The hostesses smile broadly at the Crescent City Café, the cooks work quickly to plate breakfast and the waiters hustle to get it all out to their guests. But no one here is in it for tips. Rather, the people behind the Crescent City Café are motivated by a desire to help some of their most vulnerable neighbors while giving a boost to those in need.

The Crescent City Café is a grassroots service project that simulates a restaurant, offering homeless and poor residents of New Orleans a morning meal with a heaping helping of dignity and respect.

“What we want to do is make homelessness less of a title, less of a label, and more of a circumstance a person is dealing with, something that can change,” says project founder Kim Thompson. “We try to do that by getting them out of the routine, treating them differently.”

Every practical effort is made to create a restaurant-like setting for these monthly meals, which are now held on the first Saturday of the month in a hall at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church.

Guests are greeted and shown to tables and offered a choice of dishes. Tables are set with linens and meals are served on ceramic plates. Such details help separate the Crescent City Café from the atmosphere of the soup kitchen and the food bank, and that gets to the point of this program.

“They are identified so regularly as homeless or poor, so we want this to be different,” says Rebekah Kuhn, one of the café’s volunteer organizers. “They don’t get much respect on the street, but they’ll find it here. We’re serving them and catering to them.”

Volunteers funded the first rendition of the Crescent City Café last spring, but now the organization gets by on donations from the public. It costs between $400 and $500 to host a breakfast that feeds anywhere from 50 to 100 people. For guests, it’s a free, no-strings-attached meal served by friendly strangers, and the impact is clear.

“This was really great,” says Peter Gorey, a guest on a recent Saturday who tunes pianos and repairs church organs. “I’m going back to where I’m staying right and telling the rest of those guys ‘you really missed a great meal!’”

Crescent City Café is held at the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, 3900 St. Charles Ave., on the first Saturday of the month, beginning at 8 a.m. For more information, visit www.crescentcitycafe.org.

– I.M.