Julie Darling’s Just Call Us Volunteers
Working Together To Bring Everyone To The Table
In a season full of abundance, it’s important to remember that collaborating to make a true difference is one of the finest reasons to celebrate. The decade old San Diego-based organization Just Call Us Volunteers, led by Julie Darling, is a glowing example of this.
In 2005, chef and caterer Julie Darling didn’t have plans for Thanksgiving. She faced a common bout of loneliness that just about everyone has experienced at one time or another. It’s how she dealt with her feelings that day, and the decision she made to focus her attention on helping others, that led to positively impacting tens of thousands of lives over the last 10 years.
“Honestly, I was feeling lonely and upset. I could have easily stayed home and let myself be sad, but I decided to go out and serve instead,” says Darling. That’s how Just Call Us Volunteers (JCUV) was born.
With the help of generous friends and clients who donated food and their time, Darling began preparing dinners for the homeless at various holidays. Year after year, the initiative continued to grow and today, JCUV serves two meals a month in addition to serving on almost every major holiday. They also serve the final meal to 1,400 homeless veterans at the annual Veterans Stand Down event held in July at San Diego High School’s Balboa Field.
Darling is quick to share the credit of the organization with everyone who contributes. When asked to name a few of the local chefs she works with, Darling jokingly says, “everyone in town,” before carefully reading off a long list of popular chefs throughout San Diego that tirelessly donate their time and talent to helping others in the most direct way possible.
Owner and Chef of Carnitas’ Snack Shack, Hanis Cavin, explains why he supports JCUV:
“I choose to support JCUV because you can first hand see the people that we feed. See them smile and know that they for the moment are happy. JCUV is truly a nonprofit and as chefs we can see how much goes into making this happen.”
Good Food, Good Start
Darling recognizes the major distributors and local businesses that donate throughout the year, such as Specialty Produce, Grand Hyatt, Sprouts Farmers Market and Cupcakes Squared. Darling also collaborates with area caterers Wild Thyme Catering Company and The Grill at Torry Pines, among others, to distribute excess food that would otherwise be thrown away. Another huge milestone for the organization was when Angie Brewer, who currently handles all JCUV’s social media and volunteer coordination, and Chef Kim Moreira, Director of Volunteer Training, made a commitment to help Darling take JCUV to the next level. Darling says, “These women were instrumental in fostering awareness for the organization early on, and for helping it grow into what it is today.”
The homeless population in San Diego city and county are now the fourth largest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As much as Darling wishes that there wasn’t a need for the organization after 10 years, and that there was a more permanent solution for moving people off the street, she is committed to treating the homeless population with respect and the best way she can do that right now is by serving nutritious, good, healthy food.
Volunteers that work with JCUV often walk away from their experience feeling satisfied for giving back to their community and with a few new culinary skills under their belt. That’s because JCUV makes everything from scratch. According to Darling, “On Valentine’s Day, we serve stuffed pork-loin, garlic smashed potatoes, roasted carrots and salad. Our volunteers learn how to butterfly, stuff and truss the pork-loin.”
One message Darling wants to make sure to get out to potential volunteers is that people are hungry year-round, not just on the holidays. Just Call Us Volunteers has a consistent presence at multiple sites throughout the county, such as San Diego Center for Children, Veteran’s Village, Rachel’s Women’s Shelter and Tent Shelters, year round.
For more information and how you can volunteer or donate, visit JustCallUsVolunteers.org