This year, for the second time, I volunteered with my team and other SAP colleagues at Glide, a 53-year old human services organization in San Francisco, during Month of Service at SAP Silicon Valley.
San Francisco is a city of vast contrasts. The tech boom and subsequent explosion of millennial talent have brought about a vibrancy of energy and money to the city. Those with less education and talent, however, have been left behind. In a city where housing rents start at around $2,000 for a postage stamp-sized studio, and homes for purchase under a million dollars are virtually impossible to find, there is a huge need for human services organizations to help those less fortunate – with places to sleep, eat, attend support groups, get job assistance, receive medical and dental care, and more.
Among a vast array of programs, Glide feeds 2,400 meals per day through its meal program. Each meal service requires a group of around 15 volunteers, in addition to Glide staff, to welcome guests, serve meals, bus tables, and clean up. Volunteering in this effort is a rewarding experience, for a number of reasons:
- We are right there, seeing the faces of those we are helping.
- Food is such a basic human need, in fact at the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that to be able to help those less fortunate to satisfy that need is, in itself, a fulfilling experience.
- Working together as a team helped build relationships among the SAP colleagues – especially with those who are not part of our existing team.
After learning about the history and mission of the organization, based in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, we participated in an interactive activity where we were asked to ponder our thoughts when we enter the Tenderloin. We learned some very interesting facts about the neighborhood, such as that it is the neighborhood in San Francisco with the highest percentage of children. I was impressed with the candor of our colleagues who opened up about their ambivalence to being in the area known primarily for crime and poverty. (Last year we learned that the Tenderloin is slow to gentrify because there are so many human services organizations in the area, which keeps those in need close at hand.)
Glide was begun in the 1960s by an activist minister, Rev. Cecil Williams, who is still at the helm of the organization, even today!
We also learned that the food we were about to serve came from a combination of food bank supplies and purchases from donations. After this enlightening discussion, we were led downstairs to the cafeteria to begin preparing the trays for the evening’s dining times. The menu for the evening was:
- Fresh arugula with Ken’s Steakhouse Ranch Dressing and wheat bread
- Beef and macaroni casserole
- Steamed carrots
- Whole fresh plums
We were gratified by the relative healthfulness of the cuisine, as well as the fact that it was generally well-balanced and included high quality ingredients. Beginning at 4:00 p.m., the hungry diners came streaming in. The line had been divided at the door between the less-abled plus those with families, and everyone else. The patrons were generally pleasant and polite, and we were able to give some of them a little extra because of the abundance of available food. When a patron was done eating, they would leave and new person might then take their seat, as we continuously cleaned and reset the spaces. In our dining room, which catered to the less-abled and families, some people arrived with support dogs, and a few used canes or wheelchairs. In that room, the patrons crossed age groups, with the average diner being in their 50s.
At 5:00 p.m. sharp, the food service ended, and we assisted with cleaning the dining room and preparing the tables for the next day’s breakfast. The entire SAP group left together, sharing stories about our experience and anticipating the next time we could participate in this activity.
Serving at Glide is one of my favorite volunteer activities because of the direct impact it has on those in need, plus the reminder that there are those less fortunate in this city – not to mention the gratification that comes from knowing there are people and groups ensuring that the hungry are fed adequately and with wholesome foods.
I look forward to going to Glide for a third time, either with SAP colleagues or even on my own.