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Annual barbecue helps center provide food, respite to the needy

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Legacy steak-grilling master Gary Icardo, left, shows off his handiwork with Monsignor Perry Kavookjian and St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center board chairwoman Deborah Leary at last year's St. Vincent de Paul Fall BBQ. This year's barbecue, which will again be a drive-thru event, will take place Oct. 7.

The explosion in the rate of homelessness is undeniable locally. And the vandalism and crime associated with it have authorities and social service agencies grappling with ways to stay a step ahead of the alarming problem.

"It is still a very challenging time in our community," said St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center board chairwoman Deborah Leary. "Our clients are law-abiding and screened, but citywide homelessness fatigue has set in as we try to help."

Since 1954, St. Vincent de Paul has been serving the vulnerable and needy with two hot meals a day, in addition to providing clothing, access to restrooms and showers. The center also provides postal service, social services and bus passes to more than 150 men, women and occasionally children. Visitors spend their hours at the day facility in a safe, parklike setting. Absent there is the chaos they encounter on the streets.

In 2013, the center began hosting an annual fall barbecue as a way of bolstering its coffers. "Unlike other similar events in town, we receive no federal, state, local or diocesan funding," Leary added. Funds generated from the season's biggest barbecue have made it possible to secure fencing around the perimeter of the east Bakersfield location and upgrade its industrial kitchen and roof.

Last year, the pandemic threw the barbecue plans a curveball. The event was a drive-thru only, yet still drew a record number of supporters. This year, with the pandemic still prevalent, organizers will again host the event as a strictly drive-thru.

Leary said, "It is more important now than ever to support this. It is our only fundraising event of the year."

The drive-thru barbecue will again feature a choice of a New York steak or teriyaki chicken prepared by grill masters Gary and Adam Icardo and their crew, along with a Pyrenees French Bakery roll, Wool Growers salad, salsa, beans from Casa Munoz and a Smith's Bakery chocolate brownie.

At $35 a ticket, the event is still the most affordable in town. Advanced tickets are required and can be purchased at the center, 316 Baker St., at the Thrift Store next door at 300 Baker St., or by contacting Deborah Leary at 661-809-2491.

Lisa Kimble is a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center and a member of its annual Fall BBQ committee.