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Near the lifeguard station in Ocean Beach, nine homeless people have gathered. One lies in the grass of Saratoga Park, legs crossed and hat tilted over his eyes. One stands nearby, smoking a cigarette. Two others sit together and talk. Walking past, you might not notice them. But if you did, you might also wonder what they’re doing. Are they waiting for something?

It’s 3:45, Monday afternoon. It could be 3:45 on any or every one of the past 900 or so Saratoga Park Monday afternoons.

By 4:00, seven more street folks have approached. They’ve carried over threadbare bags and wheeled along rusty bicycles.

At 4:10, a white minivan pulls up, and the transients — 20 of them now — jump to attention.

The man in the van brings milk and juice for everyone.

‘‘They were just throwing this stuff in Dumpsters,” he says, as he empties out two full crates of half-pint containers. “And these people, these homeless folks, they’ve been calling 92107 their home for longer than a lot of us have. They’re good people. And they definitely deserve to eat.”

And then the anonymous big-hearted man in the white minivan drives off.

The people in the park are drinking milk and juice, but no one goes anywhere.

The man in the van isn’t what they’ve come here for. They’ve come because She comes here. Every single Monday — for the past 900 or so Mondays.

By 4:25, over 30 folks are waiting in the park. They show an unshakeable faith.

“She’s still going to come,” says one. “She’s just late sometimes.”

The crowd swells to 40. No one seems restless. They all are patient with the patience of the drifter.

Sure enough, a minute before 4:30, she comes. In a little blue pickup truck with the flatbed brimming. It’s full of food.

Lupe Haley stands all of 5 feet tall, maybe 5’2”. She sports a mane of curly red hair, lots of rouge, and bright red lipstick. She hops — hops! — out of the passenger seat, in her thick blue coat, pink hat, pink scarf, and pink boots, and she’s already calling out directions.

“Okay,” Haley says, vigorously. “Come on. Everybody!” Her words are easy to understand despite a thick Mexican accent.

“Let’s go.”

Haley’s husband, who was driving the blue truck, along with several of the residentially challenged, help Haley carry armloads of drinking water, fruit punch, paper plates, plasticware, pies, bread, and paper towels. And then come the serving trays of salad, macaroni and cheese, chicken, sausage, beans, and goodness knows what else. Dozens of armloads. Everything gets carted over to a picnic table and to the grassy area around it.

This is a holidaylike feast, but today’s not a holiday. It’s just another Monday.

The thing is, Haley has fed people in Saratoga Park every single Monday evening for 18 straight years. Sometime early next year, she’ll reach her 1000th consecutive week.

Tonight, before anyone eats, Haley brings them all together. “Let’s gather now for the Word of God,” she says. “Come on everybody.”

Haley, 54, who is the pastor of New Heart Community Church in Golden Hill, launches into a sermon that begins, “Eighteen years ago, I was homeless, O Heavenly Father.”

A few sentences later, her voice rises into a hymn. Many sing along, while the red sun begins to find its way toward the pier and the waves rumble in the background.

After the Lord’s Prayer, the congregation bows its collective head. Many hold hands. And Haley leads them in saying grace.

“Amen.”

“Amen.”

“Amen.”

“Now, who’s going to cut the cake?” she asks, all sing-songy, turning her attention to the food and holding out a knife.

“Here,” Haley says. “You help hand out the plates.”

The woman never stops talking and moving and buzzing with energy.

The homeless have formed an orderly line, stretching from a picnic table to the ocean, paper plates in hand. They shuffle forward to where Haley, in rubber gloves, serves them. Heaping portions for everyone.

Haley knows most of their names, and she says a few words to each as she piles hefty servings on their plates. Some of them hug her.

Erin Crowley’s been eating Haley’s Monday-night meals since January 2004. “She’s always here,” Crowley says. “Always here, no matter what.”

Is this the best meal Crowley eats all week?

“It’s definitely the biggest meal,” she says. “And it’s not bad. She makes do with what she can get. If she has to mix rice and noodles and beans together, you know…But the important thing is, she comes out with a great big pot, and there’s always plenty for everybody. And then there’s the bags we can take away for the rest of the week.”

Indeed, whoever wants a bag of bread and juice and other goods can take one.

Larry only just heard about these Monday-evening meals. “This is my third week,” he says. “Some other homeless guy over by the pier turned me on to it. One thing is, I never leave these meals with an empty stomach. I always leave full.”

Another fellow, whose bright white hair and bright white beard stand out, looks toward Haley and smiles. She’s serving the last few people with a long metal spoon. The man says in no uncertain tones, “I don’t know why she does it, but it doesn’t matter. Lupe’s a saint.”

The Taj Mahal of Food Banks

The San Diego Food Bank has been around for 30 years, 5 of them at its present location on, of all places, Distribution Drive.

You enter the San Diego Food Bank marketplace through a truck-sized opening in the wall of a warehouse. Ceiling-high stacks of pallets and cardboard boxes serve as walls. At the checkout — a desk with a computer on it and a metal floor scale for weighing goods — the warehouse clerks, Arturo Valdivia and John Bode, ring up purchases and help you get the stuff out to your car.

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Comments

jstar67 Jan. 31, 2008 @ 1:45 p.m.

I know that Lupe is trying to do a good thing by feeding the homeless, but, unfortunately, the homeless she is feeding are made up mostly of drug abusing low-lifes that stay in Ocean Beach , in part, because of people like her that make it easy for them. Many of them are runaways, that have left home, not because of a bad homelife, but because they want to do drugs, and their parents don't allow that. I live in Ocean Beach, and I can't even take my daughter down to enjoy the beach , because of the number of homeless that hang out in the park there.Feeding them just keeps them there. I understand that there are exceptions, but I see them every single day, and know that most of them are not just people who are " down on there luck". The adult homeless "party" with young kids/teenagers that live there, and it makes me sick. They are dragging our community down.

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jstar67 Jan. 31, 2008 @ 3:57 p.m.

One more thing that infuriates me about the homeless in Ocean Beach is the number of them that have dogs. If you can't feed yourself, and if you have no place to live, you have no right to have a poor helpless animal that depends on you for their livelihood.

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trabson7 Feb. 1, 2008 @ 9:39 a.m.

jstar67 -- you just read that whole article about food insecurity in san diego and the good work and sacrifice that people to do and all you can do is complain about the dirty homeless people?

I realize it is frustrating and disappointing to not have a safe comfortable beach to spend time. Being able to feel safe in one's neighborhood is a need we all have.

It would be interesting to know your perspective once you actually got to know some of those people and how they ended up where they are. In my experience, 90% of people who are homeless were physically, mentally, and/or sexually abused; and/or grew up in generational poverty. I'm not sure I could say that I'd have a steady job and home if I'd had a childhood like that.

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jstar67 Feb. 1, 2008 @ 1:50 p.m.

trabson7-Unfortunately, I have gotten to know some of the homeless in Ocean Beach, because a good friend of mine has a son who habitually runs away, and we have found him down in the park at the beach, buying, selling, and doing drugs with many of them. Many of them are drunk everday, and are doing nothing to try and better themselves. Many of them hang out under the pier, selling drugs and bumming money for beer and cigarettes all day long. They swear, fight, crap on the stairs that I use to get to the beach, etc. I have even found them lying passed out with their wangs hanging out..just what I want my daughter to see. They all seem to have plenty of money to party, but apparently none to feed themselves, or get themselves into a shelter, or room for rent.

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