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Photo by Dante Fontana
Formed by El Dorado County in conjunction with local organizations, the Placerville-based Upper Room Dining Hall was established in 1999 as a non-profit community kitchen that has, since its inception, served up a daily, hot evening meal – 307,733 at last count – to the hungry area residents, providing both sustenance and spiritual nourishment.
A state grant funded facilities for Upper Room, which was originally located in a modular facility at St. Patrick’s Church. As the charitable efforts of the organization increased, so, too, did its need for more space, prompting the kitchen’s move to its current location on Broadway, where today it furthers its mission to provide nutritional meals seven days a week to those in need at no cost; and support for the emotional and social well-being of both individuals and families. Upper Room’s ability to serve the number of hot daily meals to anyone who shows up to receive one – the only “soup kitchen” in El Dorado County with the ability to do so – makes it unique to this area.
Collaboration is the key. Upper Room’s Director Elly Kozlowski is quick to credit community cooperation as the organization’s chief accomplishment thus far. In fact, to say it has been and is a life-giving force for hundreds of thousands of area residents is not an exaggeration. Administered by a volunteer board and staffed by over 200 trained volunteers from local churches and various community groups, Upper Room stocks 80 percent of its food reserves from The Food Bank of El Dorado. It also provides travel-sized toiletries to referrals from local agencies, such as HELP, the Women’s Share, and SHARE. Monthly operating costs are funded entirely by community donations and volunteerism.
Upper Room has for various reasons, most likely due to the poor state of the economy, seen a spike in the number of people it serves. “Our numbers are growing,” says Kozlowski, admitting that whom we perceive as the face of hunger has broadened to include a realm of individuals who don’t fit a certain mold, but rather are merely facing hard times. “Getting a hot meal every day stretches the paychecks.” It also brings people together, serving as a social hub for individuals who are lonely and without family and friends, but still need communal comforts.
Upper Room expects a busy holiday season, and not only sets up shop for special occasions, but also ramps up. Meals are served up on every major holiday, seven days a week, 365 days a year at St. Patrick’s Church without fail. That commitment to helping others who most require it is, in large part, the reason for Upper Room’s ongoing success.
For more about Upper Room, visit stpatpv.org/serve/upper.htm.