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Giving Back to San Francisco with Eddie

Eddie is a Meals Program Team Member who first walked in the doors at 330 Ellis looking to volunteer. Two and a half years later, Eddie can do just about everything in the Meals Program – coffee house, prep room, main dining hall, opening shifts, closing shifts and everything in between. He does it all with a big smile and a heart of gold! And because he speaks FIVE languages, including three dialects spoken in China, he’s adept in communicating with our guests who come from other cultures and countries, particularly our senior community.

We are grateful to him for sitting down to talk about volunteerism and daily life in Meals and for sharing some stories from his time working alongside clients and volunteers. Eddie, we’re lucky to have you around! 

What brought you to GLIDE? 
It was a fluke, pretty much. For the past five years I’d been walking past this building, because I lived up the street. To me it was just another church, I didn’t think twice about it. Then one day there was a grocery bag giveaway, where they just blocked off all the traffic and stuff. And I was like, “What’s going on here?” So I came and investigated.

I’d always wanted to volunteer, serve on Thanksgiving and Christmas. My friends and I always procrastinated. When we finally did call they said, “Oh, we have enough people.” So this time I didn’t wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I just came and volunteered. Plus, there are a few personal reasons which I’m going to leave out of this. I just needed to withdraw a little bit, clear my head. So, I started volunteering and I was here almost every day. I felt gratified helping the people and all that good stuff. That was two and a half years ago.


Eddy serving up prime rib for a holiday meal. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

What’s most challenging and most gratifying about your job?
The most challenging thing is everybody’s different and everybody has their special needs and they feel like their problems are important, so it’s hard to satisfy everyone and make them feel like they are important. The most gratifying—anything where you help people is always gratifying. Especially when you can see that difference, just in one client’s eyes, how grateful they are.

I think the Meals Program is very important because I see a lot of people that depend on this place to eat. Sometimes I wonder if they didn’t have this place, what would happen.

I mean there’re a lot of lessons you can learn. I learned more about how the other side lives. I grew up with a privileged lifestyle, you know, upper-middle class. I never wanted for anything. But I always was in tune with the other side of society, the have-nots. Even as a child, my mom instilled the volunteering, helping the less fortunate.

I think the Meals Program is very important because I see a lot of people that depend on this place to eat. Sometimes I wonder if they didn’t have this place, what would happen.

Do you have a favorite story from downstairs? 
One day there was a group of kids from a school out of town. I was working in the prep room. Something happened and one girl started singing a beat that was on the radio. The whole place went—it was a scene straight from Glee, and I was just tickled. Every time I think about it.

Volunteering and helping others on any level is always fulfilling and good for the soul. The first day I volunteered at GLIDE, in the dining room, I felt out of my element and didn’t really know what to expect or think. However, at the end of the day, I left feeling content, humbled and soul-enriched.


Eddie with one of his regular guests, Terry. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

The next day, I returned to volunteer again. This time I was placed at the door collecting meal tickets. All was going well, until a face that I recognized walked through the door and handed me a meal ticket. It was a friend from my clubbing and bar-hopping days that I had lost touch with 10 years prior. This guy back then was successful, owned a few apartments in the city and was someone I envied. He gave me his ticket and walked right past me, as though I was a total stranger. I soon realized that some time in the past few years drugs had come into his life. His memory was shot and he no longer remembered people. I was just another stranger to him. As I see him now on a daily basis, I’ve witnessed several mental outbursts in the dining room and him being escorted out by security. I have refrained from saying anything to him because I just don’t know what to say or how to say it. I will never forget that day. I’m reminded of it and of past years of my life daily when I see him come through the line for meals three times a day.