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Serving Lunch (and Love) with James Sampaga

Welcome to our Volunteer and Staff Highlight Series! Throughout the next five weeks we will be shining the spotlight on a few of our amazing volunteers and staff members in the GLIDE Daily Free Meals program. These people pull off something miraculous every day — three times a day. If you’ve ever joined us for mealtime you know it’s a major operation, requiring nearly 100 people a day to get right. But the real mark of success is when our guests don’t have to think about anything except enjoying their food, a welcoming atmosphere, some friendly and familiar faces, and a sense that they belong.

James Sampaga is a Meals Program Shift Lead in his 13th year at GLIDE. Everybody knows James. Recently we caught up with him in the middle of closing a lunch time shift. Amid the clamor of clanking dishes and soul music over the dining room speakers, James offered his thoughts on the importance of the Daily Free Meals program as well as the incalculable value of volunteering.  

James at Christmas 2016

James Sampaga (right) connecting with a Meals guest in the dining hall.

What brought you to GLIDE? 
Wow, man. I’m from Salinas, California in Monterey County, moved out here about 23 years ago, landed in the Tenderloin. At the time I was painting houses and stuff. You have a lot of down time when you paint houses, so I would come here to eat and every time I ate I’d volunteer. I didn’t come here lookin’ for no job, or nothin’, but I just fell into it, and now, I’ve been here like 13 years, man. And it’s changed my life. It really has.

What’s the hardest part of your job? What’s most gratifying about your job? 
Well one part of what I do, some days when we don’t have volunteers and we are very short-staffed, technically it takes between 25 and 30 people to make a meal run, some days I’ll do it with like eight people – it’s not fun, we’re all running around like chickens without heads, and that’s rough. On any given meal we have a cook, a dishwasher, a shift lead, maybe a person in the coffee house, a stockroom person, so we’re all in different areas. I need a person doing the tickets, doing the silverware, at least three back here, one here, one here, people to bus – you know, it just takes some people. We like to have at least 25 volunteers per meal. Sometimes breakfast can be rough.


James played an excellent host at the 2017 Senior Luau Holiday Luncheon.

What does the meals program mean to GLIDE? 
We’re the face, we’re the ones that have been around, in the front lines for years. People recognize us in the Meals Program, and then they’ll see the other aspects of GLIDE, the other programs and stuff. Our clients even come to us and then they realize we have other things to offer them – that’s the clinic, the Walk-In Center, women’s groups, men’s groups, recovery groups.

What’s the best part of the volunteer experience? 
Just to see, you know, talking to people. A lot of our volunteers never experienced anything like this, either living through poverty or food insecurity, being the people we’re serving, or just serving people. A lot of people have never served people. I never served people growing up, and the first time I ever experienced something like this was coming to GLIDE. So for a lot of people, it’s a huge eye-awakening, to see actual people that need the services but also being the people that are helping to provide the service.