

For Thanksgiving, the mission will serve more than 2,000 meals and give away 1,200 turkeys to needy families and individuals.

Burns said the demand for the mission’s services is growing, where astronomical Bay Area rents have led to an increase of homelessness.

Burns was homeless when he came to the mission in 2007. He had been a teacher with the Oakland Unified School District. “I got here because I made a lot of bad choices — alcohol and drugs,” he said. “My mother passed away (in 2006), and my whole life just crumbled around me. I didn’t want to cope. I didn’t see any grief counseling after that. I just self-medicated myself and as a result of that, I was arrested and lost my teaching credential.”

Burns regained his teaching credential, taught a program at the mission and worked as the receptionist before becoming the mission’s grant writer.

“In the common vernacular of the street, I was torn from the floor up,” Burns said. “There was no self-awareness. I kind of lost who I was. There’s so many stories of people here — I’m just one of them. I know what this place does — I’m testimony to it.”

Quario is clear about what the mission means to him. “I love this place,” he said. “It’s not really so much for profit — it’s empowerment. It’s to teach these guys a skill that they hopefully can take on after they leave this program.

“Having a job and being responsible and paying bills again — I’ve come this far and I know it could just be lost,” he continued. “Never again, and I don’t want that. I want to give back and I want to share what I’ve learned through my experiences in restaurants, my experiences in Italy.”

Share the Spirit

The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, funds nonprofit holiday and outreach programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

To make a tax-deductible contribution, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate. Readers with questions, and individuals or businesses interested in making large contributions, may contact the Share the Spirit program at 925-472-5760 or sharethespirit@crisis-center.org.

Source: East Bay Share the Spirit: Bay Area Rescue Mission focuses on food — and transforming lives

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