Catholic Worker Hospitality House of San Bruno - Providing meals and shelter in San Bruno, California.

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

July Update

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

In April I was repeatedly asked by our guests when we were going to return to our regular sit-down indoor serving and shower services at the dining room. Back then the hope was that by June or July things would get back to normal. But with COVID cases spiking after a lull in new cases, it’s clear that life will not be returning to normal anytime soon. In hindsight our desire for an early return to “normalcy” was quite naive. We hope, maybe also naively, that we can return to inside dining by the time the cold and wet weather returns in November. But realistically it most likely won’t be until a vaccine is developed – hopefully sometime in 2021. Until then we will continue doing what we’ve been doing the last few months – serving lots of hot and hearty meals to-go and sheltering four to six people at night. We remain focused on keeping our core service projects of the dining room and homeless shelter open and safe for our guests.



In early July we closed the dining room and shelter for a much needed week long vacation. We had skipped our usual spring vacation in April as we just could not justify closing down our essential services when so many other places were not open. Even though things are not totally opened up at present, there seems to be more places open for guests to go to for the services they need. Plus, we were pretty damn tired and I, at least, was getting a bit grumpy with our guests – a sure sign that it’s time for a vacation. Our regular vacations help keep us refreshed and nice to those we serve. It was great having some time off and it’s great being back at work at the dining room and shelter.


We have always had chickens at our house on Second Avenue in San Bruno. We love the fresh eggs and pastoral ambiance they give to the backyard. However, the chicken coop that I built over 20 years ago had recently started to look pretty bad – embarrassingly bad. So I, along with Mike from the Second Avenue house, updated the chicken coop. We replaced rotted boards and support beams. We also upgraded the roof by extending its coverage and replacing the tarps that were such an eyesore with plywood and shingles. Now the coop looks great and will be solid for another 20 years of service to our chickens.
As always, we thank you for your continued generous support of our work with those in need in our community.  It is through such kindness that we are able to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and comforting the afflicted.


Peter Stiehler
Catholic Worker Hospitality House

New Dining Room Staff Person

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

We have a new staff person working at the dining room, Mike DiCampli. Mike is a long-time friend and volunteer at the dining room and shelter. While we do not expect him to replace Christine (who could!), he will be a great help to Peter and the shelter staff. Welcome, Mike! It’s good to have you on board.

What to do with an incomplete sauna kit?

by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

What do you do with an in-home sauna kit that you don’t have space for in your home and is missing parts of the heating element?  Well, that was the question I mulled over for several years.

My wife loves to take a sauna but I don’t enjoy it that much as I grew up in a sauna called Houston, Texas.  Several years ago a neighbor, knowing of my wife’s love of saunas, told us a friend of hers was giving away an in-home sauna kit.  I said, “No, thanks,” but my wife said, “Go get it.”  So guess what? I got it and put it in storage until we could figure out if it would work in our house.  Upon further reflection it became clear that it would not work in our house as we didn’t have space for it and we realized parts of the heating element were missing.  My first impulse was to trash it, but it was made of such beautiful cedar wood that I just couldn’t take it to the dump.  So what to do with it?

For three years it remained stored in the garage of one of our boarding homes.  I generally ignored it. But on occasion I would think, “What the hell do I do with this thing?”  Finally, it came to me: a meditation and prayer room.

So a couple of weeks ago, with the help of a couple of guys from our boarding home, I built a foundation, put the panels together, and put on a roof with shingles.  There is now a nice 5’ x 4’ room for prayer, meditation, or just to escape others. At the moment, I’m mainly the person who uses it, but occasionally one of the folks at the Second Ave house spends some time in it.


by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

The vast majority of the donations we receive come from the faithful support of individual donors and church groups on our mailing list.  This support enables us to keep our dining room, homeless shelter, and supportive housing projects going month after month and year after year.  We simply couldn’t continue our daily work without this support.  In order to ensure the steady and ongoing operation of our core service projects, we have to be judicious with how we spend these donations.  We often receive requests for assistance from our guests that we normally just can’t help with. We hate saying “no” to folks, but we would hate even more to not keep the dining room and shelter operating. What to do?

This spring we have received two very generous grants from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation to assist individuals in economic crisis caused by the COVID crisis.  These grants have enabled us to assist those we serve in a variety of ways: medical bills, car repairs, new glasses, household goods for former shelter guests moving into their own apartments, and rental assistance.  These grants enabled us to respond to the needs of those we serve in ways that would otherwise have been beyond our means.  Due to job loss caused by the COVID shelter in place orders, there were two individuals and three families that would have become homeless without the rental assistance we were able to provide because of the grants we received from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.  It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this aid for those we serve.

For the twenty-four years Catholic Worker Hospitality House has been in operation, whenever we wanted to start a new project or do something big Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has been there to make our dreams a reality.  Some of the projects they supported have had a lasting effect on our work – such as helping us purchase or rehab buildings used for supportive housing.  Others have had short-lived or marginal success such as our idea for a day–labor program or funding a lawyer to assist our guest with their legal issues.  The Foundation was started by Bill Somerville to operate with the same mindset as a venture capitalist – supporting new and emerging endeavors.  As with all “investments” some fail while others are wildly successful.  You can’t have the success without risking failure.

So we say thank you Philanthropic Ventures Foundation for all your very generous support over the years.  Thank you for believing in us and taking risks to support our ideas for new ways to serve those in need in our community.  Your support has had a powerful and lasting impact in the community we serve.

June Appeal

June 1, 2020

Dear Friends,

On May 5, 2020 we lost our long-time co-worker Christine Baker who passed away after a short struggle with cancer.  Many of you know Christine Baker from her work at the dining room over the past 20 years.  In February she had an operation to remove a cancerous tumor in her abdomen.  The surgery went well, but during surgery the doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized to other internal organs.  After the surgery her doctors told her they would be surprised if she ever left the hospital.  They were wrong.  After more than a month of post-operation recovery at Kaiser San Francisco Hospital she had a stay at the St. Francis Convalescent Pavilion in Daly City.  Then in early April she returned home as a hospice patient with around-the-clock care providers to make her final days as pleasant as possible.  While not happy to have the hospice designation she was happy to return home, as she told me, “I don’t want to die in a care facility.”  She got her wish.  Christine will be greatly missed by all at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.

        The first few years she volunteered with us she was working at Sprint Telecom and would assist at the dining room once or twice a week.  A South San Francisco native.  I was always amazed by how many of our guests and volunteers she knew from living in the area her whole life.  After taking an early retirement package she was looking for new work so we offered her a position at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.  This made perfect sense because for several years she had been my go to person if I was sick or out of town.  She was also indispensable at our annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, as well as preparing food for the annual walk-a-thon fundraiser with Mercy, Notre Dame, and Serra High Schools.  As a volunteer and as an employee she was totally dependable, even keeled, and compassionate to those we serve.

Our initial idea for Christine’s responsibilities at Catholic Worker Hospitality House was for her to start a boarding home for women similar to the other boarding houses we operate. As the best-laid plans often go, that house never materialized.  Instead she expanded our work in a variety of other ways.  Her presence allowed us to operate the dining room a fifth morning a week.  The dining room is our core service project, so to be able to expand that service was a great gift to those we serve and this extra serving day has been greatly appreciated by our guests.  I also liked being able to expand our work without having to do the work myself!
Then there was Christine’s work with the Adult Transitional Program (ATP).  The ATP is a partnership between the South San Francisco Unified School District and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that assists special needs youth with the transition from high school to the work world by giving them work experience at a variety of locations. A few years ago ATP contacted us to see if Catholic Worker Hospitality House would be one of those work locations.  Christine happily took on the project.  Twice a week, the students come to our dining room after our dining room serving time to prepare food and to clean around the church grounds.  Christine and their teacher would assist the students with chopping vegetables, mixing batter, and all the other tasks of creating a meal for our shelter guests.  Some of the students are very high functioning and easily accomplish the tasks assigned to them, while others struggle to accomplish even basic tasks.  Time and again Christine helped once awkward and timid students gain confidence from accomplishing an assigned task.  By giving, they receive and slowly come out of their shell to become active participants in our work.

        Several years ago we got a call from Maria at Peninsula Food Runners asking us if we would like some of the food they receive.  Food Runners is an organization that distributes excess food from caterers and restaurants to local Bay Area non-profits.  My impulse was to say no. “It’s too much trouble!  We have enough food!”  But once again, Christine took on that project and greatly improved the quality of meals we serve to our guests.  Three days a week Christine would coordinate getting that food for our dining room and shelter.  Then on her own she started distributing the excess food to other churches and organizations in need of food.

With her background in computer work at Sprint she was a natural to be our “IT person.”  She started and maintained a Catholic Worker Hospitality House Facebook page, updated our Website, and set-up on-line giving opportunities for our supporters through PayPal and Benevity.  She brought me kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.
Her outgoing and compassionate personality was a real asset in working with our guests and volunteers.  While I’m friendly to our volunteers and guests, I’m not nearly as sociable as Christine was.  She was ever attentive to our volunteers — always making them feel welcome and needed.  In addition she would regularly arrange volunteer luncheons where we not only showed our appreciation of their help, but forged deeper bonds of friendship.  Similarly with our guests she was invariably compassionate and attentive and would go out of her way to assist them with their various needs. When I would leave the dining room early to attend to other organizational tasks she would stay late and utilize guests who wanted to help out by cleaning the dining room at the end of the serving day.  Many others are thirsting for the opportunity to serve in any capacity and a gift we can give them is the opportunity to give back.  Christine was so good at giving and receiving that gift — and as a result the dining room was much cleaner.
From a purely selfish standpoint I loved having Christine on staff as she made my life so much easier.  She not only expanded the ways we could serve our guests, but she took part of the load off of my shoulders. I have been working at Catholic Worker Hospitality House for the past twenty-four years and a large part of that longevity has been due to Christine’s help at the dining room and shelter.  Last year I was able to take extra time off to visit family and friends as well as engage in other interests because of her presence.
Christine wasn’t a perfect person, none of us are, but she strived to be a good person and make the world a better place and all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House are lucky that we were one of the recipients of Christine’s gifts.  She gave of herself to improve the lives of others and was always looking for more ways to expand the services we provide.  She was totally dependable and clued-into the Catholic Worker tradition of working in solidarity with those we serve.  She was a great co-worker, a faithful friend, and open to all she met.   She will be greatly missed by all who knew her.  We ask that you keep Christine, her family, and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

In Christ’s Peace,

Peter Stiehler
Catholic Worker Hospitality House