Tuesday evening involved a lot of chopping, an activity that is far underrated for reaching a Zen state. It was spent at Project Open Hand, a 10-minute bike ride from home to gritty Polk Street. It’s on the Western edge of the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with a long history. As far back as the turn of the last century it was a haven for drifters, misfits, and immigrants, and has endured as a place for people who find themselves at the social margins. Today, the ‘loin is the most densely populated area in SF with the greatest number of social service organizations.
Before there was the Castro, the gay scene was here in the 70s in Polk Gulch, and the legacy of those days still lives on. The AIDS epidemic in the mid-80s in San Francisco devastated the gay community and no services existed for those who were sick and dying from the new disease. A grandmother in the neighborhood saw the suffering and malnutrition from the illness of those around her and started preparing food for seven of her neighbors who had AIDS. Thus began Project Open Hand.
This organization dispenses an impressive amount of food to sick and elderly people in the neighborhood and beyond, with the help of more than 100 volunteers a day. People who work with them deliver meals to the homebound and also provide them for pick up for people with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. They also offer lunch to people over 60 at 23 locations and provide groceries to take home. And it all started with a compassionate granny 28 years ago.
For us newbie volunteers (a Canadian woman and myself), we were given an orientation and were fed before getting into latex gloves, hairnets, and aprons. We got down to business in the very clean industrial kitchen on steel countertops with about 8 other regular volunteers, peeling and chopping buckets of onions, then carrots, and finished with…broccoli. We were choppin’ broccoli.
Good company, new connections, and maybe a step closer to Enlightenment. Well, probably not, but there is something very cool about the early dusk light filtering in, the muffled madness from the street, and a group of veggie choppers who all work together in virtual silence.