"I think it's the coffee," joked Brice. "We're the only site that serves it, and it's popular."
Loaves and Fishes has just one goal: to feed the hungry. But many would argue that the spiritual nourishment it provides is just as important. Founded in 1982, this nationwide nonprofit group operates in six locations throughout Contra Costa County.
With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the meals are provided through public and corporate contributions. Private donations account for nearly 60 percent of the organization's annual operating revenue.
In Oakley, where approximately 40 people a day are served a noontime meal, the clientele is as varied as the daily entree. But one thing they do all share is a need.
"Some come for vibrant discussions, and some come for the food," said Brice. "We get families and the elderly as well as homeless people and working people on their lunch breaks. We feed the hungry, whoever they are."
On a recent chilly December morning, Dora Sanchez arrived with her two young children and nephew. Well-dressed and polite, the Sanchez family sat down to enjoy a hot meal. They were also the recipients of some holiday cheer. Anonymously donated gifts have been wrapped and presented to the wide-eyed toddlers, a gesture much appreciated by a grateful Sanchez.
"They are so kind, yes," said the Oakley resident who comes to the dining hall a few times a week. "We come to visit the church and then we come have lunch. We are very lucky."
With the arrival of the holidays, Brice said he expects the daily numbers of visitors to increase, as will the number of those looking to help. Volunteers are always welcome, he said, but he cautions that those who do want to help should come prepared to work.
"We are grateful for all help," said Brice, whose volunteers range from retired professionals to high school students to stay-at-home moms. "But it can be a lot of work. There is setup and serving and busing. And then there is pre-washing and cleaning up. Sometimes it's very busy; sometimes it's not. It's different every day."
Brice said that there is a noticeable increase in patronage around the end of the month before payday, and then again before a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. And while there are certainly those who come because they have no other resource, there are just as many who come for the sense of community and to share a meal.
"I'm afraid there is a bit of a stigma associated with Loaves and Fishes," said Brice. "People don't want to eat with poor people or homeless people or people who they perceive are not clean, which is not at all the bulk of our clients. But our philosophy remains simple: to treat people the way we would like to be treated. We don't judge; we are just here to help."
Loaves and Fishes is located in the dining hall at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 971 O'Hara Ave., Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For volunteer information, contact the Pittsburg main office at 837-8758.