At the St. Vincent De Paul dining facility, several members of the Eureka Police Department helped cook and serve lunch Thursday afternoon. The department’s Community Safety Enhancement Team — also known as CSET — volunteered to help out with a barbecue after hearing that the facility had a ton of meat, according to patrol Sgt. Leonard La France.
“It’s not about us,” La France said. “It’s about the people we’re here for.”
La France is part of CSET and said they have a regular presence at the facility to help keep it safe. The facility offers a free meal each day, but is also a hub for social services La France said.
“If this place went away, it wouldn’t be beneficial for the community,” he said.
La France said his regular interactions with people seeking meals or services helps create the relationships necessary to move beyond the cycle of criminality.
“I’ve arrested a lot of these people,” he said, gesturing to the people eating lunch, “but that’s not a long-term solution.”
Enforcement, he said, is only one part of what CSET does. CSET’s operations are multifaceted, he said, but CSET is ultimately aimed at eliminating the factors which cause homelessness and crime. This means different things, such as driving individuals to rehab when they request it or doing outreach in general. This approach, La France said, allows CSET to help homeless individuals on the personal level, which can be slow, but effective.
“Bridge-building that fosters partnerships, understanding, trust, and cooperation is vital to a more healthy and safe community,” EPD’s Chief Steve Watson, who was also present, wrote in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, “While some might question this use of an hour or two of a few of our officers’ time, I believe it was well spent.”
Noelle Seely is a regular volunteer at the facility. She said the barbecue was a chance for people to see EPD “as good guys instead of just seeing their face as bad.”
“They’re people,” she said, “they have families, too.”
Seely said she believes the approach taken by CSET is an effective one because it allows them to “get an in-the-middle understanding” of what the ground floor looks like.
Marylee Price, who identified herself as a cook at the facility, said the event was “awesome.”
Price, who helps oversee operations at the facility, said almost 500 plates of food were served at the barbecue within an hour and a half. On a regular weekday, she typically serves up to 350 trays a day, which constitutes one healthy and balanced meal, she said.
“We always need volunteers, and we always need food donations,” she said. “This is the only meal a lot of people eat.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.