The tantalizing smells just inside St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church were both enticing and inviting, as Madera County Sheriff’s deputy Jose Villafan, stationed in Madera, walked outside, carrying stacked to-go boxes to his vehicle.
“I’m just so grateful to have a good warm meal,” Villafan said. “I had two sandwiches in my cooler, but this is so much better.” Last Friday’s lunch consisted of pulled pork sliders, cheesy potatoes, jicama salad, cut-up melons and ginger cookies.
For several days last week, law enforcement officers manning closed roadways along Highway 41 due to Railroad Fire evacuations were treated to lunch and dinner at St. Raphael’s. The meals were courtesy of the Episcopal Conference Center in Oakhurst, which typically serves 50-100 guests daily. With three groups expected at the conference center, ECCO refrigerators and freezers were full. However, with mandatory evacuations and power outages, plans quickly changed.
“We lost power, and were not able to accommodate the groups planning on staying there,” ECCO Director Steve Rumage said. “We didn’t want the food to go to waste, and since the power was on at St. Raphael’s down the road, we decided to make the best of it, and have been offering meals to 20-40 deputies daily since Tuesday (Sept. 5).”
ECCO’s Executive Chef Jay Gillett used the church’s kitchen to prepare the meals, which have been so good that church members / helpers, Caroline Enlow and Susan Clark teased they didn’t want Gillett to leave.
“When this church sees a need, we take care of it, that’s just the way we are,” Enlow said. “This was something we would have done anyway, but when ECCO brought the food down here because their power was out, it all came together.”
“It was like a miracle,” Clark added.
The two helped serve the officers, and also packed quick to-go cartons for those on the go.
“Some can’t get out of the Oakhurst substation, or have to sit in their parked cars all day so we deliver meals to them,” Enlow continued. “There are others who come here for a quiet moment to relax, a place to come sit and enjoy a good meal. They keep telling us that they can’t thank us enough.”
“The officers have really appreciated the change from cold sandwiches, which would have been their normal fare,” added Rumage.
St. Raphael’s is one of the area churches that prepares the community meal served at the New United Methodist Church. Along with the meal they prepare and drop off the second Wednesday of the month, church members also set up a table covered with hygienic items, sleeping bags, coats, clothing and food that doesn’t require refrigeration.