By Emily Rhodes
Community efforts by two different organizations based in the Richmond District have shown that COVID-19 cannot and will not stop the human spirit from finding solidarity and a way to support those most vulnerable during this time of social isolation.
St. Thomas the Apostle School, located on Balboa Street between 39th and 40th avenues, created a program called STA Cares, which purchases meals from local restaurants to deliver to front-line workers at hospitals across the city.
“We’ve had amazing responses,” Principal Judith Borelli said. “One of our teachers’ sisters works at one of the hospitals and she said how excited the nurses were (to get the food). We’ve received letters.”
The idea came from a group of parents who saw the effect the pandemic was having on the community and thought they would try to help both the front-liners and some of the restaurants in the area.
“The mission and philosophy of the school is in line with service,” Borelli said. “We have students doing service throughout the year, and that rubs off on parents.”
The group sent an email out to all parents in the school asking for donations to buy the meals. Word spread, and they started receiving donations from the community surrounding the school as well.
About 10 parents and teachers have delivered 500 meals to the following hospitals and fire stations: CPMC-Van Ness Campus, CPMC-Davies Campus, Kaiser San Francisco, Laguna Honda Hospital, SF VA Medical Center, St. Francis Memorial Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, San Francisco Fire Department-Stations 14, 31 and 34.
They received enough funding to start a second rotation, which will go to St. Francis’ critical care unit. The group says they will keep going until they use up all the funds.
The restaurant partners are: The Art Bistro, Eat Americana (Sponsor), Empero Taste, K-Elements, La Promenade Cafe, Uncle Boy’s and Angelina’s Deli Cafe.
“I congratulate the parents and the teachers for all of their hard work,” Borelli said.
Another local organization created to offer help during the pandemic, SF Neighbors Solidarity Network, is providing free bags of groceries once a week on Wednesdays to those in need throughout San Francisco.
Natalia Kresich, the founder of the group, was born and raised in the Richmond. As a tenants’ rights advocate, she has seen a number of elderly residents evicted and knows what a vulnerable population they are in general, and especially during the pandemic.
“The idea for SF Neighbors Solidarity Network came out of the idea that there are immunocompromised people who have to take COVID precautions way more seriously than others, and that creates hardship in terms of being able to go out to the grocery store, being able to ride in a cab to get there, notwithstanding being able to afford groceries,” Kresich said.
The organization of 10 volunteers recently completed their 14th week delivering groceries; they started the week the shelter-in-place order went into effect.
“I think of what we’re doing not as a form of charity but as community stabilization organizing,” Kresich said. “A lot of people we serve have faced eviction in the past five or 10 years and have successfully fought being displaced. We try to check on those people to try to keep our communities and neighborhoods intact.”
In the beginning, they had a small distribution list, but it has grown to 80 households throughout the City in neighborhoods including: Richmond, Sunset, Park Merced, North Beach, Tenderloin, Chinatown, South of Market, Mission, Potrero Hill, Excelsior, and Fillmore/Western Addition.
The grocery bags contain healthy, staple organic groceries meant to last about a week or a little more. They also include a safety kit, which contains a surgical mask, hand sanitizer, as well as safety instructions about how to sterilize your groceries and how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus into your home. They also include some tenant resources for any seniors that might be having issues with their housing.
Anyone can request a bag, no questions asked.
“No one has to give up their information to receive food. Our list is comprised of seniors, but if anyone reaches out to us and says they need a bag, we’ll provide it,” Kresich said.
To request a bag or to recommend someone to receive a bag, the group has a voicemail service at (415) 347-1460 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All donations go directly to the formation of grocery bags, prepared food, and gas for their delivery van. Donations can be sent to the group’s Venmo: @SF_Neighbors or PayPal: email@example.com.
A second program the group created is that they distribute masks, water and prepared food (usually sandwiches) to homeless encampments, typically in the Tenderloin.