Faces of Christmas

This chef quietly works for the homeless community and families in need

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Faces of Christmas

The Fresno Bee's 12 Faces of Christmas is a tribute to unsung residents in the central San Joaquin Valley who make it their mission to help year-round.

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The basics: Juan Arredondo, 37, is the executive chef at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Fresno.

What he does: When children in the Clovis Unified School District and their families find themselves hungry during the holiday season, Arredondo invites them to the restaurant for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With the help of his brother, who is a teacher at Clovis East High School, and the restaurant, they provide nearly 25 family meals on behalf of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The generosity does not end there. Beginning about a year ago, Arredondo spends about $20 each month to buy food and hygiene products to hand out to the homeless community in Fresno. Even though his schedule is busy, he said he sets aside at least 90 minutes to meet and chat with those in need.

Why he does it: “A lot of people actually do not have funds or means to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “People shouldn’t go hungry, and if we have a means of doing that (donating to the community), then why not?” And as for helping the homeless by buying and preparing food for them each month, Arredondo said it’s “as simple as $20.”

The turning point: After he became more aware of the large number of homeless people in Fresno, Arredondo said he wanted to skip the “middle man” when donating and go straight to the people who are in need. “Everyone deserves to eat,” he said. “Everyone shouldn’t have to wonder where their next meal is coming from.” He said everyone to whom he’s given a meal has sat down and began eating right away, and they always express their gratitude.

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Details, details: After working up his way up in the restaurant industry – he started as a dishwasher at various restaurants and worked other food-related jobs before he became head chef at Ruth’s Chris. In 2015, he said, he realized he wanted to give back to the community in some way. That’s when the tradition began. The restaurant opens earlier than usual, and the Ruth’s Chris service staff comes in to begin preparing meals and serving dinners to the families: soup, salad, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and dessert. He said they take a bag home with a dinner to go, so they can have a Thanksgiving meal at home as well. During the rest of the year, he makes a trip to the grocery store once a month for food, bottled water, fresh produce and hygiene products for women and goes to different parts around town to pass out the items to homeless people he meets. The hygiene products are important, he said, because women shouldn’t have to choose whether to spend money on those products or on food.

What others say: “He can be a tough guy but he has a great heart,” said Haley Wagner, the Ruth’s Chris event manager who’s known Arredondo for about 4 1/2 years. “What he does for the community is not something he does boastfully, but because he wants to help.” She said it’s not his style to brag about the good he does in the community. “I think I worked with him for at least two years before I learned about his off-hour actions.”

How you can help: Arredondo said due to health codes and labor laws, community members cannot cook or serve meals in the restaurant. However, he encourages others to help by volunteering not just during the holiday season. He said there are always lots of volunteers during the holiday season, but not enough during the rest of the year. Arredondo encourages the community to get involved in local organizations to help those who are less fortunate, whether it be by donating time or a few dollars. If just one person becomes involved in helping the needy, “more people will get fed.”

Jessica Johnson: 559-441-6051, @iamjesslj

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