Centerplate Serves Thousands at San Diego Convention Center’s Homeless Shelter
While some major convention centers transformed into temporary medical relief centers as the pandemic took hold in early spring, one large venue has made the most of its empty exhibit halls and kitchens by caring for the community’s homeless individuals.
For the last 10 weeks, the San Diego Convention Center has served as a temporary regional homeless shelter for approximately 1,200 people as part of the City of San Diego-funded Operation Shelter to Home initiative, designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the city’s homelessness population. The SDCC is sheltering and feeding individuals previously assisted by local nonprofit human services organizations including Alpha Project, Father Joe’s Village and Veterans Village of San Diego.
Since the temporary shelter opened on April 1, nourishing its residents has been an ongoing labor of love for the SDCC’s official food and beverage provider, Centerplate.
Led by Centerplate General Manager Bobby Ramirez and working in partnership with the City of San Diego, nonprofit shelter operators and convention center staff, the SDCC’s culinary team has prepared and served more than 275,000 boxed meals thus far, equating to approximately about 3,500 meals per day. To help reduce costs, the kitchen has used donated food items from other Centerplate venues with surplus inventory due to facility closures.
While Ramirez and his team are accustomed to feeding large convention crowds at events such as Comic-Con International, this herculean effort has taken on a more altruistic meaning.
“In typical circumstances, we might have a huge event with four days of ramp-up, followed by two days to recover and plan for the next big event,” Ramirez said. “In this case, the operation is seven days per week with multiple meals per day, [and it] has certainly been a learning experience for our entire team.”
With ingredients locally sourced from farms and small businesses whenever possible, menus include breakfasts of hard-boiled egg, oats, fruit, pastries, juice and coffee; lunches of sandwiches or salads, and dinners of hot entrees with veggies and dessert. Centerplate Executive Chef Daryl O’Donnell and Senior Executive Sous Chef Sufi Karaien and their respective teams handle ingredient procurement, menu development, execution and delivery.
Centerplate has implemented new health safety measures to keep staff safe, such as temperature checks, wearing gloves and masks, and reconfiguring the kitchen space to increase distances between food prep areas.
“During the course of this operation, we’ve developed multiple systems to enhance our existing procedures to create an even safer and more efficient work environment for our team,” Ramirez said. “Our menus and the methods in which we serve them have been adapted to ensure the nourishment and safety of our residents, as well, and certain aspects will carry on into the future as the new normal.”
According to Rip Rippetoe, president and CEO of the SDCC, the facility expects Operation Shelter to Home to continue for the next several months. The timeline for reopening for regular events will depend on state and local guidelines, he added.
“We are in close coordination with the City to guarantee we can reopen for regular event activity at the appropriate time,” Rippetoe said. “There’s a strong sense of collaboration among everyone involved [in this effort]. As my colleagues and I remind each other, moments of adversity do not necessarily build character but they do reveal it. We have a truly special team.”
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