Alcaino now works as the coordinator of the facility. "Since I like to cook, I do it with all my heart knowing that the best recompense is to receive a smile, that gives joy to the soul, it's a spiritual reward."
The Padre Pio soup kitchen – and more than 35 others like it that are sponsored by parishes in the Archdiocese of Santiago – is maintained by donations of money and supplies made by hundreds of the faithful, as well as the time of more than 250 volunteers.
Every day, the kitchen seeks to live out what Pope Francis described as three pillars for those who serve the most impoverished: trust in God who provides; observe the situation and be creative in the face of difficulties; and be prompt.
"Thanks be to God and Padre Pio that we're here, that we're cooking," Alcaino said. "No one tells us: 'Don't worry, girls, we've got food to the end of the year.' Divine Providence provides through the donors. We need to know how to distribute (the resources), we need to be creative, all so that none of them go hungry."
Felipe Vicuna, another volunteer, has witnessed the "not-so-pretty" side of the soup kitchens, which at times can include bad odors, insults and fights.
"The soup kitchen is a way of fully experiencing mercy, there's a lot of people carrying a lot of baggage, and here you can at least renew their spirits. A plate of food feeds them, but in the end, it renews their hearts and ours."
Night falls in Santiago, and the more than 12,000 homeless people across the country go their separate ways. Some will find a final meal at one of the other Catholic-run soup kitchens in the area. Others will spend the night alone, with no food and no company.
When encountering people living on the streets – sometimes plagued by alcoholism or drug addictions, abandonment or mental illness – what should one do?
Ignacia Lecaros, a volunteer at the Padre Pio kitchen, offered advice beyond simply giving food or material aid.
"Treat them with dignity, don't put up walls…empathize with them," Lecaros said. "You have to look at them like you would look at your brother. Many of them are grateful that you look them in the eyes, that you greet them with affection. It's a gesture that gives joy and inner hope that costs us nothing."