Neighborhood News

Sunset Neighborhood Help Group Formed

By Bianca Nandzik

Ellen Isaac, a 96-year-old Sunset resident, receives a grocery delivery from Frank Plughoff, a Sunset Neighborhood Help Group volunteer. Photo courtesy of Frank Plughoff.

When the shelter-in-place order was announced, I thought this must be challenging for seniors and other risk groups who are no longer supposed to leave their homes. How would they get groceries? What about prescriptions or other medication? How about families with kids, with schools and daycares closed and companies asking their employees to work from home? 

I checked in with my direct neighbors to see whether they needed anything. Little did I know when I hit the post button on my Facebook message offering to help other neighbors by running errands for them what that single post would start.

It was Frank Plughoff, a 32-year resident of the Sunset District and later co-founder of the volunteer group, who encouraged me to take this idea to the next level and start a Facebook group. To help our neighbors we would invite like-minded neighbors to come together and assist those in need. 

The Sunset Neighborhood Help Group was created March 13 and saw more than 100 volunteers join during its first day. Now, rather than worrying about their own fears and frustrations, neighbors have begun to focus on what they can do to help their community.

Based on the news of the group spreading via word of mouth, we were contacted by the office of Supervisor Gordon Mar to coordinate efforts. Anticipating that many of those who will need assistance are not active online, we created a flyer and mobilized the growing number of volunteers to print and deliver it in the Sunset. The flyer includes a phone helpline that anyone can call for assistance.

One of the first callers was Ellen Isaac, a 96-year-old Sunset resident who saw food being delivered across her street. While we attempted to get her signed up with that specific food bank, it didn’t work out. They, like many other established help organizations, were swamped by the increased need caused by the crisis. 

To solve multiple problems at once, Celia Wu, a member of the group’s leadership team, created a partnership with the organizers of The First United Presbyterian Church’s food pantry. The group provides volunteers every Saturday to help them remain fully functional while the volunteers are able to deliver some leftover food bags to people in need who can not get to official food banks at this time. 

The first bag was delivered by my co-founder personally to Ms. Issac, who was grateful – and not only for the food. It felt good to know that she is not alone in this. More volunteers have bonded with her and many other seniors and call in on a regular basis to talk. Loneliness caused by isolation during the shelter-in-place order is another issue on the rise that neighbors like you and I can actually help with.

And even for those who saw the flyer and have no actual need for assistance, the group is hoping to provide comfort. 

“It is so reassuring to know that all you volunteers are willing to give your time and attention to allaying the gloom, fear, and panic that threaten so many people,” reads an email to the group’s hotline. Another neighbor wrote: “I put your telephone number into my cell phone and I’m feeling much more comfortable now. Thank you so much and bless all of you. I’m fine, I don’t need any help just wanted to tell you, thank you.”

So if you need any assistance – or someone to talk to – call us at (415) 212-8770 or write us an email to contact@sunsethelpers.org.

You are not alone in this!

Bianca Nandzik is Sunset District resident and an independent artist who supports projects that combine art with social causes. 

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