Call goes out for donations to help those in need

  • 11/23/2004
  • Tanya Schevitz
  • San Francisco Chronicle

Cupboards look bare at relief agencies
Call goes out for donations to help those in need

Nonprofit agencies that serve low-income and homeless individuals and families are looking for a few thousand good turkeys, and they are calling on the public to help in the hunt.

This year, many in the Bay Area may not eat on the holidays and the days in between if things don't improve, according to workers at food banks and charity organizations, which have seen a decline in donations this year.

Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco Food Bank, said he can look out his office window into the warehouse and see the problem.

"There are a lot of empty spots where we would normally see food," Ash said. "This is the time of year when we like our shelves to be full and ready to serve people, because families have a harder time around the holidays.

The San Francisco Food Bank, which serves 450 nonprofit agencies in San Francisco, needs 2,500 turkeys for the holiday season and has 1,775 -- most of which were donated last week through an effort by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

At Glide Memorial Church, the Rev. Cecil Williams said his church, which expects 5,000 people to show up for dinner on Thanksgiving, normally has reached its goal of collecting 1,200 to 1,400 turkeys by now. But this year they have only 750 turkeys -- far short of what is needed for Thanksgiving Day.

And after the last drumstick is eaten Thursday, volunteers will have to start fresh, collecting another 1,800 turkeys for Christmas dinner.

"It would be our hope that people would respond in the next day or two, which means we would be able to get the turkeys cooked for our Thanksgiving dinner," Williams said.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, which serves more than 750 nonprofit agencies, needs to collect 120,000 pounds of poultry for the holidays. It currently has 59,321 pounds, more than half of which came in the past week, spokeswoman Jenny Luciann said.

It seems that the hurricanes in Florida, market forces, the distraction of the presidential election and even Scott Peterson have all added up to a bad year for Bay Area food banks and nonprofit agencies that rely on donations to serve low-income and homeless people during the holidays.

"Thanksgiving really snuck up on people," Luciann said. "There was the election, and there was the Scott Peterson verdict, and all of a sudden we are a week away from Thanksgiving, and we can't meet the needs of our agencies. Usually, the giving starts earlier."

Robert Mills, who just found a shared room after having been homeless in Oakland and Berkeley for two years, knows firsthand what it is like when the cupboard is bare at local charities and thousands of needy people converge for a holiday meal.

"I've gone places where they have run out of turkey, and all they gave out was potatoes and a couple of other things, whatever they had left," said Mills, 49, who has diabetes. "Most of the people I know rely on food giveaways. It is very important, because otherwise they won't eat."

Chickens also are wanted for the holidays, because much of the donated food goes to seniors who live alone or to families who do not have the ability to cook a whole turkey.

Officers at the Tenderloin station of the San Francisco Police Department did their part Monday, dropping off 25 turkeys at Glide Memorial Church.

They stopped off with another 25 at the St. Anthony Foundation, which is already slow-cooking 300 turkeys for the 3,000 people expected for Thanksgiving dinner.

Overall, food donations at the San Francisco Food Bank are down 200,000 pounds a month from last year, and the organization has had to hand out smaller bags of food to its clients, leaving the recipients with a difficult choice.

"Generally, a family either has to do without or give up something, and in a low-income family that something is usually very important, utilities, clothes or in the case of seniors, it is often prescription medication," Ash said.

He said the poor growing season in California, coupled with the hurricanes in Florida that hurt the production of produce there, means there is less produce donated to organizations such as his.

In addition, he said, many grocery stores facing competition and pressure to improve the bottom line for shareholders are selling their excess food in secondary stores and abroad instead of donating it.

While turkeys and chickens are always appreciated, the nonprofit agencies also desperately need nonperishable foods such peanut butter, pasta, meaty soups, low-sugar cereal, powdered milk and pure fruit juice, as well as donations of money, warm coats, new underwear and toiletries.

And of course, many also need toys and gifts for low-income children and adults.

"People love to buy the toy or the game for the children, but the parents are often forgotten," said Suzie Sheedy, development director for the Hamilton Family Center in San Francisco, which provides shelter for homeless families. "We do find a lot of parents are working for their children, and everything they have goes to the children, so it is nice to give them a gift for the holidays."

As the weather turns colder, the agencies are thinking not just of filling bellies but of keeping people warm.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Mateo County, which serves low- income and homeless clients, is running a sleeping bag drive for the homeless over the holidays.

And the annual "One Warm Coat" drive to collect coats for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda has started, with several Bay Area shopping centers, such as the Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, offering dropoff points for those seeking to donate clean, reusable coats and jackets.

All the organizations also need volunteers. Although most Thanksgiving shifts have been filled, volunteers are needed every day to serve meals and, leading up to Christmas, to wrap gifts and put together food baskets.

"All the nonprofits are strapped like never before," said Terry Messman, program coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's Homeless Organizing Project in Oakland and editor of Street Spirit, a street newspaper sold by the homeless. "People need to start being generous again."


Most organizations need monetary donations, turkeys, nonperishable food, clothing, toiletries and toys. The food banks need food and money..

San Francisco Food Bank

Phone: (415) 282-1900


Address: 900 Pennsylvania Ave., at 23rd Street, San Francisco (or in local supermarkets).

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Phone: (866) 234-3663 (toll free)


Note: Second Harvest's San Jose distribution center in Santa Clara County is at 750 Curtner Ave. (at Almaden Expressway). Its Peninsula distribution center in San Mateo County is at 1051 Bing St., San Carlos (off Industrial). Or check local supermarkets..

Hamilton Family Center

Phone: Call (415) 409-2100, ext. 120, to make donations or drop off unwrapped new toys and gifts at 1531 Fell St., between Lyon and Central, in San Francisco. Hours are 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, and Monday, Dec. 20, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 18-19.


Glide Memorial Church

Phone: (415) 674-6000


Address: 330 Ellis St. at Taylor Street, San Francisco.

St. Anthony Foundation

Phone: (415) 241-2600


Address: 119 Golden Gate Ave. at Jones Street, San Francisco.

St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Mateo County

Phone: (650) 373-0622


Address: North B Street at Baldwin Avenue, San Mateo.

One Warm Coat

Donate a coat or jacket at a Bay Area shopping center

Online: See for locations

E-mail Tanya Schevitz at

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