Guest blogger Maura Hurley is a St. Anthony’s volunteer.
The sky was cloudy, but the day was joyous on Golden Gate Avenue as San Francisco notables and a host of other visitors and guests celebrated the groundbreaking of the long-awaited new building on Jones Street that will house a larger St. Anthony’s Dining Room and 90 units of affordable housing for low-income senior citizens.
Among the dignitaries: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Ed Lee, Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and S.F. Giants mascot Lou Seal.
The a cappella Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir entertained the crowd with a rousing rendition of “God is Great.” And Tammy Nelson from the cast of “Beach Blanket Babylon.” dressed in her pizza delivery outfit, sang “San Francisco” (open up your Golden Gate) as the crowd cheered.
The groundbreaking itself–at the bottom of the construction site — featured dignitaries wielding gold-colored shovels and an interfaith blessing.
Three representatives of the Sikh community in Fremont took BART to the City to attend the event. Balbir Sull, Avtar Kaur and Nirmal Singh Chemma said that their community has been donating new blankets to St. Anthony’s for 16 years.
Stephen Russell, a prep chef at St. Anthony’s, was there, too. “It’s a good feeling to be part of something that a lot of people will make use of,” he said.
Jill Lonergan, marketing manager at Nibbi Construction, the company constructing the new building, said that when she heard the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir would be performing she decided to come. But then said she would have come anyway to be part of the event.
Sergio Nibbi, whose father started the construction company and whose sons now run it, said that his relationship with St. Anthony’s goes back many years. “When you wanted to make a donation, you made it to them. It was automatic when I was growing up,” he said. Today, he added, “St. Anthony’s gets a special rate but we get it back many times over in blessings.”
Rochelle Fort, a social worker at the nearby Mercy family housing apartments, said that she was excited about the new building and thought that some of the seniors in her building would want to move there. “There just isn’t enough housing now for seniors” she said.
Robert Harrell (pictured left), who has kept St. Anthony’s guests, visitors and employees safe for nine years as a staff member of Client Safety Services, summed up the day. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Now let the show begin.”