Every Sunday early morning there is a long line of people waiting close to the corner of the 5th St and San Pedro St in Los Angeles, an area known as Skid Row. People are full of expectation for an old white Ford van arriving with the materials for their breakfast. They get their plastic bags to keep snacks, and a spoon to enjoy their milky cereal. They also get miscellaneous fruit, Starbucks pastries, and fresh bread and bagels from Panera. Welcome to MamaD’s Kitchen.
AMURT has been involved with the hunger problem amongst the poor and the homeless in Los Angeles for the last 25 years. Our breakfast feeding through Mama D’s Kitchen is legendary amongst the folks of Skid Row. It makes a huge difference in their lives. The program is maintained entirely by volunteers and public donations.
The healing art of service: an interview with Jules Sorensen
Since 2006, Jules Sorensen has been co-directing Mama D’s Kitchen, a breakfast program in Skid Row for homeless people. In the past six years she and her team have provided a total of 36,750 breakfasts to an average of 125 people a week for 49 weeks in a year.
Mama D’s Kitchen was founded by Delia Javier, an actress and set designer. Delia was working on the set design for Apocalypse Now when she encountered Jules in an acting studio. “Delia became my mentor,” says Jules. “She advised me to practice yoga and meditation so I could better calm down when preparing for acting roles. She provided a stabilizing presence for my immature 20 years, recruiting me for her service project, which she called an ‘activity.’ She taught me how to serve others, maintain a spiritual life, and grow as an actress.”
When she reached her mid-seventies, Delia succumbed to cancer. Jules visited her the morning of her death day which, in true Delia style, was more like a party than a mournful event. During their last conversation she told Jules to take over the service project saying it would “heal” her. Saying “yes” was easy; it was a decision Jules had already taken.
Since then Jules has been going out into the street with the regularity of a clock, rain or shine, to give a little of herself to those who often feel pangs of hunger. For Jules, Mama D’s Kitchen is not just about giving people a piece of bread, it’s a human exchange, the joy of greeting others in their eyes. “There is no pity in the breakfast line,” says Jules, “only acceptance and the understanding that, even though life can be tough, anything can change at any time.”
The clients appreciate the consistency of the program. Everyone needs some sort of regularity in life, so for these homeless people, who have little security, the knowledge that the breakfast party will take place every week provides them with an anchor, an opportunity to gather.
Everyone is so cooperative, with clients helping to organize the crowd, clean up afterwards, and set up the tables. In the 1990s, when the streets were more violent, a crack addict served as Jules personal bodyguard.
“Has it healed me?” muses Jules. “It has certainly warmed my heart. Sometimes it is not always me with the smiling face out in the street, but once I interact with our clients my mood lifts and I once again celebrate the joys of life.”
Some of Mama D’s clients