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Meals, frozen bananas served by Newport Beach restaurants at the Costa Mesa Bridge Shelter

The smell of fresh chili wafted through the air as hungry customers lined up at the kitchen window, with a volunteer in a red apron asking what additional toppings they would like.

Onions? Cheese? Sour cream?

Did they want cornbread?

A little butter ?

How about some honey?

A man, previously known at the Costa Mesa Bridge Center for only eating croutons when dining there, smiled behind the glass, then waved and thanked Newport Beach restaurateur Sheri Drewry, for the chili and fixings he was about to savor.

It was the second time they had met. At the first opportunity, last month, he tasted two baguette sandwiches she had given him, Drewry said.

“He said [that meal] was great. For someone to get so excited over a sandwich, I mean they knocked on the window and made a heart [gesture]. He said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ and it made my whole day to know he had something good in his belly instead of croutons,” Drewry said Friday afternoon as a volunteer served. bowls of chili from his company. , Wilma’s Patio Restaurant.

Courtney Alovis of Sugar n’ Spice in Balboa Island delivers frozen bananas to the Bridge Shelter freezer on Friday.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Other customers leaned over to ask when they could get a frozen banana at Sugar n’ Spice on Balboa Island. Costa Mesa outreach supervisor John Begin laughed as he said they had to serve lunch first and then they would start “throwing everyone bananas.”

This is the second lunch rush Drewry and Courtney Alovis of Sugar n’ Spice have taken over the Costa Mesa Bridge Shelter, despite being just two of the few other organizations and restaurants in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach who have fed shelter residents over the past year.

Alovis and Drewry said they became involved in the donation to the facility through their publicity and marketing teams and, for Drewry, through his personal relationship with the Newport Beach homelessness coordinator. , Natalie Basmacyan.

“They said, ‘We need help’ and asked if we could help and we jumped on it,” Drewry said. “It was the right thing to do, so now we’re here. It’s an amazing place. It’s amazing what they are doing and we just want to help as much as we can.

Sheri Drewry of Wilma's Patio and Courney Alovis of Sugar n' Spice, left to right.

Wilma’s Patio’s Sheri Drewry and Sugar n’ Spice’s Courtney Alovis, left, stand in the kitchen of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa Friday.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

Both said they received excellent feedback from shelter residents. Alovis noted that some had told him that frozen bananas reminded them of their childhood. About 70 frozen bananas and about the same number of chili and cornbread dishes were donated Friday by the two local restaurants.

That was just enough to feed every person in the shelter, which is currently at capacity, Begin said.

The plan, Drewry and Alovis agreed, was to continue their monthly giving.

Other local restaurants including Toast Kitchen and Bakery, Dick Church’s, Newport Rib Company and Dave’s Hot Chicken have also donated breakfasts, lunches and dinners to the shelter. Begin said he tries to reach out to others, but noted that Bracken’s Kitchen in Garden Grove will take over the shelter’s kitchen in June.

Costa Mesa Neighborhood Improvement Manager Nate Robbins said the shelter has served about 204 people, of whom about 33 have moved to permanent housing over the past year.

Basmaciyan confirmed Friday that at least 65 people who came through the shelter were from the Newport Beach community.

Melanie Vinyard serves chili and cornbread at the kitchen window.

Melanie Vinyard serves chili and cornbread from the kitchen window of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach operate the shelter, with Newport Beach contributing $1.6 million in one-time funds to build the shelter and $1 million annually for operating costs.

Begin said the shelter is looking for volunteers to help distribute food in the kitchen. Interested readers can contact Bracken’s Kitchen at [email protected]

Those interested in volunteering at the shelter in general can contact Mercy House, the shelter operator, at [email protected] and businesses interested in donating meals can contact Begin at [email protected]

There’s more to food, Begin said, than just eating.

“What we’re really trying to create is community and that the community is involved in the process in the shelter. It’s not just a municipal government program. It’s really the city coming together and blessing those on the streets and helping them move forward,” Begin said.

A customer thanks waitress Melanie Vinyard for a second piece of cornbread.

A customer thanks waiter Melanie Vinyard for a second piece of cornbread in the dining room at the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

“If you go to [Bracken’s] website, they have a great quote about how food is not just physical food, but food for your soul,” he continued. “The family gathers around the table to eat. People gather around the table to eat — friends and community. I think that’s where relationships really feed, not just food, but you also feed into your soul to come together and have a good meal.

“We’re able to breathe people nutritionally through a good meal, but also fill them up in a good way.”

Customers enjoy chili and cornbread in the Bridges Shelter dining room.

On Friday, customers enjoy chili and cornbread in the dining room at the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement