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Out of Ashes: A Ministry is Born
By Diane Hoskins - March 18, 2010

When wildfires began devouring large sections of San Diego County in October 2007, three men who had never met before showed up at the Rock Church to help. They didn’t know it yet, but that would be the start of the Table Setters Food Ministry.

“I worked for a catering company but I couldn’t go to work due to the fires,” remembers Gabe Samano. “I was sitting at home and wondering what I could do to help. I heard the Rock Church was going to open an evacuation center, so I figured…well, people are going to have to eat. So I picked up my equipment and my chef’s coat and drove to the church.”

Meanwhile, Cliff Elledge, who had been attending the Rock Church for only a month, was sitting at home that first night and figured the Rock Church must be doing something.

“So I drove to the church at 7 AM the next morning. A pastor came up to me and asked what my gifts were. I said administration. The next thing I knew, he was showing me the new kitchen area of the Rock Church and asking me to coordinate the feeding of potential evacuees,” said Cliff, a a self-employed real estate appraiser and broker.

He said he started opening up drawers. “They were empty…the cupboards, empty… There were no pots, pans, or utensils in the whole kitchen! I realized that the kitchen had never been used. There was no running water yet. Plus, I knew nothing about food or cooking!” Cliff recalled.

”I started to think, ‘Okay, God, now what do I do?’ … and in walks Gabe in his chef’s coat, a culinary school graduate, and asked how he could help!” -- Cliiff Elledge

”I started to think, ‘Okay, God, now what do I do?’ … and in walks Gabe in his chef’s coat, a culinary school graduate, and asked how he could help!”

Going Operational

As people started arriving with food donations, and volunteers poured in to help, the men put together a game plan.

Gabe and his wife, Cristina, called on friends, neighbors, and contacts in the food industry. Before long, the water was hooked up, and cutting boards, pots and cutlery filled the drawers and cupboards.

Another volunteer who reported to the kitchen was Rozell Adams, who had more than 30 years of food service experience.

“I was amazed,” recalled Rozell. “I’ve never seen such organization. People from all walks of life were working together for long, back-breaking shifts, and there was nothing but smiles and good will.”

Donated food from Meals on Wheels, Phil’s BBQ, and Dominos Pizza started arriving. Volunteers began organizing the mountain of food and water being delivered from what seemed like a never-ending line of cars that wrapped around the Rock Church.

“Although it started out looking like a three-ring circus, by noon we were serving lunch to all the volunteers,” said Cliff. “We looked like a fully stocked 7-Eleven by the end of the day!”

After the Crisis

The next day, 122 seniors who had been evacuated from their convalescent home in the fire area arrived.

“They had special dietary needs,” said Cliff, “but they brought their cooking staff with them, so we had the help we needed. We had so many volunteers that we were able to serve the seniors individually rather than having them go through a food service line, which was great because we had been running around like a bunch of ‘Marthas’ and we got a chance to become ‘Marys’ and interact and talk with the evacuees.”

As the fire danger began to lift, Cliff, Gabe and Rozell switched gears and began coordinating distribution of food and water to centers that were located closer to the actual fire victims.

“When the crisis was over, we shut down operations and it was back to reality,” said Cliff. “I felt such a let-down. There was an empty void left when I lost contact with all the people I had been working so closely with.”

Modeled after the Early Church

But the void didn’t last long. Two weeks later, Cliff got a call from the Rock Church asking for help in organizing food service for the Toys for Joy event to be held in five weeks.

“I called Gabe and Rozell and it was like a reunion. We met and planned the purchase, preparation and serving of over 4,000 hot dog lunches! That was when God put it on my heart to start a Table Setters Food Ministry to help the pastors with food service needs at the larger church-wide events,” recalled Cliff.

“We patterned it after the early church when seven men were selected to wait on tables to allow the spiritual leaders to spend their time in prayer and ministry." -- Cliff Elledge

“We patterned it after the early church [Acts 6:1-7] when seven men were selected to wait on tables to allow the spiritual leaders to spend their time in prayer and ministry. We committed to five or six church-wide events per year, and with our core team of about 15 volunteers, we procure the food and drinks, set up at the event, and organize volunteers to do the cooking and clean-up.” Over the past two and a half years, the Table Setters ministry has served food at Rock Church baptisms, Ministry Fairs, the Rock n’ Ride Motorcycle Ministry’s all-day event to benefit foster youth, and Toys for Joy. They fed more than 1,000 volunteers at recent DO Something World church-wide clean-up events at Balboa Park and in Southeast San Diego.

Looking back, Cliff has a distinct perspective about the experience. He thinks ”the Rock Church’s fire relief effort was the first ‘Do Something’ event at the new Rock Church facility—and it was awesome to be part of it!”

For more information about the Food Service Ministry, click here »