Santa Barbara’s Virgil Cordano Center Hits the Streets

With Day Center Shuttered by COVID, Volunteers and Staff Go Mobile

It remains unclear whether COVID will let the Virgil Cordano Center reopen, but the people behind the center have decided it’s time to take their show on the road. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

It’s early Monday morning, and somewhere inside a run-down, frayed-at-the-edges strip mall populated by a gun shop, a liquor store, a “Chinese” massage parlor, and a vape shop, a nun and a priest are hard at work — accompanied by about 10 spiritually like-minded volunteers and staff — putting together 140 hot lunches for people living on the streets. 

Brown bags — stout and sturdy — are lined up in rows like soldiers on parade. Generous slabs of freshly made meatloaf are ladled into white takeout boxes, as are mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Hard-boiled eggs are placed into plastic Ziploc bags, as are two slices of bread. All this and bottled water is inserted into the brown bags, which are in turn placed in insulated carrying containers as big as a small duffel bag. These containers — and the volunteers — then pile into a brand-new van, and at 11 a.m. the distribution of the food begins at Pershing Park, Alameda Park, Chase Palm Park, the waterfront, and more recently, at Girsh Park. All this — and considerably more — takes place three times a week. 

At work is the reincarnation and transformation of the Fr. Virgil Cordano Center, which for nearly two years ranked as one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Barbara. For years, homeless advocates and social service crusaders have called for the creation of a day center to provide a waystation to provide both services and respite for people on the street. 

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