Convention Centers Continue to Serve Communities

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

convention centers

Marlene Moore and Franco Durate-Piza, both chefs at Pechanga Resort Casino in Southern California, help sort produce while volunteering at Community Mission of Hope, a food pantry in Temecula.

As the industry continues to push the pause button on large in-person events, venues and suppliers are transitioning their resources to serve populations in need. Since April 1, the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC) has opened its doors to more than 1,300 individuals to help ease crowding at local homeless shelters.

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Centerplate executive chef Daryl O’Donnell (left) and Alfonzo Garduno of Moceri Produce look through food deliveries to the San Diego Convention Center. Since April, the SDCC, through its Operation Shelter to Home initiative, has served 500,000 meals to those in need.

Last week, the SDCC served its 500,000th meal since the Operation Shelter to Home initiative began in April. During its peak this past spring, Centerplate, the center’s food provider, served more than 3,500 meals a day, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not only has the initiative helped to keep dozens of staff members employed, Centerplate has made it a point to purchase from local farms and purveyors to help keep their businesses afloat as well. “We are fortunate to be in San Diego where so many great foods are available around us,” said Daryl O’Donnell, executive chef for Centerplate. “Why ship across the country when you can get fresh options here — seafood, fruit, tortillas, and breads? Plus, it’s more sustainable.”

About an hour north of San Diego, Pechanga Resort Casino has provided $20,000 in grants to area food pantries, with the resort’s chefs often volunteering at the pantries themselves. One recipient, Hope Food Pantry, is currently supporting more than 2,000 families monthly — a 100 percent increase from pre-COVID times. It’s symptomatic of a nationwide issue spurred by the pandemic where food insecurity has disproportionately affected vulnerable households, especially workers in the hospitality industry.

In recent weeks, cities and states are using another way to put convention center space to use. As hurricane season has kicked into high gear, evacuees are finding refuge in empty convention centers and hotels. In July, Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu opened its doors to evacuees in anticipation of Hurricane Douglas. And Hurricane Laura, which bore down on Louisiana last week, prompted the governor to to urge citizens in evacuation zones to take shelter in empty hotel rooms across the state as well as venues in nearby states, like the Austin Convention Center.

Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene.

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