By Lana Krouzian
A small group of volunteers at Temple United Methodist Church at 65 Beverly St. works seven days a week, 365 days a year, to deliver food to 400 families every week, providing them with a mainstay that they otherwise could not do without.
During the first months of the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, a small group of parishioners, together with Pastor Kelley O’Connor, an eight-year established clergy leader at the church, discussed the need to provide food assistance in an impending economic crisis, which would result from non-essential services being closed down. People were soon to be losing jobs and many would be in need. Despite concerns expressed to wait on the project due to the strict pandemic rules being imposed, Robert Mason, a long-time parishioner, active volunteer, and U.S. Army veteran with 30 years of service, stepped up to the occasion.
“Food should be given to people when they need it,” Mason said.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Mason enlisted the help of local stores – Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Gus’s Market, Noe Valley Bakery, and Molly Stone’s – that donated their leftover foods to be delivered to the church by Food Runners, a non-profit group that delivers surplus food to senior centers, pantries, and community centers that serve the needy.
Almost single-handedly, this slim, 5-foot, 6-inch, energetic and able-bodied 83-year-old gentleman started hauling carts with boxes, placing them on shelves. He set up refrigeration, made a website, responded to phone calls, organized a registry list with ID’s and a number system for walk-ins as well as where food tables would be placed.
O’Connor described Mason as “a non-stop, go-getter guy, so lovely, so concerned.” Other volunteers also got involved shortly thereafter. Queenie and Ruth are coordinators for the Wednesday distribution.
“These ladies get volunteers who divide, disperse and bag up the food,” O’Connor said. “They work intensively to make certain all is ready for the Wednesday crowd.”
O’Connor describes the food operation as one that gathers talent, human gifts and creativity, with long arms that make an impact.
“We are a global church, with 13 ethnicities who respect and care – that is inter-cultural rather than multi-cultural,” she said.
Tyree, lay minister, participates in making what he calls “the human connection” and in “putting into service what we believe.”
Paul Harrell, another U.S. veteran connected with Temple United Methodist Church, was named volunteer of the year in his town on the peninsula. He stressed the importance of serving one’s community because “it is the right thing to do.”
Susan Worts has been an active volunteer at the church for 17 years. She ran the much smaller-scale Wednesday pantry throughout the entire time, and helped see it through its current growth. In addition, Worts partners with Catholic Charity seniors and Head Start; not a single person is turned away, not a single person will go away hungry.
After a busy day of food distribution at the church, Temple United Methodist Church delivers food to individuals who are homebound, disabled, destitute or otherwise unable to travel. One lady in the Sunset, had to give up her apartment and move into her beauty salon. The lack of clients due to the shutdown of “non-essential” services made it necessary for her to seek food pantry help. Temple Food project responded with regular food delivery to her door.
Soon, in the midst of pop-up pantries that had started up during the pandemic throughout San Francisco, Temple Methodist’s food distribution project became an impressive operation. Starting as a two-days-per-week activity, serving Merced, Ocean View and Ingleside, the project increased to seven days per week, expanding to include the Sunset District, Daly City and north peninsula. With the practical guidance of a seasoned army veteran, the volunteers’ sense of targeting every aspect and need, this small project became one of the most efficient, well-run and well-organized pantries in the City.
Approximately 500 pounds of food are dropped off to the church every day from the participating stores. Approximately 75 families per day are served. Walk-ins are welcome from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. every day or upon need, if requested. At the end of the evening, the food is gone with only excess non-perishable foods on the racks for the next day. Empty, clean boxes are donated to Meals on Wheels to use for their distribution program.
With every progressive step, the idea of helping people with food seems to catch fire with this group. The core of volunteers has created spin-off after spin-off, as each one thought of more people they could serve.
Mary Wan is a neighbor of the church. She doesn’t own a car, so she takes her cart full of food boxes once a week from church across Junipero Serra Boulevard and 19th Avenue, all the way to Brotherhood Way to an assisted living facility, bringing food to the elderly disabled.
Chudy and Florence Nnebe take food from church to their Daly City neighborhood for distribution. They developed a system of posting announcements on Next Door so that neighbors know when to expect food delivery. It has become a significant spin-off operation of their own.
“We’ve got my wife, sister, brother-in-law and children, all involved in a big family effort,” Chudy said. “Neighbors help, and there is amazing spontaneous teamwork. This whole experience has been one of tremendous joy. It has strengthened our family, bringing us closer together, and has strengthened our spiritual life.”
Nickey Trasvina, another neighbor of the church, takes food to individuals whom she personally knows in the Midtown Terrace Park area, near Laguna Honda. Among the elderly individuals who receive help from Trasvina are people who have been “good organizers” in their day, active volunteers in their communities, who are now elderly and disabled. Trasvina is happy that these people who contributed significantly to our lives in their younger years are now able to receive help from the Temple Methodist’s food project.
Brenda Sanchez is a cheerful door greeter who handles the number system and name registry.
“When Robert was out for a few months for his hip surgery, it took five or six people to replace him. No one could do what he did,” she said. “When the pastor asked me if I would help Robert, I said ‘Of course. How could any of us not help Robert.’”
After his rehab period, one could see Robert back at the pantry with his walker, directing traffic, making certain that all was running smoothly. After a few weeks, the walker disappeared, and once again Mason was pushing carts loaded with heavy boxes.
Mason said he has a lot of energy because he used to be a marathon runner. A native of Annapolis, Maryland, Mason served as career military in Vietnam, the Philippines, Okinawa and Korea. His military career also took him through a number of states in the United States: South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Washington, Utah and Missouri. While stationed in Utah, Mason was a track club trainer. His runners were trained to run 10-12 miles daily. When he, together with his track club, ran the marathon, it was 14 miles uphill, then downhill into Salt Lake City. He said, to see the sights, including places in Idaho and Montana, the only way at low cost was to run through them all.
“Today, I don’t run, but I walk my dogs eight miles per day, after I get through at the pantry,” he said.
He has no plans of slowing down.
“Couch potatoes die early,” he said. “So, I volunteer every day. Best job I’ll ever love. When I reach age 100, there may be other things I want to do.”
For more information about Temple United Methodist Church, go to https://www.sftempleumc.org.