Food Runners

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities - And One Community

by David Tucker, Volunteer

Not unlike a dozen other American municipalities, San Francisco is a tale of two cites.

One City is the shimmering city of love in which my wife Pat and I first made our home in 1971 – she from a small town in western Pennsylvania and me from a largish city in the mid-west where Woody Hayes once prowled football sidelines.

The same City hard by the Left Coast we are thrilled to see below us every time – every time – our flight from the East Coast circles over the Bay, a kind of Emerald City Dorothy and her friends first espied as they tripped through a field of pink poppies in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

A City of skyscrapers – none of them leapable in a single bound.

A City of $8 lattes and $2 million “fixer-uppers” in the Outer Richmond.

A City awash in uniform-bedecked school kids, some of them even Catholic or Luthern, on their way to and from parochial schools scattered across the metropolis.

A City of ticket-holders – to the Giants, the Niners, the Dubs, the Opera, the Symphony, the de Young, the Legion of Honor, the Academy of Science, a life fulfilled.

A City of Google buses and red and ermine-clad techies crowding sidewalks on their annual Santa Claus pub-crawl in parts of the town they have turned into yuppie havens.

A City that has become a destination of choice for travelers from around the globe.

A City chockablock with real neighborhoods garnished with world-class restaurants on every corner.

A City of living spaces where every shelf is lined with bestsellers and every flat expanse is over-flowing with photos of family vacations taken, wedding vows exchanged, and children and grandchildren growing to maturity.

A City whose inhabitants’ biggest daily worry is whether they can find a parking spot in North Beach for that special night out for dinner with the kids.

And then there is a second City – a place too many ignore or dismiss or fear.

A City bereft of housing, jobs, opportunity, and hope.

A City of empty wallets and empty years.

A City crowded with hundreds of single-room occupancy hotels and apartment houses, the largest such gathering in the world, that in 2008 gave rise to the Uptown Tenderloin being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A City whose Tenderloin district Gary Kamiya  in his book “Cool Gray City of Love”
called “ a large turd…floating in the crystal punchbowl that is San Francisco.”

A City, finally, that is full of hungry mouths to feed and damaged souls to sooth.

Starting some 20 years ago Pat and I were brought into that feeding effort when our friend Diane and her husband Mike invited us to join them in their Food Runners travels. After Mike’s passing several years ago, we have teamed up with Diane for weekly food runs from the Whole Foods emporium in the Haight to a nearby community food dispensary and a like run each Friday from Lick-Wilmerding High School to either a close-by food dispensary operated by Mother Teresa nuns or the Edgewood Center for Families and Children.

David picking donations at Lick Wilmerding High School

In all of these Food Runners efforts Pat and Diane and I have learned the easy lesson that helping to feed people creates an enduring link between the two Cities described above. Many of these community bridges are anything but fleeting or abstract. Take for example, our ongoing relationship with Mike who each Saturday helps to unburden our cars of Whole Food treasures at the local Haight food dispensary. Over the years we have come to appreciate Mike’s wardrobe (a bright red Aloha shirt) and a vocabulary that would put to shame an English professor at Harvard – all this in a man who could have landed a part as one of the fur trappers in The Revenant.

And then there is our friend Robert who Diane and Pat and I met ten years ago on Turk Street outside his Tenderloin residence hotel where we delivered the food at the time. During the course of many deliveries, we got to know Robert and we continue to visit him every Saturday to this day. This 75-year old man, whose vast and unique accomplishments continue to both unspool and astound, has become almost a member of the family. We exchange holiday cards with him and, if you add up the time we spend each Saturday morning in easy and wide-ranging conversations with Robert, we would all have to admit that no other friend, old or new, occupies more of our time in such pleasant ways. Every Saturday as we drive away from our extended conversations with this amazing friend, we just sort of pinch ourselves that Food Runners has opened the door to meeting someone we otherwise would never have encountered.

The bottom line of course is that Diane and Pat and I get a lot more than we give in regard to our Food Runners investments of time and effort. And maybe, just maybe, in getting so much more than we give, we are inadvertently and pretty unconsciously building a bridge – a community bridge – between the City we happen to live in and the people like Mike and Robert we have come to love and respect in a City, it turns out, not so far distant from where we live.