Going Back to School in Style

In the far corner of a bustling room, chock full of parents, kids, and a handful of stroller-riding toddlers, Benny – a soon-to-be eleventh grade student at Balboa High School – was heading out the door, arms full of new clothes, a new backpack, new shoes, and a $50 gift certificate to Old Navy.  He had an unassuming yet confident tenor in his voice, especially after securing a plethora of much needed school supplies.  He was eager to explain how this upcoming year was a pivotal one for him.   “We have these things called Pathways at Balboa.  I just got into the Law Pathway.” If you fast forward a decade or so, you could imagine Benny cramming for his Bar exam, ready to launch a career as a budding, young attorney.  But today, he shyly and graciously received his new back-to-school digs.  “The winter coat is my favorite.”  He went on to explain, “This was more than I thought it would be.  I was planning on getting some new clothes for school, so this helps out a lot.” He seemed un-phased – even tranquil – amid the toddlers and younger students, excitedly running around the room comparing their face-painting designs and new temporary tattoos.  In this moment, it was so easy to grasp the importance of the Back-to-School giveaway.  For an organization like St. Anthony’s, the daily reminder of the sky-rocketing cost of living and the immediate consequences this presents for low-income families is an acute lesson in how the poorest people in San Francisco are struggling to make ends meet.  SF Unified School District reported 2,352 students as...

A Sister to 1,000 Brothers

Sister Mary Rogers officially retired on June 30, 2015 after a distinguished 15 year career as a drug and alcohol counselor at Fr. Alfred Center.  For thousands of people, she was the first face they saw when making the life-changing decision to seek treatment for their addiction.  For many more, she was a critical link in their journey to remain clean and sober. “If you told me 25 years ago I’d be doing THIS, I’d say you were crazy,” she chuckled.  ‘THIS’ describes the experience of being an 80 year old nun and the only female counselor in a drug and alcohol recovery program for 60 homeless and low-income men. Nearly 39 years ago, Sr. Mary took her last sip of alcohol and never looked back.  At the time, she and her husband Jack checked into a recovery program for alcoholics in Santa Barbara, determined to find their own sobriety.  Two years later, in 1978, Jack died, leaving Sr. Mary widowed, newly sober, and searching for a way forward in life. When I asked, what influenced her to become sober?, Sr. Mary responded with a resounding, “Ugh.  That was so long ago.” After a thoughtful pause, she elaborated and said, “Finally, some part of me surrendered enough to let God in.”  This surrender eventually led her to religious life.  She joined the Sisters of the Holy Names in 1991. Sister Mary first heard about St. Anthony’s from Fr. John Hardin in the late 1990s.  At the time, she was working as the secretary to the Provincial for the Franciscan Friars in Oakland.  She had just completed a Master’s Degree...

For the Veterans Who Gave All

On most days in St. Anthony’s Dining Room, you’ll find Cheryl singing tributes to the people she loves in the Tenderloin.  This past Monday – Memorial Day – her songs were replaced by quiet contemplation and thoughts of her late husband, a Veteran of World War II.  She held a small American Flag close to her heart, a remembrance for the sake of a song. Cheryl was joined at the table by Henry, a Veteran from the Vietnam War era.  Despite the hustle and bustle around them – this is St. Anthony’s busiest day of the year – Henry’s thoughts, too, were of fellow soldiers no longer here to be honored on this day.  “Other people have other minds for festivities, but mine is focused on the Veterans who gave all.” Memorial Day is a perfect storm in St. Anthony’s Dining Room.  People surviving on a modest fixed-income have run out of funds for the month and the federal holiday means other services are closed.  Add to the mix that many people in San Francisco have other things on their mind, namely the three B’s of Memorial Day:  Beaches, Barbeques, and Baseball.  Preparing for this meal is a herculean feat to accomplish for the chefs and regular volunteers who scramble to keep up with the dramatic rise in demand for meals; 4,000 meals to be exact, fourteen hundred higher than the daily average. The three B’s of Memorial Day are the last thing on the minds of those who turn to St. Anthony’s for a meal, including hundreds of homeless and low-income Veterans.  One in every five meals served...

Serving those who’ve served our country

Memorial Day in St. Anthony’s Dining Room: The Busiest Day of the Year St. Anthony’s Dining Room is braced to serve up to 3,500 meals on Memorial Day, over a thousand more meals than the average day. One in five of those meals will be served to a Veteran. Henry, a regular diner at St. Anthony’s, is one of the hundreds of Veterans who will be served that day.  Henry served his country in the Marines from 1969 – 1976.  Honorably discharged, he struggled to find his way in life after returning back to the United States from the Far East.  Henry attributes the disproportionate number of Veterans in the Dining Room to a disconnect between their lives and where they go to receive services. “What happens to a lot of Veterans I know is that they don’t realize they have all these benefits.  I didn’t go to the VA until 1996.  I got back from the service in 1976.  A lot of Veterans get disconnected.  They put you back in society to survive on your own.” For St. Anthony’s, the cost of war can be seen every day in the staggering number of Veterans who slip beneath the safety net and turn to the free Dining Room for food, services, and even more importantly, friendship.  On Memorial Day, that number reaches an all time high. Ed – a Veteran of the Marine Corp and a longtime volunteer who has spent nearly a decade serving meals in the Dining Room – lamented the fact that many Vietnam War Veterans never got thanked. “A lot of the reasons we see...

Training for a New Life: John’s Story of Struggle & Triumph

On a sunny day in February, a long line of guests streamed through the doors of St. Anthony’s new Dining Room, eagerly awaiting a hearty meal of oven roasted chicken cacciatore. One floor below, residents of St. Anthony’s Fr. Alfred Center for addiction recovery were prepping for the next day’s meal of red beans and rice. Every day, these residents participate in St. Anthony’s Job Training Program, feeding thousands of low-income San Franciscans while learning valuable skills and earning their Food Handler Certification for California. On this particular morning, hundreds of containers of Organic Girl lettuce were stacked neatly on a stainless steel counter. John, a participant in the Job Training Program, was rattling off numbers, eyeing the stacks of lettuce and estimating how many barrels he would need for 3,000 single serving portions. St. Anthony’s Job Training Program introduces participants like John to the challenges of working in a fast paced, restaurant-like environment while simultaneously addressing the roller coaster of emotions that come with battling addiction. Scribbling on the outside of the box, he jotted down a few numbers and murmured, “6 cases, 50 boxes, 20 containers, 3 barrels…I need 110 containers of lettuce.” Behind him, Eric, a graduate of the program, now a prep chef, glanced around the spacious kitchen at pallets of onions, carrots, pears, apples, and racks of donated Valentine’s Day desserts stacked 10 feet high. “Today’s prep is light. We’ll start with the lettuce, move on to dice 50 pounds of peppers and zucchini, 2,000 onions, 360 pounds of cornbread, and 600 tortilla shells.” Participants in the Job Training Program prepare an average of 3,000...