Meals program volunteer Michael finds meaning and pleasure in serving his Tenderloin neighbors
Michael is a dedicated volunteer in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program as well as a program participant. Originally from the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, Michael had only been coming to eat at GLIDE for a week before he started to spend several hours each day volunteering to cook for and serve his fellow Tenderloin residents. A few weeks ago, Michael kindly took a moment to share some of his story with us.
I had always heard of GLIDE, and curiosity got the better of me. I was actually waiting in line to get a meal and one of the other volunteers said, “They need some help down there,” and he asked me if I wanted to help. I said sure. It got me in the door and out of the cold, so why not? That was about five months ago. I have been coming every day since. I usually do breakfast and lunch. It’s better being in here than out there; it’s a little crazy out there. It’s a pretty rough environment.
The people that we serve is what brings me here every day—the elderly, you get kind of attached to them. I like helping them out. I feel more accomplished, like I have done some good. To be outside isn’t ideal, getting into no-good stuff—I don’t do drugs or anything, but when you are out there it’s all lonely and I try to get away from it.
“Making the best of it”
I worked for a long time as a building engineer in the city and then I lost my job, lost where I was living, lost everything else and ended up on the street. I was applying for jobs but when you get to the age part they become a bit edgy. I am 63 now, and they would rather hire someone younger.
So anyway, I am trying to make the best of it. I have an escape place I go to when it gets tight. I go down to Pier 7 on the Embarcadero and I just hang out there. It helps me relax. And when you are not looking at the Bay, you have a great view of the skyline. It’s a beautiful city; I love living here. I wouldn’t change anything. I mean, I have travelled to different places but this is home.
I also like to go to the zoo and the Academy of Sciences to relax. I have a lady friend that works at the zoo, so whenever I want to go she will give me a pass. It’s cool; I like going to check out the big cats like the tigers and lions. I think they are pretty great; I was heartbroken when they had to shoot that one tiger a few years back. I knew the person in charge of the lion house. He was pretty shook up. After that happened, he retired.
Thursday and Sunday are chicken nights and this place is swamped. It’s like the last piece of chicken they will ever see in their life. I always think, “Relax people! There is more chicken!”
When you put on the aprons and gloves and all that before working in the kitchen, you also have to put on a name tag. What I do is I change my name every day and then all the old people ask, “Who are you today?” Yesterday I was Sam Spade, last week I was Formula One driver Niki Lauda. It keeps them guessing and they like the entertainment.
Looking to the future
I have to work one more year in the trade. If I can work one more year, I can retire from the union and get my pension. See but that is the hard part, and where the age factor comes in. What I would like to do is set up my retirement and go to a third world country and spend the rest of my life there. Some place in Asia maybe and just kick it.
I still have my job certification. I’m putting out resumes still. I’m hoping one of them will bite. I do everything—electronics, fingerprints for security. I do the regular mechanical stuff such as electrical, communications and data. I have skills like welding, plumbing, stuff like that. But I lean more towards the electronic part of the industry.
I would encourage people to come down here and do volunteer work, it did a lot for me. I am a very solo person but when I see the elderly and disabled, I know I am doing something good and it makes me feel good inside too.