It has been four years since volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center in east Bakersfield cooked up the idea to take the already highly successful barbecue fundraising model and use it to generate funds for the facility. That first year, no one knew what to expect.

“We weren’t sure anyone was going to show up,” laughed Joanne Border, the center’s director.

Shortly after they opened the gates on that cool fall evening, one by one, people from the local Catholic community and beyond trickled into the Baker Street facility. Nearly a thousand of them. Organizers ran out of steaks.

“We thought we would be lucky if we had a couple hundred people show up,” Border added. They raised $70,000 that night. It was a remarkable feat for their maiden voyage.

Today, it is among the biggest barbecues in town, and they will be slapping high-end steaks on giant grills again Thursday for their fifth annual fall event.

As the local homeless population grows, centers like St. Vincent de Paul, which receives no federal funding, have been scrambling to keep up with the need. Today, an estimated 400 homeless men, women and children receive two hot meals a day at the center. They also have access to four restrooms, two showers, basic social and mail services, a covered patio and lush grounds in which to spend a few hours of their chaotic day in a peaceful, secure and park-like environment.

The money generated by the barbecue helps keep their doors open, as St. Vincent de Paul is not a public agency and has no real source of income. Since the barbecue’s inception, monies raised have helped improve fencing and security, roofing and upgrades to its industrial kitchen.

“For a lot of the people who support this fundraiser, being able to see where their past donations have gone is what drives them to continue their support,” said event Chairwoman Deborah Leary.

Leary, no stranger to the barbecue fundraiser scene, along with the grill crew mastered by Gary Icardo and son Adam, have enjoyed unparalleled success at Garces Memorial High School, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and most recently, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of the community,” Leary said.

Doors to the event open at 5 p.m. Food service begins at 5:30 p.m. Harris Ranch New York steaks and all the trimmings are on the menu. Take-out and drive-through options are available, and complimentary valet parking is offered. Tickets to the adult-only event are $30 and can be purchased at the door at 316 Baker St.

Lisa Kimble is a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Center BBQ committee as well as a monthly contributor to Bakersfield Life Magazine.