During the Northern California wildfires, St. Anthony’s opened a temporary overnight refuge to help shelter our homeless neighbors from poor air quality. There were many emotions expressed by guests, volunteers, and staff as we watched our community go through great deals of hardship. One of our staff, Madeira, touched on her experience working at St. Anthony’s in this state of emergency.
“I just passed my year anniversary of working at St. Anthony’s. I’ve had highs and lows but today I was truly reminded as to why I chose to work here.
As the wildfires have continued to spread, and the smoke has continued to build up in the city, our guests are struggling at an all-time high. The air quality is worsening and most of our guests—quite literally—cannot escape it. Because of this, we have opened our doors an hour before our meal service starts so our guests don’t have to wait outside but can come in to the Dining Room where there is clean, filtered air.
Schools are now closing for the safety and health of their students in Northern California. This is affecting St. Anthony’s seeing as now we no longer have large groups of students coming with their schools to volunteer in our Dining Room (when on average we need between 50-60 volunteers). Our volunteer numbers are at an all-time low and we are doing everything we can in order to run our Dining Room Service each and every day.
Even though all of this has been happening, the thing that amazes me most is that our team of volunteers and staff, working together, is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure our guests are safe and healthy. If that means we open an emergency shelter, then we’ll do it. Our team decided last minute on Thursday, October 12th to provide a four-day shelter for our guests from 6pm-6am.
This is why I work at St. Anthony’s. In a state of emergency for our guests, volunteers and staff are proactive and put our guests first. Love, compassion, dignity and respect emulates throughout all of St. Anthony staff.
With all this being said, I’m writing this to say thank you. Thank you to everyone I work with at St. Anthony’s. I am more than proud to work with each and every one of you and just know that your work and love does not go unnoticed.”
When Douglas first came through St. Anthony’s Father Alfred Center recovery program, CSS Manager, Wayne Garnett wasn’t sure that he was right for Client Safety Services. “Douglas had this frown on his face. He was angry a lot,” Wayne remembers, “Prior to his graduation I hired him, and I did that as a favor, because I was alumni at Father Alfred Center, which taught me something about judging people by the way they look. I’ll never forget when Douglas said to me ‘Just give me a chance man—all I need is a real chance to show you that I can do this.’ And the moment he said that to me was the moment when I started to see a big change in Douglas. I depend on Douglas so much because Douglas reaches out to people. Douglas has this understanding of what these people are going through. I mean a lot of us have it, but his is just a little deeper. Things that he does are, to me, spiritual—there’s just something about him. From the first time I saw him to seeing him now I think to myself—how many opportunities have I missed on people just by judging them?” by judging them on the way they look?”
We spoke to Douglas about his experience working with the guests at St. Anthony’s. “I have learned to talk them through things when they are having a rough time” Douglas explained, “It diffuses the situation and it also builds more character in me. Instead of being violent, I’ve learned to show compassion for people and that ability is a blessing that I got from working here. I try to give people the incentive to keep pushing. They look at me and say ‘Man, you still doing good,’ and that helps me too. I say to them, ‘Hey, look at me, I used to be like you.’ They ask me how I’m able to stay clean. I tell them that I pray everyday and ask God to give me the courage to change my life. And so far so good—I love where I’m at today.
Coming here was a blessing for me. I’ve been able to give back. People see me and how my life has changed. I got an open door policy with everybody. I can talk to them about anything, I don’t have to feel ashamed about things if I’m having a hard time. They’ll see me not talking and say, “Doug what’s going on with you today?” the time that they take out with me has been a blessing. I got great people to talk to from the top to the bottom. That’s helped me a lot. I would say that St. Anthony’s saved my life. I’ll scream and shout that all over the world. I was able to get my own place, been able to live my life, responsible. All that. It’s been a blessing.”
Learn more about St. Anthony’s Fr. Alfred Center in a short video clip.
Br. Thomas, who volunteers weekly at St. Anthony’s, spoke to us about how volunteering at St. Anthony’s has changed his relationship to people who are homeless.
“Being a friar makes it really easy to have one’s own world and to live in that world. Volunteering forces me to step out of that bubble. Homelessness is no longer just a word or a concept when I come here, rather it has a face and a name and it is someone that I know—and that roots me into the larger picture. That is part of my larger take away from volunteering here—“I am here to help the homeless”, has become “I am here to help Antonio”, it is about real people, and that is grounding.”
“It’s comforting to know that you can walk away from St. Anthony’s and trust that these people will be getting a meal. It’s a huge burden lifted.”
Dave, member of St. Anthony’s Client Safety Services team, is often seen going out of his way to be kind to the people that St. Anthony’s serves.
Manager of the Client Safety Services team, Wayne, told us how Dave, who arrives at work at 5 am, interacts with the guests who sleep on St. Anthony’s doorstep. “It’s a magic moment when Dave comes to work in the morning—he picks up Anne, a homeless woman who sleeps outside on Golden Gate, he helps gather her things, and then he runs across the street to get her coffee and fruit. Sometimes he’ll go upstairs to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
We asked Dave to talk to us about what motivates him to reach out to people who are experiencing hardships, such as addiction and poverty, that most of us are tempted to turn away from. “For many, many years I was a meth cook. I’ve got 30 years in prison. I was responsible for making people that way (referring to those suffering from addiction). I’ve been clean now for 14 years but I still think about what I used to do to people with what I made. I want people to say when I go that he was an idiot for most of his life but he finished up good.”
Have you had an ‘aha’ moment or special experience at St. Anthony’s? We want to hear about it! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inspired by life in the Tenderloin, one of our very own, Calder Lorenz wrote ‘One Way Down (Or Another).’ Read his reflection and personal views on the novel.
Most days, I’m in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, working with staff and volunteers and guests who all share in the labor, share in the love of St. Anthony’s Dining Room. It’s a kitchen that never really closes. It’s a kitchen that is open to the public three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Seven days a week. It serves as a shelter. A sanctuary. A community. Despite everything that swirls and storms on the outside, we are here, building relationships with our brothers and sisters. Everyone, all of us, in need of something, all of us, in need of each other.
I found this place, St. Anthony Foundation, in 2008. I was in the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco. I answered a Craigslist Ad. I applied for part-time work with their Technology Lab and ended up as a full time coordinator with their largest program, The Dining Room. It wasn’t entirely new work, my father had run a free kitchen in Baltimore when I was a teenager, my summers filled with sweeping and making sandwiches and sweltering days in the kitchen, but what was new, what was astonishing, was the size and space. It was the daily need. It was the sheer number of meals cooked and served. The astounding number of folks who waited in line. The intensity of the streets and the flashes of violence. The mosaic of what felt like little miracles.
Our Client Safety Services (CSS) team provides more than just security to St. Anthony’s guests and staff.
Manager, Wayne Garnett, says that is also provides hope. “We give hope to people who are seeking hope. We give it to them with the words that we say, we give it to them with the things that we do. I remember one of our staff members taking his shoes off and giving them to a guy who came to us barefoot. I remember another staff member giving his CSS sweatshirt to a guy who was freezing on the ground. Those little moments are what sets CSS apart.”
The CSS team often comes together to support guests who are experiencing severe hardship such as chronic homelessness and addiction. Wayne explained, “When Lynn* first came to us we thought she was dying. She’s a lot better now than she used to be. The whole team really got behind Lynn, they would come out and make 911 calls for her, talk to her about getting help, get her a blanket. Lynn said some really foul things to people. But the thing is that the team had compassion for Lynn and when they look at her they can sometimes put themselves in her shoes.”
Wayne spoke of the daily exchanges that happen between CSS staff and guests, “In the morning when Dave comes to work he says “hey folks, it’s time to get up” sometimes he arrives with coffee or donuts—but some exchange always happens between CSS and the people at the door—some moment of connection. The little miracles happen out here at 6am. CSS gets to see the little miracles. The things not everyone gets to see.
If you’d like to get involved in our community, why not learn more about our volunteer opportunities or sign up for a shift.
*Name has been changed