Wednesday, March 27, 2013

San Francisco, Community & Justice: Day 2: The Other Side/Between the Lines

San Francisco, Community & Justice:  Day 2: The Other Side/Between the Lines

Walking through the Tenderloin in the city (name rumored in origin by police earnings, activity and more), the atmosphere featured a unique, culture, smell, and sights as to announce arrival into the district. For the first time we had entered the Tenderloin. As we walked past in our group, a few individuals had acknowledged us in with "good morning" or "God bless", as they stood lining the streets and areas, singular and in small groups of two or three. Through the unique culture, atmosphere, smell, and sights, one could gather a sense of community, yet somehow unwhole due to current conditions.

That morning, we had woken up 5am to start out our day serving breakfast at the MSC center, to women and men. Next was a tour of the city from the Tenderloin, Grace Cathedral, Market and Mission,  to Chinatown, as our immersion leader/coordinator asked us to take note in being mindful of the individuals and differences in each district.

That afternoon, we ate lunch with the people and community at St. Anthony's, an organization well know and established (for over 50 years) throughout the neighborhood for serving meals of breakfast and lunch to homeless and recovering from difficult circumstances, of individuals and families of the tenderloin and local community. We later learned this was a temporary location which serves of 2600 meals a day from one of the coordinators, while the new facilities, twice as large is being built across the street.

For conversation over lunch with individuals, many in the group voiced concerns in finding common ground and "minding the gap" of being college students interacting with various individuals, while serving in humility. As a delicate balance, admittedly it was difficult at first staring conversations with those who were interested with a simple "how are you? or hello". But once initially acknowledged, many became engaged and immersed in sharing their life stories and struggles.

Later in week, (next day) we served and assisted in food preparation from the other side of St. Anthony's, as volunteers, at a glimpse of the extraordinarily organized foundation* as a well oiled machine of volunteers serving individuals who hold up tickets indicating they are ready to be served for seconds and third time.
The food station consisted of two lines, a variety of individuals of the community being served, and volunteers ranging from college students from local universities (USF, SF State, St. Mary's etc.), college parents (including from SCU), and ages from elder retirees to middle and high schools students.

We worked collaboratively with the staff, to provide the experience, as every had their part in "breading" providing bread for trays and serving individuals who were seated. I enjoyed serving the individuals trays and meals in the fast paced environment and the efficiency and ease of the system in which individuals could take food with them in small bags provided by St. Anthony's to how much members of the community ans staff talked about how they loved the positive environment.

The line on volunteers and individuals being served were next to one another, separated by a tentabarrier*, made me think symbolically about how the only thing separating us as volunteers from the other side, was this thin barrier, of opportunities, society and circumstances, when a man who was volunteer and had brought his 12-year-old son, behind me mad e a comment about how "he wasn't too far from being the other side". We were essentially moving the same direction (of receiving the food trays), but from two different places and purposes to serve an be served. One side students discussed spring break, grad school, what was next for them, the other side concerned with the next meal. Both sides clearly visible to one another with a thin barrier. Essentially it is up to us to reach across the aisle and lend a helping hand.

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