>I left the apartment early, it was before sunrise. The tree-lined streets I drove down were dark and empty. The air was cold, crisp and foggy. Every once in a while another car passed going in the other direction. As I got closer to a main street other cars became more and more frequent. By the time I hit the main drag I no longer felt alone or isolated.
Arriving at my destination I was quickly put to work. There were over 100 pies and cakes to load onto the bus. As others arrived we recruited them to help and we made short work of loading the bus. Next came cases and cases of frozen turkeys and several other boxes of supplies. After loading them and the band’s equipment on the bus we finally loaded up all the passengers.
More than 60 people were riding the bus and over 140 more drove or rode in their own cars. We were headed towards San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where we were joining Roger Huang and SF City Impact to bring Thanksgiving Day to the residents of one of San Francisco’s worst neighborhoods.
Arriving in San Francisco we made quick work of unloading the bus. Our band members exited first, taking their equipment to the stage area on a blocked off area of Jones Street. The rest of us took the cakes, turkeys and other supplies to a staging area in a nearby park. We signed in and received our ID stickers with our work assignments on them. Then we joined Pastors Jeff and Roger and other leaders in the staging area in the blocked off area on Jones Street for orientation.
After orientation we broke up into our work groups. Some groups were pakaging groceries for distribution, others were assembling hot meals into carry-out boxes, still others were serving a sit down meal in the park while our band played for their entertainment.
I was assigned to group 6: delivery. Our leader was a tall, lanky man named Albert. He took us to a corner of Boedecker Park where we loaded up with bags of groceries to deliver to a residential hotel down the street. We had about 15 – 20 members in our group and we each grabbed two big yellow bags of groceries. Albert told us that he lived in this building alongside the people we were delivering to that day. We followed Albert down the street like a gaggle of ducklings, keeping our eyes on his gray and black “jester’s” cap.
At the hotel Albert told us this was a 6 story building. Several of us got into the elevator so that we could start delivering to the folks on floor 6. Unfortunately, the elevator didn’t climb to the 6th floor with everyone in it. As a matter of fact, the elevator only went about 1/2 way to the 2nd floor. We returned to the first floor where we offloaded about 1/2 the passengers. Trying it again this time the elevator went almost all the way to the 4th floor. Climbing up and out of the elevator, we decided to climb the remaining stairs to the 6th floor. Long hallways of many doors faced us. We spread ourselves down the hallways and began knocking,
“Free food!” we yelled. “Happy Thanksgiving! Free food!”
The bags of groceries were quickly dispersed. We then went to a kitchen on Turk Street for boxes of hot meals. The scene was similar to the grocery distribution only without getting stuck in the elevator. We climbed all 6 sets of stairs.
“Happy Thanksgiving! Hot meals!” we yelled. We knocked, we banged, we did all we could to attract the residents attention. No one wanted to miss out on a free, hot meal. Some of the residents swung their doors open wide to greet us, others opened their doors barely wide enough to accept the food. Everyone said, “Thank You!”
We delivered hot meals to 4 residential hotels. We met a wide variety of people. Some were friendly, gregarious even. They opened their doors and chatted with us. Some even invited us to peek into their rooms. We couldn’t do much more than that because their rooms were pretty small, certainly not large enough for visitors. Others were not as friendly. They peered fearfully out their doors. They scurried and scampered back into their rooms as soon as they received their food. It was difficult to understand what it would be like to live as some of these people do, never leaving their tiny rooms, confined to a space of no more than a few square feet. As we walked down those hallways we saw and smelled evidence of the extreme poverty of the Tenderloin’s residents.
Yes, some of the resident’s are there as a result of the poor choices they have made in their lives, choices involving drugs, alcohol and other addictions. Some of them are there due to the inability to care for themselves due to mental or physical illnesses. No matter what their reasons for being there, they are all God’s children. I was there that day to serve them. I was joined that day by approximately 1,000 volunteers. We were all there to spread the love of Jesus.
I went home that evening exhausted. I slept most of the way home on the bus. Driving from the church to home felt like a much longer trip than normal. I slept on the couch until my son came home from the Thanksgiving meal he shared with his girlfriend and her family. It was a full day. I hope to do the same thing next Thanksgiving.