Rusty eats his breakfast at the Dorothy Day House-run Berkeley Community Resource Center on March 19: A new program aims to provide restaurant food for people living on the streets. Photo: Pete Rosos

When the 80 regulars go to the daytime drop-in shelter on Center Street to pick up lunch today, they won’t get their usual helping of an apple and a sandwich in a paper bag.

Instead, the men and women will be offered a choice of a shaved roasted turkey sandwich on Acme sesame kaiser roll with grilled asparagus, Swiss cheese and hemp seed hummus, or a vegetarian option of a grilled trumpet mushroom sandwich with roasted yam, salsa verde and hemp seed hummus. The lunch also includes toasted a red quinoa salad with spring vegetables and roasted carrot vinaigrette, and a chocolate chip cookie.

The gourmet meal is part of a new initiative called Double Helping Hands which aims to provide delicious food for people living on the streets — and to help local restaurants struggling with the drop in business because of the coronavirus crisis.

The Double Helping Hands program is the brainchild of John Caner, the executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association. He read a story about a similar program in Boston and reached out to Robbi Montoya, the program manager for the Dorothy Day House-run Berkeley Community Resource Center, which, before COVID-19, offered an indoor daytime drop-in program for the unsheltered. She thought it was a wonderful idea.

Within 48 hours, Caner had raised $10,000 for the program, which should allow it to run for 12 days. Current and past DBA board members chipped in $5,000 and the DBA donated the rest, according to a press release.

“Next we reached out to four downtown restaurateurs who were barely surviving with take-out and delivery business, or had recently closed their doors,” said Caner. “They all said yes, ‘sign me up.”

They include Amy Murray of Revival Bar + Kitchen, Dorothée Mitrani of La Note, Alex Popov of Cornerstone and Kristine Seinsch of JazzCaffè/ACT Catering.

The four restaurants will take turns preparing 80 to 100 meals, which the Downtown Ambassadors will deliver to an outside area adjacent to the Veteran’s Building. (Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, indoor hot lunch service has been suspended. Clients now pick up and eat their lunches outdoors.) The meals will cost around $10 each.

The front door of Revival Bar+Kitchen with notices about take-out service. Photo, taken on April 6, by Pete Rosos

“We were hard hit when the arts district closed, and then our business collapsed with the shelter-in-place order, and we had to sadly lay off most of our staff,” Murray said in a statement. “We are struggling to pay rent and suppliers and maintain a modest takeout and deliver menu. Double Helping Hands will help us stay open and keep some of our staff working during this time of extreme hardship.”

JazzCaffè/ACT Catering will prepare the first meal today. Revival Bar + Kitchen will serve the meal on April 8, La Note on April 9 and Cornerstone on April 10.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit restaurants hard with most laying off staff and relying on to-go orders to stay afloat. Dozens of restaurants and other businesses have launched fundraising campaigns to help their staff (see Berkeleyside’s Pitch in for Local Workers platform which we launched to help the community support these efforts).

East Bay Feed ER, which was launched on March 19, now delivers two restaurant meals a day to five East Bay hospitals. The city of Berkeley and the Berkeley Relief Fund hope to distribute $2 million in grants to small businesses, including restaurants, in the next few weeks.

David Stegman, the executive director of Dorothy Day House, said the gourmet lunches will be a morale booster for the nonprofit’s clients who have seen services contract in response to the requirements of social distancing. The daytime drop-in-center used to serve about 200 people a day, serving them breakfast and lunch and providing showers and laundry services. Now only about 20 people can come inside each day to wash themselves or their clothes, he said.

“These restaurants will be serving us gourmet meals,” said Stegman. “We want homeless people to feel valuable. This is a way of passing on really great food.”

Amy Murray of Revival Bar+Kitchen shows off lunches she made April 8 for the homeless as part of the Double Helping Hands program. Photo: John Caner

All the parties hope to continue Double Helping Hands if the program can raise more money. The idea would be to add other downtown restaurants and perhaps add other meals as well, according to the press release.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...