Pizza Pizza and loads more pizza was served at the Modesto Gospel Mission on Wednesday as the Little Caesars Love Kitchen pulled into town. The 45-foot-long kitchen on wheels baked up about 125 pepperoni and cheese pizzas enough to provide two slices apiece to 500 appreciative diners.
Since its creation in 1985, the Love Kitchen has traveled the continental U.S. and Canada, feeding more than 2 million people. It visits shelters, missions and other sites to serve the homeless and needy, but also has responded to disasters including the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, the hurricanes in the East and on the Gulf Coast, the site of the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the 1995 Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Behind the wheel as the Love Kitchen pulled into Modesto was Ricardo "Rick" Moreno, a driver for more than 20 years who's been with Little Caesars for just a month. "I have a trucker's dream job. I'm so stoked to be helping people," he said, but quickly added, "My part is simple get from Point A to Point B safely."
The people who keep the Love Kitchen running, he said, are the local franchisees and their employees who provide the ingredients and employees at each stop the truck makes.
Kevin Carroll, chief executive officer of the Modesto Gospel Mission, said he was contacted by Little Caesars because Modesto-area franchisee John Gauthier was interested in bringing in the Love Kitchen. Of course, Carroll said, he welcomed the offer. "We put out tables (and shade canopies) and tried to make an event out of it," he said Wednesday as men, women and children enjoyed their slices, washed down by 600 cans of beverages donated by Coca-Cola.
Carroll knew the mission didn't have enough day and overnight guests to consume 1,000 slices of pizza, so he invited Church in the Park members to join the feast, too. Word of mouth also travels quickly among the homeless population, he said, so there ended up being hundreds of hungry mouths to devour the pizza.
Still, the Love Kitchen churned out lots of pies, so what was left was wheeled into the mission to be served at dinnertime. "I'm really impressed they do things like this," Carroll said of the pizza giant.
So was Heather Weir, a young woman staying at the mission. After eating and before leaving, she made a point of going over to mission and Little Caesars staff to thank them. She said she appreciated that the people who run Little Caesars "have a loving heart."
"God blessed me with a meal that was unexpected a nice, warm meal," she said. "And a cold soda, too. I've been craving that."
The Love Kitchen made its Modesto stop after being in the Fresno area and Merced in recent days. Today, it heads up to Stockton and Sacramento.
While at the Gospel Mission, it was staffed by six local Little Caesars managers and supervisors. Brianna Garcia, an area supervisor for the Modesto market, said in the 12 years she's worked for the company, this is the first time the truck has been here. She said the fast pace of the Love Kitchen is similar to working in one of the restaurants, "but this was definitely more compact. Everywhere you turned, there's a body."
Another difference. No one had to ring up orders. "It was nice just being able to hand it out. Kids loved it; their faces lit up."