Aya Employee Serves Pancakes and Smiles to San Diego Homeless Community
Northborough, Mass., natives Mark and Lesli Fratoni raised their four daughters to care and love one another. One of the couple’s children, Amory, has not only taken that lesson to heart, she has moved it to the max, serving hotcakes to the homeless.
In a program called Pancake Peeps, Amory Fratoni and her fellow volunteers serve hotcakes covered with butter and syrup and topped with fruit to an average of 150 homeless individuals every Saturday morning in downtown San Diego where the number of homeless is on the rise.
According to the Regional Task Force for the Homeless, more than 1,200 people, up 27 percent from 2016, live unsheltered on the streets of downtown San Diego.
San Diego city and county have the fourth largest homeless population, or more than 8,700 unsheltered individuals, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2015.
Among the homeless lining up for breakfast on the corner of 14th and K streets are veterans, children, mothers and fathers, as well as others who live in homes but need a little help, said Will Tate, who co-leads Pancake Peeps with Mary Grabowski.
“The mission is to love all people,” said Pancake Peeps volunteer Amory Fratoni.
Interacting with those who attend the breakfast and being a friend to them has been life-changing.
“When talking to those people who attend, all your issues stop,” she added. “They are insignificant compared to what these people have to deal with.”
Originally the program, which started six years ago, was ministry-based. Tate and Grabowski began co-leading the group more than two years ago. The grass-roots program, which uses some services from the University of San Diego, is in the process of filing for nonprofit status.
But until that time, its $6,240 annual food budget comes from private donations and the volunteers, who frequently show up with food.
Recently, Fratoni brought 30 bananas to the breakfast. On another day, after hearing one of the children had an upcoming birthday, Grabowski brought his favorite: chocolate chips.
Before the day begins, every Saturday Tate transfers all the equipment, including tables, burners, bins, chairs, griddles and propane tanks from his home to his Mazda hatchback and meets the volunteers at Starbucks, which donates one of the three travel coffee containers needed to serve the homeless.
There, the group huddles and prays for a successful Saturday and assigns the tasks of cutting up fruit, mixing, flipping and serving pancakes, coffee and water.
Arriving at their designated spot in downtown San Diego, they pray again. Behind the scenes, the mixing, grilling and preparation takes place before the volunteers begin serving.
Volunteers see regulars, including veterans.
“It’s difficult to see those who fought for our country and have no home,” said Tate.
For Fratoni, the best part is seeing the transformation on their faces after they connect and talk with others.
From week to week, the number of volunteers fluctuates often with students, sports team members and alumni from the University of San Diego as well as others from different churches offering their time to aid the cause.
“It’s such a wonderful environment for making friends and connecting with the community, which puts everyone in the reality of other people’s lives,” said Tate.
Volunteers from Family Health Center of San Diego are also on hand to sign up homeless individuals for health check-ups.
After the pancake feast, with Tate’s friends, Luke Garrett on guitar and Alex Aguilera on ukulele, volunteers and guests all share a sense of unity forming a circle with arms around one another and singing. They also play cards, board games and most recently dominoes.
Then the group prays again. The group asks if anyone has a special prayer request. On one occasion about one month ago, one man asked for prayers to help him get his license back so he could return to work.
“Two weeks later while serving the pancakes, we heard the blare of a horn coming from an 18-wheeler and it was (him driving),” said Fratoni. “He had gotten his license back. It was awesome. His prayers were answered.”
The interactions and catching up on what’s happening in their lives is amazing, said Fratoni, who graduated from the University of San Diego in 2016 with a concentration in communications and management. She currently works at Aya Healthcare as a payroll coordinator.
Before volunteering with Pancake Peeps, Fratoni’s usual Saturday included heading to the gym after breakfast. “Now serving pancakes is part of my routine,” said Fratoni, who grew up in Boylston.
“Homeless people get a negative reputation,” she added. “We don’t call them homeless, we call them friends.”
This story originally appeared in The Milford Daily News.