Grace Diner continues to be a beacon for the needy

Meal program has partnered with other groups to continue outreach

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Courtesy photo GRACE—Lisa Skelley of Grace Diner is seen hard at work in this 2021 photo. She is joined here by Rick Mekemson, a Culver City Middle School science teacher and Grace Diner volunteer.

With more than 11 percent of the world’s population going hungry on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever to do whatever can be done to ensure that those 805 million people are able to eat regularly. Grace Diner in Culver City is doing its part to stem the tide of the increasing numbers of hungry people by focusing on its mission to serve those in the community with a free three course meal. Those who benefit the most from Grace Diner’s efforts include the homeless, senior citizens, veterans on a limited budget, the developmentally disabled, and poor working families with children. Lisa Skelley, program coordinator, said that Grace Diner, which is affiliated with Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Culver City, has established partnerships with other churches such as the Culver Palms Methodist Church and the Temple Akiba who have been strong supporters of the Diner for many years. Prior to the pandemic in early 2020, Grace Diner served about 110 meals out of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Culver City on Monday nights in a restaurant-style setting but after COVID, the diner began doing a take-outstyle service thanks to help from FeedCulver which was assembled on an emergency basis to help prevent local restaurants from closing. FeedCulver is comprised of a group of restaurants that agreed to make meals for Grace Diner who would then distribute the meals to those in need. Grace Diner began by serving meals three days per week and then they went up to five days a week. They are currently serving meals four days a week. “Larger organizations such FeedCulver, the Exchange Club and the Rotary Club have been instrumental in helping us stay open,” Skelley sad. “They continue to assist us in our fundraising efforts and we’re beyond grateful for their support.” Currently Grace Diner is using the help of a caterer to prepare the meals, and paying for everything themselves, which is not exactly cheap. Prior to COVID, Grace Diner spent $14,000 per year on food and now they are at a cost of $90,000 annually just to serve 200 meals per day. The high cost of food is the reason why Grace Diner considers donations so important. “The strong community spirit that surrounds Grace Diner continues,” Skelley said. “Through their donations to the Diner, so many people and organizations in our city show their heartfelt commitment to helping those experiencing food insecurity in Culver City.” Skelley that she has met many people willing to help even in small ways. “It is not uncommon for people walking by the Diner to hand me anywhere from $5 to $50, thank us for our service, and keep walking,” she said. “We have restaurants and caterers dropping off excess food and school children running up to the table with cookies they’ve made for us. It’s these small gestures that mean so much to us at Grace Diner.” And it’s not just monetary donations that are helpful, food items are another way that Grace Diner has been able to stay afloat, especially during the pandemic. Lori Siegel, executive director of the Culver Palms YMCA, has been providing Grace Diner with fresh fruits and vegetables every week as part of their outreach program. In addition, Sorrento Italian Market makes daily donations of fresh salads, which Skelley said is a necessary component in addressing nutritional insecurity among the poor. With the help of FoodCycleLA, a food recovery organization, Grace Diner is able to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of supplemental donated groceries per week. But the help doesn’t stop there. Grace Diner currently has a large staff of volunteers, including teachers, other professionals in the community, as well as many local high school students who volunteer weekly. “Many CCHS groups have put on various food and clothing drives to help us out,” Skelley said. “Several different scouting troops have donated cookies and non-perishables. Troop 1655 recently held a walk-a-thon style fundraiser and ended up raising close to $4,000 for us! This was donated to us through supplies such as sleeping bags and takeout containers that we desperately need.” Grace Diner serves Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays, from 3:30-5:00 p.m. in front of Grace Lutheran Church at 4427 Overland Avenue. Donations are much-needed and can be made through our website at gracediner.org or venmo at @Gracediner. “Yes, the “it takes a village” has become a cliched expression—yet we see this sentiment in action on a daily basis at Grace Diner,” Skelley said. “We wouldn’t be serving 1,100 hot meals a week and be able to offer the incredible array of groceries, sleeping bags, clothes, socks, warm clothing in the winter months, and toiletries without the generosity of our community.” To donate in-kind gifts such as food, desserts, gift cards clothing, flatware, dishtowels, dish soap, sponges, lemonade, coffee, aprons, etc., contact Lisa Skelley, at gracediner@gmail.com, or call 310-382-2273. Among those who have donated to Grace Diner are attendees of the Grace Church monthly musical concerts, organized by Mary Lou Basaraba, the church’s director of music ministry. The monthly MidDay at Grace Concerts are lunch-time performances at the church by seasoned professional musicians. The MidDay performances went virtual during the pandemic, but have returned to live, in-person concerts in the past six months. Those interested in contributing, should send donations of cash or checks to Grace Diner, c/o Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4427 Overland Ave., Culver City, CA 90230 and include your address or email address if you would like to receive a receipt

Grace Diner continues to be a beacon for the needy