06-27-24

www.montereycountynow.com june 27-July 3, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 11 Al Siekert is 81 years old, but don’t suggest that he’s going to back down anytime soon. Every Sunday, volunteers for the nonprofit Al & Friends serve a free breakfast to all who show up at Window on the Bay in Monterey, especially those in need. He started the program 14 years ago and at some point this summer, the group will surpass 50,000 meals. “I never doubted that what we were doing was a good thing,” says Siekert, a retired chef and caterer. While Siekert notes that he is doing well, there have been occasional Sundays in recent months when he could not be there or was unable to work at his usual pace. But Siekert explains that he made a pact with god many decades ago that went something like this: Let me have fun into my 30s, and I’ll die on the job. “I don’t know what else I’d do,” he says. Siekert has built a resilient organization. Since Al & Friends became a nonprofit, they have not missed a Sunday. Partners like the Grocery Outlet in Seaside and Montage Health, down to smaller operations such as Old Fisherman’s Grotto and Acme Coffee Roasting Co., are among many others. One of those who volunteers his time is Marvin Green IV of the popup Marv’s Barbecue. “There’s a lot of money thrown at problems on the Peninsula,” Green observes. “Al throws hard work at them.” Green was concerned when helping out earlier this year to find Siekert out of action. The atmosphere was different, he recalls, although volunteers stuck to the chaotic routine without a hitch. Rick Richards, president of Al & Friends’ board of directors, explains that he can step in and take over cooking duties. “We don’t talk about it that much,” Richards says of the inevitable day when Siekert steps down. “He may hang on forever.” Siekert started as a one-man crusade in 2010, knocking on neighbors’ doors, asking for donations. “He had a lot of doors slammed in his face,” Richards notes. “But he had a lot of doors open.” According to Siekert, the impulse to start feeding the hungry came from a conversation with pastor Brian Bajari, who ditched the church in favor of ministering to the homeless and others on the shoreline. “He told me he came to the epiphany that there were enough ministers in buildings,” Siekert recalls. (Bajari died earlier this year.) Richards describes Sundays as an hour of pandemonium, then everything is whisked away. “It’s the least most organized group ever,” Green jokes. “The greatest thing is that Al has brought together people that normally wouldn’t be working together.” While Siekert says he doesn’t know who will handle the cooking duties in the future (“We’ll find out when I’m gone”), he is certain the nonprofit has permanence. “I know damn well it’s going to continue,” he says. Breakfast Bunch Al & Friends anticipates a food service milestone, as well as a long future. By Dave Faries Every Sunday, Al Siekert distributes meals to anyone in need. About 25-30 active volunteers help out, serving and washing dishes during the week. The group went to reusable dishes to minimize waste. NEWS “There’s a lot of money thrown at problems. Al throws hard work at them.” RICK RICHARDS

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