The Quarter Meal—Berkeley’s only daily dinner service for low income and homeless residents and one of the city’s largest programs to meet their needs—will cut back service from five days a week to three beginning March 1, and to shut down by June 24.
According to a press release issued Monday by the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP)—the organization that administers the program—cuts were forced by unexpected mid-year expenses, including rising workers compensation premiums, employee medical benefits and mandatory compliance with the city’s Living Wage Ordinance.
Program workers serving meals Monday night refused additional comment on the cutbacks, referring reporters to the single-page press release.
In the release, the BFHP say they support living wage increases (which they are mandated to meet because they have a contract with the city) but were unable to budget for the extra $110,000 in total expenses they now face.
Other programs administered by the BFHP were reviewed before the decision was made to cut the Quarter Meal, but those programs were spared, according to the release, because they focus on housing and support services for homeless and people in transition.
BFHP said that while donations were up 24 percent from this same time last year they weren’t enough to meet increased costs.
In the meantime, BFHP said they hope to find a funding commitment for the program that will last three to five years, sometime before the planned June closure. They will also help those who regularly attend the meals find other sources in the city.
“It’s a real bummer,” said John Spencer, one of the people who regularly eats at the Quarter Meal. “A lot of people depend on it.”
He said he expects he’ll find other places to eat, but the convenience and reliability of the program will be a real loss.
“We can eat in this city, but it takes all our time to do so,” he said.