Meals, frozen bananas served up by Newport Beach restaurants at Costa Mesa Bridge Shelter

The smell of fresh chili wafted through the air as hungry patrons lined up at the kitchen’s window, a volunteer clad in a red apron asking what additional fixings they’d like.

Onions? Cheese? Sour cream?

Did they want any cornbread?

A little bit of butter?

How about some honey?

One man, previously known at the Costa Mesa Bridge Center to eat only croutons when dining there, smiled from behind the glass pane, then waved and thanked Newport Beach restaurateur Sheri Drewry for the chili and fixings he was about to savor.

It was the second time they’d encountered one another. On the first occasion, last month, he enjoyed two baguette sandwiches she’d given him, Drewry said.

“He said [that meal] was great. To have someone be so excited over a sandwich, I mean he knocked on the window and did a heart [gesture]. He said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ and that made my whole day to know he had something good in his tummy instead of croutons, ”said Drewry on Friday afternoon as a volunteer dished up bowls of chili from her business , Wilma’s Patio Restaurant.

Courney Alovis of Sugar n 'Spice in Balboa Island, delivers frozen bananas.

Courtney Alovis of Sugar n ‘Spice in Balboa Island, delivers frozen bananas to the Bridge Shelter freezer on Friday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Other patrons leaned in, asking when they’d be able to get a frozen banana from Balboa Island’s Sugar n ‘Spice. Costa Mesa outreach supervisor John Begin laughed, saying that they needed to serve up lunch first, then they’d start “throwing bananas at everyone.”

This is the second lunch rush that Drewry and Sugar n ‘Spice’s Courtney Alovis have catered for the Costa Mesa Bridge Shelter, though they’re just two of a handful of other organizations and restaurants throughout Costa Mesa and Newport Beach that have fed shelter residents over the last year.

Alovis and Drewry said they got involved in donating to the facility through their publicity and marketing teams and, for Drewry, through her personal connection with Newport Beach homelessness coordinator Natalie Basmaciyan.

“They said, ‘We needed help’ and asked if we could help and we jumped on it,” said Drewry. “It was the right thing to do, so now we’re here. This is an amazing place. It’s amazing what they’re doing and we just want to help as much as possible. ”

Sheri Drewry of Wilma's Patio and Courney Alovis of Sugar n 'Spice, from left.

Sheri Drewry of Wilma’s Patio and Courtney Alovis of Sugar n ‘Spice, from left, stand in the kitchen of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The two said they got great feedback from shelter residents. Alovis noted that some told her the frozen bananas reminded them of their childhoods. About 70 frozen bananas and about the same number of chili and cornbread meals were donated Friday from the two local restaurants.

It was just enough to feed every person in the shelter, which is currently at capacity, according to Begin.

The plan, Drewry and Alovis agreed, was to continue their monthly donations.

Other local restaurants, including Toast Kitchen and Bakery, Dick Church’s, Newport Rib Company and Dave’s Hot Chicken have also donated breakfast, lunches and dinners to the shelter. Begin said he’s trying to reach out to others, but noted that Bracken’s Kitchen in Garden Grove will take over the shelter’s kitchen in June.

Costa Mesa neighborhood improvement manager Nate Robbins said the shelter has served about 204 individuals with about 33 of them being transitioned into permanent housing over the last year.

Basmaciyan confirmed Friday that at least 65 individuals who came through the shelter were from the Newport Beach community.

Melanie Vinyard serves chili and cornbread at the kitchen window.

Melanie Vinyard serves chili and cornbread at the kitchen window of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach operate the shelter, with Newport Beach contributing $ 1.6 million in one-time funds to construct the shelter and $ 1 million annually for operational costs.

Begin said the shelter’s looking for volunteers to help pass out food in the kitchen. Interested readers can reach out to Bracken’s Kitchen at [email protected]

Those interested in volunteering at the shelter in general can reach out to Mercy House, the shelter’s operator, at [email protected] and businesses willing to donate meals can reach out to Begin at [email protected]

There’s more to food, Begin said, than just eating.

“What we’re really trying to create is community and that the community’s involved in the process in the shelter. It’s not just a city government program. It’s really the city coming together and being a blessing to those that are on the streets and helping them move forward, ”said Begin.

A client thanks server Melanie Vinyard for a second piece of cornbread.

A client thanks server Melanie Vinyard for a second piece of cornbread in the dining room of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“If you go to [Bracken’s] website, they have a great quote about food not just being nourishment physically, but to your soul, ”he continued. “Family gathers around the table to eat. People gather around the table to eat – friends and community. That’s where really relationships I think get nourished, not just from food but you get nourished in your soul too to gather around and have a good meal.

“We’re able to breathe into people nutritionally through a good meal, but also to just kind of fill them up in a good way.”

Clients enjoy chili and cornbread in the dining room of the Bridges Shelter.

Clients enjoy chili and cornbread in the dining room of the Bridge Shelter in Costa Mesa on Friday.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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