Frequently Asked Questions
What is TACO?
Third Avenue Charitable Organization (TACO) is a social outreach program and non-profit charity that serves the homeless, elderly and working poor, primarily in downtown San Diego.
Through a strong coalition of community partnerships, we offer free meals, free medical, dental and acupuncture clinics, as well as free mental health counseling services to hundreds of people each week. Our partners include the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and the California Western School of Law.
What is your mission?
TACO's mission statement states:
"Following Christ's example, TACO gathers as a community in service with the most vulnerable among us; offering meals, healing and care to any and all who come."
We strive to create a place where healing of mind, body and spirit can happen for all who come.
We cannot close our eyes to the realities of our community, and we will not close our doors when outside there are people in need.
Where are you located?
First Lutheran Church serves as the location for most of TACO’s services, and many of the programs have evolved from the church’s commitment to social ministry. Some of our volunteers belong to the church, but many do not.
Third Avenue Charitable Organization (TACO) was organized as a tax-exempt, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charity in 1998.
Who do you serve?
Our programs serve several different groups, each with distinct needs.
Some people are homeless. Some only want a hot meal. Many, like the residents of the senior citizen residential towers near the church, are living on fixed incomes. Still, others are physically disabled with relatively little income from state and federal agencies.
We also help individuals and families who do not have medical insurance even though they may be employed full time.
Sometimes these groups overlap; sometimes they don’t. People who come for something to eat do not necessarily patronize the medical clinics. Seniors may need medical care, but not meals. Nevertheless, this interconnected web of outreach services provides broad-based, easily accessible help for a wide range of people in need.
What other services do you provide?
Our physical presence in the heart of downtown as well as our expertise with the administrative and logistical demands of providing outreach services has made TACO an umbrella organization and a resource for other programs.
For example, First Lutheran Church is a member of the San Diego Organizing Project, an advocacy group working for affordable housing downtown.
TACO also sponsors a mobile street medical and counseling team, whose bi-monthly missions reach people who might otherwise avoid a clinic setting.
A law project offering legal advice free of charge has also been added to our services. It has proven to be a popular offering and helped many clients since its inception.
Going Home End of Life Services is TACO’s newest program. Its focus is to assist people in accessing and maintaining services they are eligible for relating to their medical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
How do you pay for these programs?
Food is donated by local businesses or comes from alliances with local food banks. Some volunteers donate kitchen equipment, others give supplies and money.
For the clinics and their administrative costs, TACO has received grants from The California Endowment, the Feinstein Fund, the Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Wheat Ridge Ministries, an independent Lutheran charitable organization.
We also receive donations of time and money from members of other congregations, visiting youth groups, and caring friends and neighbors.
Your programs are based in a church. How much religion is involved?
TACO does not conduct formal religious services. Attendance at First Lutheran Church is not required for our services. We welcome everyone, regardless of race, gender, faith, age, sexual orientation or citizenship.
Before the line for meals forms outside the door, our volunteers participate in a devotion circle, where they pray for guidance in this mission of service. Participation is voluntary. In addition, one of our pastors offers grace for everyone as the meal begins.
While many of our volunteers are compelled to serve as a personal act of faith, we believe no one should feel pressured to join our church, and it is not our aim to gather converts. At the same time, we aim to provide a place of spiritual comfort and to serve in a ministry of compassion and grace. If anyone asks, our pastors are available for assistance.
How often do you provide meals?
Two free meals are provided every week, on Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. and Friday morning at 9 a.m. While the menu varies according to what is donated, a typical Monday dinner always includes a hot entrée, homemade soup, fresh fruit, and vegetables, as well as bread and pastries. On Bread Day, Friday mornings, bread, pastries, and soup are served.
When are the clinics?
The medical and acupuncture clinics are offered every Monday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Free acupuncture for seniors is available Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. until noon. Dental clinics are offered Mondays at 5:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Counseling services are available during the week.
How many people are served?
Between 200 and 300 people receive free meals each week -- more at the end of the month when government assistance money runs low. The medical and acupuncture clinics average 100 people a week.
When did the program begin?
The feeding program at First Lutheran Church began in the 1970s with Bread Day. Initially, the church planned to share fresh-baked bread and fellowship over lunches with the business community, with the goal of strengthening ties to its downtown neighbors.
By the late 1970s, Bread Day was attracting a large number of homeless people. No one was sure when this change occurred, but volunteers continued to welcome all who came in the belief that this was part of the church’s mission – especially a church that was firmly committed to remaining downtown.
Who runs the programs?
TACO employs a salaried director who oversees day-to-day operations. There are also two half -time employees: a social worker and a Simon’s Walk coordinator. In addition, there are two part-time employees: a program assistant and an administrative assistant. More than 90 percent of our services are provided by volunteers. Some are members of First Lutheran Church, but many are not.
How many people volunteer?
More than a dozen people volunteer at every meal, sometimes as many as 40. Many who help prepare and serve meals have once been homeless themselves. Volunteers also include members of other congregations, visiting youth groups, seniors from the nearby residential tower, and caring friends and neighbors.
Our volunteers are the backbone of the operation, providing more than 10,000 hours of labor and support each year. Obviously, there would be no programs at all without our volunteers.
How does First Lutheran’s congregation support this ministry?
TACO relies on contributions from members of the church for a significant percentage of the money for our programs.
There are many members of First Lutheran who were drawn to the congregation specifically because of its history of work with the homeless and working poor. Needless to say, there would be no program to speak of without the financial and spiritual support of those who hear God’s call to a ministry of service.
How can I get involved?
Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization. Volunteers are always needed to prepare and serve meals and on the set-up and clean-up crews. You can also assist by picking up food, shopping, and provide necessary donations of equipment.
If you are medical professional and health care worker, we urge you to consider donating your time and expertise to our medical, dental and acupuncture clinics. We are particularly in need of licensed dentists.
How can I contact TACO?
Prospective volunteers should contact Jim Lovell, our administrator, who can be reached by phone at (619)235-9445 ext.1 or by email at
For complete contact information, click here.