Priya, a dedicated volunteer in our Dining Room, is also a professional economist. When she arrived in the US in the spring of 2014 she was shocked by the poverty and inequity she witnessed in San Francisco: “You can’t NOT see it!” Within two months of her arrival, Priya began volunteering at St. Anthony’s. In addition to the Dining Room, she’s also volunteered in our Free Clothing Program, at our annual Curbside Donation Drives, and most recently—in our Emergency Winter Shelter.
Indeed, how can anyone not see how people are struggling to survive? Nevertheless, a painfully obvious poverty is too often ignored or viewed as an eyesore to be swept away. Priya has a website dedicated to revealing “the Hidden America”, but “there’s only so much one can do by reading and writing. You need to get out and meet people.” And therein lies the hope.
While speaking with Executive Director Barry Stenger, Priya says she was struck by something he said: “We don’t give people dignity… Dignity is intrinsic, but because of the challenges so many of our guests have been through, the sense of their own dignity can be deeply buried. What we do is try to restore that intrinsic dignity.”
“Hope served daily” is the restoration of dignity Priya experiences when volunteering. “Really, it’s just the simple things—smiling, knowing and saying someone’s name, really listening to someone, remembering something they said and following up on that the next time you see them.” She too is served hope daily by “their indomitable spirit! When I ask someone how they are the answer is nearly always: ‘I’m blessed!’ and the guests themselves serve hope in the way they see to each other’s needs: ‘I’ll save you a seat.’ ‘This person needs a tray.’” Priya suggests that the guests of St. Anthony’s often “seem to be closer to their own spirits. We live in such a distracted society that takes us away from who we really are.” From the clarity of her perspective, Priya adds that heralding this authenticity of spirit is “no excuse for the lack of a safety net.”
The reciprocal economy of “hope served daily” encourages everyone involved, witnessed in the volunteers’ delight and concern for one another. “The other volunteers just gave me a baby shower. You walk in and you see community, hopefulness in the way everyone treats each other: the guests, the staff, and the volunteers.’’ The hope experienced at St. Anthony’s goes with our volunteers when they finish their shift, and they share it with others in the wider community. Priya is a vibrant example of sharing that hope both within and beyond the Tenderloin: whether she’s inviting others into the larger picture or immediately helping someone who’s come in from the rain, she is both receiving and giving hope.