Members of the U.S. Naval Academy's football squad, dressed in navy blue tracksuits, poured hot chocolate from pitchers this morning for hundreds who lined up in downtown San Francisco for the annual Christmas Day meal at St. Anthony's dining room.
Inside the room at 150 Golden Gate Avenue, other Navy Midshipmen began loading trays with sliced honey baked ham, sweet potatoes and orange Kool-Aid for the first of 4,000 diners expected for the day, according to St. Anthony's spokesman Karl Robillard.
About 100 Navy players, coaches and staff dished up holiday meals for the needy at St. Anthony's as part of yearly charitable effort by organizers of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a college gridiron game that this year will pit Navy versus Arizona State at AT&T Park on Saturday.
"It's the only collegiate football game with a philanthropic cause," said Robillard, adding that Arizona State's team is handing out holiday meals to the poor today at the Glide Memorial Church at 330 Ellis St.
The Kraft Hunger Bowl football contest has been played at AT&T since 2002, and this is the third year that teams selected for the bowl have served Christmas meals at St. Anthony's and Glide, Kraft bowl spokesman Doug Kelly said.
Colin Osborne, a Navy freshman running back, dressed in his dark blue tracksuit and wearing plastic serving gloves, said the team, based in Annapolis, Md., has been in San Francisco since Saturday and still feels jetlagged from its cross-country flight.
"I don't see it as a chore," Osborne, 20, said of the team's call to provide for the poor. "It's definitely for them, like we're Santa Claus, giving them food and helping them enjoy their Christmas."
"Us being in the Navy, we always want to help the community," Osborne said. "We are doing a good thing sacrificing our time. You get to socialize, meet new people."
Sitting at a table covered by a green tablecloth and beneath white paper snowflakes hanging overhead, Carliss "Smoky" Dorsey, 62, looked down at his dinner tray amid the din of loud conversation in the somewhat cramped dining room.
Dorsey, 62, a native of New Orleans, moved to Austin, Texas, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown and has visited San Francisco off and on since, and is now living at the St. Vincent de Paul-MSC South shelter at 525 Fifth Street.
"I'm blessed that the good Lord let me live another day and I appreciate what other people are doing for me and many others," Dorsey said. Before arriving at the dining room, Dorsey said he spoke by phone with his aunt in New Orleans to wish her a happy holiday and after he eats,
he'll return to the shelter to watch TV.
"I feel real good," he said. "I thank God that people give up their time to give us food to nourish our bodies."
In the morning, first-comers at St. Anthony's were given prepared meals in bags to bring home later and then directed to stand in line for their dinner trays, according to Kathryn Murphy, event coordinator for St. Anthony's.
Seniors like Dorsey were served first, at 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., then others were served until 2 p.m., Murphy said.
After the meal, each diner received a gift bag containing one of the more than 3,000 hand woven scarves sent each year to St. Anthony's from as far away as Australia and Japan, plus a new pair of socks, some toiletries, and this year, a Star Trek ball cap, Murphy said.
Today's Christmas meal was the 62nd provided by the Catholic Mission since Father Alfred Boeddeker launched it in a former auto-supply shop beside the St. Boniface Church, across Golden Gate Avenue from the current dining room, in 1950.
Since then, the Catholic Mission has served 38 million meals, Robillard said.
St. Anthony's old dining room, at 45 Jones St., was demolished recently and the charity will hold a groundbreaking ceremony on Jan. 24 for its planned new nine-story facility set to open in 2014, Robillard said.