These two days are combined in our posts because we worked at the same two service organizations for both days. In the morning we served at Project Open Hand, which is a nonprofit organization down the street from us, that serves the community with nutritious foods that they can either receive through the grocery store they have, through at home deliveries for people with disabilities, or for those who have HIV/AIDS, Breast Cancer patients, and homeless members of the community. Our volunteer coordinator Rachel was beyond chipper and excited to be a part of Project Open Hand, and have us serve with them. Her enthusiasm, and those of the other staff members, really created a welcoming, fun environment to serve at.
Our first day there, half our team sorted through chicken, while the other half created trail mix and oatmeal. It was wonderful to see how fresh the food is that the people who come to Project Open Hand are receiving, and also to know that what we were making for them was literally going to be taken within a day or so at the grocery store! On day two we sorted through celery, bagging an endless amount of oranges, cutting egg cartons in half, splitting pasta, creating almond butter, and bagging frozen meals for delivery. As you can see, our tasks most certainly increased the second day after they saw how efficient and eagerly we work! It was interesting to see though that, as with any nonprofit, there has to be some waste. Our team advisor Chester, and team member Lee, were asked to sort through bags of salad. Ultimately, they were told to throw away the entire bag if there was any brown lettuce in it, which is unfortunate considering so many bags with mostly fresh salad parts were thrown away. However, no one could deny that their ingredients in their food were the freshest imaginable. We also had Patrick, Brandon, and John from our team make almond butter! Project Open Hand makes its own types of almond and peanut butter with literally just the nuts, and a few other ingredients that we’ve all heard of. There’s nothing in the butters that people can’t identify, so it has such a wonderful, natural, chunky taste to it! They even sell it in local stores, and increase their money for their services.
One last night part of Project Open Hand was that they served us and all those who volunteer, lunch each day we were there! Fresh lunch too, with salads, soups, hearty breads, and good drinks. It was a good break from the fastfood/ eating out we had been doing for five days straight at this point.
In comparison to Project Open Hand, which works towards systemic change with their services to the greater San Francisco and surrounding area populations, GLIDE Memorial Church serves three meals daily to feed the hungry every day. We served here both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons after Project Open Hand. At GLIDE, we learned that they have a medical clinic, some housing, a program for youth, amongst other services, and their meal feeding program. Unlike Project Open Hand, GLIDE will make meals with whatever they basically can, so they are not necessarily nutritious, although there are some variations of food groups within a meal. For example, the first night’s meal including hotdogs, pears, carrots, potatoe chips and as much water as they would like. Day two’s meals included rice with some sort of meat melody, carrots/corn, a slice of bread, two tangerines, and again as much water as they would like. There were also vegetarian options. One of our co-leaders Nicole, made an important point that the homeless don’t have too many choices a day, including what they get to eat, so as a team we were encouraged to eat the meals at GLIDE too to understand that this could possibly be our only meal option until the morning.
The actual meal serving program was set up in two rooms; a big room which individuals needed to have received a ticket at the entrance of the church to come in, and the other room which serves the disabled since it is an accessible room, and also services families. Our team was split up to go to both rooms, so for the smaller room they were passing out meals and coming back to the big room (which had the kitchen), to get more meals. Those in the big room either were at the door to receive the tickets, be in the lunch line with a job to either put their specific food on the tray, or hand it to the person who just handed in the ticket, or work the floor in terms of taking finished trays away or refilling water. While the time period only last an hour or so, at least 300 people or more were served, so we were constantly working. This was the most physically service site for us, and we really never slowed down during the time in which the meal serving program was open.
From our experiences with GLIDE though, we did learn a few things about homelessness. One was that there is no one face to homelessness; people of all ages, races, appearances, etc, were coming in to receive food. Some were dressed in suits, some had clothes with dirt and holes on them, some were clean shaven, some looked as though they hadn’t received haircuts in quite some time. We also saw some of the same people both days receiving meals, or even more than once a day. Caitlin, on the first day was the person who received the tickets, and saw a man come in repeatedly for a total of 5 times just for the dinner meal. GLIDE says that people can get a ticket, eat, get another ticket, and eat again, for as many times as they want, as long as there are enough tickets, and it’s during the time in which meals are served.
Most of the people were polite and said hello or thanked us for the meals, while some didn’t speak, some spoke to themselves, some seemed to be strung out on drugs, even one woman openly consumed vodka while with dinner, and others asked us to join heir fight with aliens, Jesus, etc. We did notice that the fulltime staff actually knew a lot of the people coming in, which was comforting to think that the staff does interact with the people they serve. For the most part, it was a peaceful, but busy experience, although on the second day a fight did seem to break out in the big room. We certainly learned a lot from GLIDE, as well as Project Open Hand, these past two days, both about GLBTQ issues and homelessness, and about ourselves!
Also, Thursday night we joined another alternative service break group from Xavier University, to hear a transgender speaker at our Hostel. Zooey had an inspirational story to share with all of us, and truly enlightened many about transgender issues with a Trans* 101 presentation. Trans* issues are a very present, very real part of the GBLTQ community, and it was important for us as a team to learn more about the Trans* community. Thank you to Xavier University and Zooey for having us at the speaker presentation!
For Friday, our last full day in San Francisco, we’ll be recreating the retreat we went on in Raleigh, seeing a bit more of the city, having our last reflection in the AIDS Memorial Park, and one final meal out together!