Providing free meals, with plenty of Chili
A's hitting coach, owner Wolff, proud to give back to community
OAKLAND -- It didn't matter who Chili Davis was. The meals balanced on the trays he and A's owner Lew Wolff handed to recipients in line at St. Vincent de Paul Community Center was the main concern of the beneficiaries of the non-profit organization's free meals.
For a brief moment, Davis wasn't Oakland's hitting coach concerned with the swing planes of the A's batsmen. This was something bigger -- something more important than imparting wisdom on how to best crank a leather-bound ball over a 400-foot fence with a wooden rod.
"Anyone can come here and do this," Davis said, exchanging his A's uniform for a white apron and a pair of jeans. "I think anyone can do this. We all need to learn to give back in this world. We need to learn how to give more than to expect. This is a great way for me to wake up and realize that."
Davis and Wolff -- along with Wolff's daughter, Kari, and grandson, Arthur -- served lunch at St. Vincent de Paul on Tuesday before the A's contest against the Rangers from 10:45-11:30 a.m. PST, and later toured the facility, which has forged a long-time relationship with the A's front office over the years.
Last week, Wolff donated $5,000 for backpacks that went to St. Vincent de Paul's children in time for the start of the new school year, and he also hand-delivered 100 tickets to Oakland's upcoming game against Minnesota on Sept. 19, with a challenge to the Bay Area community to donate at least $50 to St. Vincent de Paul in exchange for two tickets to the game.
"We think it's a responsibility," Wolff said. "The more people who can help in areas, the better off we are."
St. Vincent de Paul serves lunch twice a day from Tuesday through Saturday, providing as many as 800 meals per day. Tuesday's menu featured turkey burritos with salsa verde, Mexican rice and black beans with sides of roasted broccoli and shredded cabbage with sour cream and lime juice. Seasonal summer peaches and assorted pastries were also served, with a beverage that head chef Peter Callis called cranberry tutti frutti to wash everything down.
"We're taking the perspective away that this is a 'soup kitchen,'" Callis said. "We want to make sure it tastes good, it's nutritious and will keep our clients energized for the rest of the day."
St. Vincent de Paul relies heavily on volunteers to prepare and serve its meals. It takes about 25 people on a daily basis to run the program smoothly, said Giving and Events Manager Melanie Diegel. The facility's community center provides limited medical care, free drop-in help for families, a free clothing closet and both culinary and transitional employee training programs.
The majority of their funding comes from grants and also relies heavily on corporate and individual donations, like that of the A's, for the organization to continue providing direct assistance to needy men, women and children in Alameda County.
"It always increases our visibility," Diegel said. "Any time we're able to partner with other organizations within the community, the A's have been extremely supportive throughout the years. To have a visitor come like this raises our profile."
Athletics players, coaches and managers have donated their time in servicing St. Vincent de Paul's clients during the team's season and offseason.
"It's great to receive the financial assistance because we need that, but also to come and actually do the work first-hand, I think that really says a lot," Diegel said.
"I don't necessarily feel like I'm giving back," Davis said. "I like doing it. This is fun. This was a good way to wake up this morning, walk in and help feed some people who otherwise probably wouldn't have anything to eat today.
"I think I'll appreciate my next meal a lot more, to understand that I have a privilege at something that people out there don't have."
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.