Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friendship Banquet

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m overdue to write about the Friendship Banquet.
Every Tuesday at 4:00 (excluding the first Tuesday of each month) the Friendship Banquet serves a meal that really does feel friendly. Nice table cloths and cloth napkins on round tables that seat eight or ten. Real plates and glasses. A fresh cooked meal served in four courses to each of fifty or so guests at the tables in St. Mark’s social hall. Each person greeted warmly at the door. Everyone who has a reservation is also living with HIV and living on the margins.
The banquet began in 1991 but suffered a hiatus between 2005 and 2010. That’s when Phillip stepped in to revive it. He has been passionate ever since about making the banquet a success; organizing volunteers, doing the shopping and cooking when there is no group to cover the meal, and, recently, exploring funding possibilities. He says, “Our guests are people suffering from HIV and their families who are living in difficult financial situations. Each Tuesday at 4pm we provide a fresh cooked meal served restaurant style to about 50 people on average . . . .Our guests spend their time waiting at the doctor’s office, the hospital, GA or Social Security offices, the Food Bank, or on the local bus system. The Friendship Banquet provides a time for our guests to be waited upon by our volunteers in a safe, supportive and loving atmosphere, a true change in routine.”
Many different churches and groups take turns on different Tuesdays to provide the food and prepare and serve the meal. Phillip, who is in charge of the Banquet, is there to guide groups in the meal preparation and serving. The regular crew handles set up and takes care of the dishes afterward so the group providing the food is usually only there for an hour or two of prep and then about an hour of serving.
We have just a few slots without hosts coming up between now and the end of the year: October 11th, November 8th and December 19th. Would your church or group would enjoy helping Phillip prepare and host this wonderful dinner? If so, you can contact him at or 425-673-8088.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Free Farm Stand in Danger

Today I'm going to share a post about the Free Farm Stand. While not technically a collaborator in SF CARE, the Free Farm Stand is very beloved here. It's run by Tree, an entirely wonderful person who also runs the Free Farm (with which we do work).

The Free Farm Stand is being threatened by the City, despite the fact that it is wonderful for the Mission and has attempted to get a permit for the work it does. Here is Tree's post from Monday:

Yesterday it was a very chaotic day as we began giving out numbers to people so they wouldn’t have to wait in a long line and could instead hang out in the park, sit on the grass, or take off for a while. At the end of the day we gave out 216 numbers and it took from 1 until about 3pm or so. It was a very hot day and the park has few trees to sit under to get out of the sun, so a number of people waited in line because there was shade there in the spot where people used to line up. I heard from a number of people that people liked this new system better and it seemed to make things go smoother. I think things should get better as we work the kinks out of the way we hand out and call numbers.

We also announced through a flier that Park and Recreation wants us to move our program out of the park by October 15, 2011. See the flier at below (we had this flier in Spanish and English but need a Chinese translator to really communicate with everyone):

There are a number of factors that may be contributing to this situation and why that Park and Rec is focusing on us now after three years of happily sharing food in the park. One is that we have grown in size and that does have an impact on the park. I noticed yesterday that handing out the numbers basically got rid of the long line down the street, but still people had to wait a long time to get produce and most of those people hung out on the grass. I would like to have a canopy for people to sit under, but supposedly canopies are considered a structure and that is a no no in a park I am told. Also, I was told that both Dolores Park and Mission Playground on 19th st. are under renovation and both those have kid playgrounds that are under construction and closed at the moment. That might mean more parents coming to our park and maybe some disgruntled parent complained when they saw what we were doing.

I have various emotions about this situation. I think it would be sad to stop doing the Free Farm Stand in this park. At the same time I have to be honest that it is a lot of work to make the stand happen each week and I haven’t been able to find the consistent help behind the scenes that is needed to bring the stand to the park every week…that includes picking up the produce, sorting it and packaging it so it is easier to move, dealing with the surplus soft fruit and vegetable,’and cleaning up afterwards, including putting things away at my home, and doing this every weekend. So sometimes I get tired and feel like I need more help. In the meantime I am doing some discernment and also looking at all the options, and hopefully will talk to Dana Ketcham in the permit office when she returns. I really believe that change is part of living and that sometimes unexpected good comes out of difficult bummers.

One highlight of my week was going to the heirloom expo in Santa Rosa. It was an overwhelming experience seeing all the diversity in vegetables and animals that were on display there. Though it did make me feel a little uneasy seeing all the beautiful chickens and turkeys, cows, and sheep, in small pens being stared at by people like myself like they were in a zoo. I doubt the pumpkins and squash didn’t mind showing off their stuff. I especially liked the California Rare Fruit Growers display of 60 types of apples and I don’t know how many kinds of pears were there, each with their own label and the pears with some history typed up. The show really made me come away thinking that God/Goddess or life force is such a crazy creative energy with an infinite pallet to paint with. Through my friend Justin I met his friend Aaron who among other things saves seeds and breeds vegetables. His display of his giant beets and carrots was really fantastic and trippy, and Aaron said they all are quite edible and not woody or tough. I also came away being inspired to grow less hybrid vegetables and grow more open-pollinated plants that one can save seed for (you can’t save seed for hybrids).

I met a woman who was running the Napa County Master Gardenr’s booth that has a display of the most beautiful heirloom squash and sh offered to give them to me for our Free Food Stand after the show was over. So I took home quite a display of winter squash and I brought two for the Stand yesterday. It took some time to cut them open, but they look quite yummy inside.

A friend who lives nearby on Treat Ave, came by with 98 pounds of grapefruit from his backyard tree. We had a huge amount of produce as usual including a giant harvest of green beans from the Free Farm, 26 pounds. Of course, we also got hundreds of pounds of green beans left over from the farmer’s market.

The Free Farm Stand is more than sharing food. A volunteer has been showing up regularly painting the face of kids who seem to really have fun

how local can we get?grapefruits from a block away

I don’t know the variety name of this heirloom pumpkin…I think it is something like Rouge Vif d”Etampes

Marina di Chiooga

the long wait to get food…at least people could sit on the lawn and wait, though at least two people left because of the wait."


As you can see, Tree is being pretty philosophical and calm about the whole thing, but I wanted to give this issue a little more publicity.

If you would like to comment (philosophically and calmly) to the Parks and Rec Department and couldn't quite read the flyer, the contact information is:

SF Permits and Reservations:

SF Parks and Recreation:,,

Tree also asks that you copy him at

I'll go back to blogging about SF CARE next week and give you all an update when we hear what's going to happen with the Free Farm Stand.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Little More About A Little Jewel

You haven’t seen much about St. Paulus Lutheran here but I want to tell you a bit more about them today. I’m overdue to blog about the Friendship Banquet they sponsor every Tuesday at St. Mark’s, but I want to talk a bit about the church itself today.

St. Paulus is a little church in the Western Addition with the sanctuary separated from the office by a row of bookshelves. They provide a lot of material support to SF CARE, including my workspace. On any given day numerous people are in and out of here, getting pastoral care from Pastor Dan, picking up their mail, calling relatives or their payee, using the bathroom, getting a cup of coffee, chatting with me or with the fabulous Carol who is our administrator. I really like having a desk in the middle of such a vibrant space.

Wednesday night is Mission night. Anyone is welcome to come for a meal and conversation, though most of those who come are also members of St. Paulus. The conversation is general for the first part, then Pastor Dan usually introduces a topic. Last night the topic was the church and its mission. I was working late and got to overhear the conversation. I found myself moved by it and asked if I could write a blog post about what they were saying. Everyone graciously agreed to let me blog about their conversation.

They all spoke about how welcome they feel at St. Paulus, and what a sharp contrast to other churches they’d been to that welcome is. The fact is it is not easy for someone who lives outside or has mental health issues to find a congregation to welcome them in San Francisco. They went on and on about how St. Paulus is different. How they could come here and be at home. “What other church lets someone come inside and sleep for a few hours during the day?” “Other churches don’t like you to question, but here you can even question big things,” and “Acceptance is part of the deal,” were some of the comments I overheard.

Accepting people exactly as they are is a profound and powerful act. It’s a theologically sound way to live because God takes each of us as is. Recognition of that grace is what guided the next part of the discussion, which turned to the question of what do we do about such grace, beyond receiving it with gratitude and extending welcome to all.

The theology here at St. Paulus is that God’s grace (God’s unconditional love and acceptance of each of us) is an unmerited gift. One cannot earn it because it is already given fully and unconditionally. If one doesn’t need to earn it, then what do we do about it? There was a lot of lively debate around this topic. How do we best share God’s grace with others? What does it mean in terms of how we forgive and express forgiveness? What does it require of us in terms of sharing the news of this grace or news of a little jewel like St. Paulus?

Many of those present at the meeting either live outside now or were when they first started coming to St. Paulus. They talked about how freely given acceptance motivated them to change their lives where the conditional acceptance of other churches (basically, ‘change and then you can be accepted here’) had not. This acceptance grows out of a recognition that God motivates rather than dictates in our lives. And I’m talking serious change – like going from shooting up together to being on the church council together. They spoke about how they were leery of coming to any church when they were first invited here, but now enthusiastically invite others to come. At every step Pastor Dan pushed the discussion to go farther, kept asking hard questions.

This is what I’m starting to love about this church. Not only do they take the (sadly unusual) step of truly accepting every person who walks through the door, but they don’t just rest on doing that, profound though that act is. They have a pastor who respects his congregants enough to push them in the direction of justice and challenge them to share their faith in more profound ways. And isn’t afraid to remind people that the grace found here at St. Paulus comes from God and is beyond our power to control. They have the heart to put their money where their mouth is in contributing to such projects as the Free Farm and the advocacy initiatives we have planned at SF CARE. And they have the courage to ask hard questions of themselves and to debate the answers with verve and respect.

One of my other jobs has me working just about every Sunday, but as I listened last night, I started thinking that as much as I enjoy being in the midst of the bustle here during the week, I’d like to visit on a Sunday morning, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Quick Response Team

New Quick Response Team

We had a week recently when there was an invitation to glean a plum orchard. The wonderful folks at the Free Farm pulled together a team of people to go and glean and brought back over 700 pounds of plums to distribute here in the City. They went to the Free Farm Stand and to Open Cathedral and to various food pantries. Now It is not always easy to find someone willing to go to Vacaville on a couple of days notice to glean plums, or to connect with someone bringing seedling from Green Gultch to the City, to help with a mailing for the Night Ministry, to sort a large number of donations that come to us unexpectedly, or other tasks that need doing with a day or two notice.

So I thought, suppose I had a list of people to call on to see if they’re available when such a need arises? Are you someone who can lift at least 20 pounds? Lives in San Francisco? Is free at least some daytimes during the week? If so, maybe you are the right person to be part of a Quick Response Team for SF CARE. What you would commit to would be having your name and email on a list that I would not share. I’d ask you a bit about your abilities and interests then contact you three or four times a year to see if you are available for one short project or another.

Sound up your alley? Drop me a line at and I’ll sign you up.