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Formerly homeless chef prepares meals for the needy in San Francisco

Formerly homeless chef prepares Christmas dinner for the needy in S.F.
Formerly homeless chef prepares Christmas dinner for the needy in S.F. 02:55

SAN FRANCISCO -- When he was homeless and destitute, becoming a top chef wasn't exactly on Juan Trujillo's menu of life.

"I got into drugs and alcohol from the age of 13," he said. "I started drinking and smoking. As time went on, I started venturing on and testing new things, anything I could get my hands on."

At 17, he discovered crack cocaine and began a downward spiral that nearly killed him.

"I remember the first hit and where I took it and I fell in love with it," he said.

Then, a year ago, just when he'd lost hope, he stumbled into St. Anthony's, a social service non-profit in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin District. While enjoying his first hot meal in a while, he was introduced to a staffer who offered him a spot in a detox program.

In the meantime, he worked in the kitchen as an assistant. Now, he's a chef at the very place that saved his life.

"It's amazing," he said. "It was always a dream for me to work in kitchen, cooking."

Every Christmas for the past 70 years, the St. Anthony Foundation serves about 1,500 holiday meals. On Monday, Trujillo and his team cooked up 21,000 pounds of chicken, 160 pounds of rice and 500 pounds of brownies.

While homelessness is on the rise nationwide, a recent government report shows that San Francisco saw its unhoused population drop by 15 percent since 2019.

Still, St. Anthony spokesperson Sally Haims said the crisis is far from over.

Haim said the problem has been compounded by the fentanyl crisis and an acute mental health crisis as well as the skyrocketing cost of housing.

"I think it's a real struggle for a lot of folks," she said.

For Trujillo, it's been a chance to carve a tale of resilience by slicing through life's biggest adversities.

"What better place to give back to than [the one] that has given me so much," he said.

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