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The homeless gather at the Hayward library Saturday morning and enjoy a free breakfast provided by Castro Valley's Neighborhood Church. October 13th, 2007. (Mike Lucia/Daily Review)
HAYWARD — Juliana Orozco parks a truck in front of the library's water fountain along Main Street at 8:30 a.m. every Saturday and hands out plastic bags full of food.

The most popular item is always the hot breakfast burrito, which members of Orozco's church, Neighborhood Church of Castro Valley, assemble from ingredients they have in their homes.

"If Jesus were walking the Earth right now, this is where he would be because Jesus was homeless," said Orozco, 49, of Oakland.

She added that the half-dozen members of the Cross Streets ministry say a brief prayer before passing out the food.

The Saturday morning pro-gram is one of many that deliver free food throughout Hayward. Anyone can receive the meals, though most are low-income or homeless, and the city is looking at the informal free food distribution programs as one of several factors that may be contributing to negative conditions in the downtown area.

The distribution programs are among many aspects of downtown Hayward's physical environment that were noted in a report entitled "Keeping Downtown Hayward Safe and Green," and are open to discussion prior to the council meeting at 5:30 tonight at City Hall.

There is a free meal every day of the week downtown: on Fridays, another member of Neighborhood Church passes out food at the library; and on Mondays and Wednesdays, Sister Mary from All Saints Catholic Church delivers meals at the library, Orozco said.


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Templo De La Cruz and The Salvation Army also offer meals at their own locations.

Orozco said the church has been offering free meals in the community for the past five years. It was at the Hayward Plunge until 21/2 years ago, when they were asked to leave and moved to passing out the meals in a neighborhood a few blocks over from the Plunge.

Orozco said her group had not been approached directly by the city, and she heard from a police officer that the city council was taking a hard look at the meal distribution programs.

She said she has heard many times, "We believe in what you're doing, we just don't believe in it here."

The distribution group started at the library about two years ago. Library staff say Neighborhood Church has been cooperative in making sure to clean up early when the library has Saturday events. Director Lisa Rosenblum said police also have been responsive when there have been problems, and that the city installed more lights on their property to address safety concerns.

Don Levine, who has been homeless for about six months and recently started working, said there are sometimes problems with people acting out, and added, "We try to self-police, but we can't catch everybody."

Levine, 56, said about 15 people usually pick up the free breakfasts at the library at the beginning of the month, while at the end of the month it climbs to about 60.

"A lot of people start thieving — there are a lot more problems if people can't feed themselves," he said.

Neighborhood Church typically brings 85 bags of food to the library, with enough in them to last each person the whole day. By 10 a.m. Saturday, the group had given all of the bags out.

Rachel Cohen can be reached at 510-293-2463 or rcohen@dailyreviewonline.com.