Jesus Burgers Continues to Serve Isla Vista Amidst COVID-19

Illustration by Alyssa Long

Alexandra Wishowski

Isla Vista Beat Reporter

On Friday nights during a typical school year, it was typical to see a long line of partygoers on the lawn of 6686 Del Playa Drive. The location, a community residence for Isla Vista Church (IVC) members known as the Jesus Burger house, spread their message of Christianity to college students through free hamburgers. 

With a mustard cross and a ketchup heart, IVC’s Jesus Burgers has been an Isla Vista staple for the past two decades. Since its inception in 2001, over 100,000 Jesus Burgers have been served. 

The church’s mission is “to bring the gospel of Jesus to the city of Isla Vista and to see it transformed from an infamous party city into a city filled with the light and love of Jesus.”

Following restrictions and shutdowns of many businesses in Santa Barbara County, the fate of these Friday night burgers was largely unknown for the new school year at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). In an interview with The Bottom Line (TBL), lead pastor Jason Lomelino detailed how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed operations for Jesus Burgers. 

“We’re still hosting it at the house for the people who live there,” said Lomelino. “We shut down the whole Friday night to avoid the chaos.” 

Rather than welcoming guests into the yard, the new Jesus Burger setup is what Lomelino describes as “more like a walk-by.” Isla Vista (IV) residents are now able to swing by the Jesus Burger house at around 6 p.m. on Friday nights to grab a freshly grilled burger. 

Around 200 hamburgers were served to rowdy crowds of hungry college students at the Jesus Burger house each Friday. With COVID-19 continuing to spread within the Isla Vista area, Lomelino states that the group “dropped down to serving about 100 or so hamburgers.”

It is uncertain when Jesus Burgers will finally resume its normal operation. Lomelino clarified that Jesus Burgers will follow county public health guidelines for the safe reopening of businesses, rather than risking a large public gathering that puts the community at risk. 

Respecting the health and safety of Isla Vista residents is an even higher priority for Jesus Burgers after photos of IVC gatherings showing maskless attendants were featured on the Instagram account, putting the church on the receiving end of bad publicity. 

Lomelino addressed this by clarifying that these types of gatherings have permission to meet outside legally. 

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) provides industry guidelines for places of worship, stating that “outdoor attendance should be limited naturally through implementation of strict physical distancing measures of a minimum of six feet between attendees from different households.” Additionally, face coverings are required.

Lomelino explained that the IVC house hosts people every Sunday for church services, with leaders asking attendants to wear a mask and sit only with people in their immediate households. 

Hosting smaller gatherings has proved to be a challenge due to the community-style housing for the church’s members. 

“Fourteen people live in the Jesus Burger house so they sit all together and we have multiple community houses of 10 people so it just doesn’t always look the best on paper or to the visual eye,” said Lomelino. 

“We’re trying to do everything we can to adhere to what is being asked for church services in California,” he continued.

Lomelino added that people outside the church have been welcomed to help serve Jesus Burgers, but says that the opportunity will only be available when social distancing guidelines are lifted. 

“No one can join besides people living in the house,” he said. “They’re trying to make sure everyone has their gloves and masks on and won’t draw a crowd.”

Signing up for an internship with IVC includes officially assisting to serve Jesus Burgers. Currently, the cost of an internship with IVC is $150 per week.

From the perspective of the IVC, the Friday night burger giveaways aim to reflect God that loves all people  — an image that Lomelino has noticed often does not come to mind when most people think of Christianity.

“I think a hamburger is just symbolic of God’s love for everyone in the simplest form,” stated Lomelino. 

The Jesus Burgers ministry has also driven intoxicated people home and offered their bathrooms, water, and prayers to community members to spread their message. The IVC also hopes to build an equipping center called the “Field of Dreams” to house and train its members, interns, and pastor Jason Lomelino. 

Everyone — Christian or not — is welcome to visit the Jesus Burger house for a kind word and a free hamburger. Donations to support the ministry can be made on Isla Vista Church’s website.