It was raining and gloomy last Saturday afternoon, a great day for a good, hot dish of stew.
And that's exactly what Mona LaVine delivered to the hungry and homeless men and women who seek shelter under the trees and bushes of Palisades Park on Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue.
LaVine, 53, hasn't missed a Saturday since January, when she began operating her "traveling soup kitchen," a beige Volkswagen Rabbit crammed with steaming hot food that LaVine prepares in the tiny kitchen of her Santa Monica apartment.
With the assistance of about half a dozen friends and volunteers, LaVine gathers food that would otherwise be thrown away, takes it to her home and prepares a meal for the street people who congregate at Santa Monica's Lincoln and Palisades parks.
Between 20 and 30 people were waiting for her Saturday. Eager hands helped her unload the heavy plastic tubs and carry them to a nearby park bench. LaVine and her friends, Dvora Freeman and Elizabeth Myrick, soon transformed the wooden bench into a buffet and the aroma of rich vegetable stew filled the air.
The women presided as graciously as hostesses welcoming guests to their own homes, smiling and greeting each diner as they served stew, fruit salad and bagels on paper plates.
Before leaving, LaVine distributed a large bag of oranges, some candy and assorted men's clothing.
LaVine said it costs her about $10 to feed about 50 people each week. She and her friends collect food from retail grocers, a restaurant and a bagel bakery.
LaVine, who lives on a moderate fixed income, said that many kitchen items, such as a food processor and some large pots, have been donated.
Freeman contributes a small amount of cash each week for things like salad dressing and paper plates, LaVine said.
Success, however, has brought some problems. LaVine has discovered that people are willing to donate more food than she can prepare in her small kitchen. She has no large refrigerator or freezer space in which to store perishables.
She said she needs a large storage and cooking facility and that she would like to see a fleet of movable soup kitchens taking food to the needy.
"There is so much food available out there. It will just be thrown away if we don't use it," she said.
LaVine bristled Saturday when a local businessman suggested that the men and women she was feeding were, for the most part, able-bodied and capable of earning a living.
"How can you get a job when you don't have any clothes, when you don't have any place to sleep at night?" she said. "They call them bums. You just clean them up and they look like anybody else. Then they could get a job."
Spencer Williams, 25, said he received mechanic's training when he was in the Army but has been unable to find work in Los Angeles, partly because he doesn't have his own tools. He and his wife, Pamela, 26, sleep under a bridge.
A young man said he operated a printing press in Cincinnati until the company closed down. He came to California in February and has searched for work in San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles. He rented inexpensive hotel rooms until his money ran out. He came to the beach, he said, because it is dangerous on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
The man, 31, said he showers in the parks, washes his clothes by hand and sleeps in a "safe, secret place." He has lost 35 pounds since he came to California.
He doesn't want his family to know how he's living and he is not going back home until he can go with pride, he said.
A 34-year-old woman said she completed dental and medical assistant's school in Bakersfield and came to Los Angeles five months ago to look for a job. She is on welfare and lives in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.
These people need more than food, LaVine said. They need shelter and work in which they can take pride and find satisfaction. While she is feeding them, LaVine said she is also taking steps to heighten the public's awareness of their needs.
She has arranged for Andy Raubeson, the man hired by Los Angeles to help provide inexpensive housing housing for Skid Row inhabitants, to speak on the city's program at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St. Those attending are asked to bring contributions of men's clothes and canned food.
Further information is available at (213) 452-9681.