Hot, hearty meals have been the mainstay of Paz de Cristo Community Center's food kitchen for 20 years.
Volunteer cooks and servers from East Valley churches, synagogues and charitable groups have taken turns nightly taking over the spacious Mesa kitchen and whipping up meals for about 200 people who are homeless or low-income people with housing.
Paz de Cristo (Spanish for "Peace of Christ") will be rededicated Saturday at a 20th anniversary celebration, led by Bishop Thomas O'Brien, former longtime leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. The food kitchen at 424 W. Broadway Road began Sept. 15, 1988, as an outreach ministry of St. Timothy's Catholic Community in Mesa. For the first five years, meals were prepared in a small kitchen in a house on Country Club Drive and hauled by volunteers to a street corner near Hibbert and East Main Street, where the hungry ate outdoors on curbs and grass.
"We want to let people know that we are still going strong, and we look forward to the next 20 years," said Michael Boos, executive director.
During Saturday's events, beginning at 10 a.m., recognition will be given to the 30 congregations that primarily prepare meals on a rotation basis along with Make a Difference, Scout troops and service clubs. Thirty-five donors and many individual contributors and supporters will be honored too, said Boos.
"We are going to forget people, I'm sure, but they are not here to be recognized but to serve - and, besides, God knows who is responsible," he said. "We want to try to recognize as many people as we can because if it wouldn't be for our volunteers and donors, Paz wouldn't exist."
As many as 500 are expected Saturday, and the kitchen, dining room, warehouse, chapel and offices may be visited during the open house to follow the program.
Boos said the highest evening meal turnout was 280 people, and about 71,000 meals were served last year.
He said East Valley people are demonstrating a critical need for food and assistance. Recently, Paz de Cristo gave out 797 food boxes to families in one day, the most ever apart from its annual distributions before Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The agency is awaiting approval of its application to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency and formally separate itself from St. Timothy's parish to make it easier to obtain private grants without religious affiliation. "We will continue to get a lot of support from St. Timothy's," he said. "We cherish that relationship because if it wouldn't be for them, we wouldn't be here."
With 12 full- or part-time staff members, Paz de Cristo operates on a $600,000 annual budget, with about half of its food donated by supermarket chains, community food drives and the United Food Bank. For more information, call (480) 464-2370.