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Thanksgiving 2021: A Celebration of Resiliency

In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, the 300 block of Ellis Street was buzzing with action. Teams of GLIDE staff and volunteers were laying out decorations, carving turkeys and packaging seemingly endless rows of food containers. Hundreds of feet of white festival tents were adorned with fairy lights, and the musical score for Charlie Brown Christmas played out softly from a makeshift DJ booth. For those who were attending GLIDE’s Thanksgiving lunch for the first time, they would never have guessed that the festive ‘al fresco’ popup was a new style for GLIDE, born out of the safety needs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the past 18+ months of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, GLIDE has been on the frontlines, helping those in need, innovating services, and expanding our reach and impact to meet rising demand. This Thanksgiving, we celebrated the resiliency of GLIDE and our community by serving 2,400 delicious holiday meals, and welcoming all with unconditional love. “GLIDE has become my family,” said Sandra, a formerly unhoused woman who came to enjoy GLIDE’s Thanksgiving lunch. “Once you become homeless, you become forgotten, like you don’t exist. GLIDE is family for homeless people whose own family gave up on them.”

With vaccination rates continuing to climb, this year’s Thanksgiving showed glimpses of GLIDE hallmarks from pre-pandemic days. For the first time in 18+ months, Glide Memorial Church opened its doors to a small group of vaccinated congregants, kindling the well-known celebration that is core to GLIDE’s identity.

GLIDE also welcomed back ninety volunteers at this year’s Thanksgiving, including the familiar faces of Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Matt Haney, San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson and Assessor Recorder Joaquin Torres. Though the volunteer force is still much smaller than before, the small but mighty team prepared and served more than 2400 turkey meals with all the fixings. “I’m thankful for being able to give back,” says Josh, member of the Kings of Cali motorcycle club. “I’ve been volunteering for 16 years with Kings of Cali. It’s a tradition at this point and it just warms my heart to be able to do this every year.”

While most of the Thanksgiving meals were served in the festive fanfare on Ellis Street, many of those in our unhoused community are not able to leave their encampments. For those who could not make it, GLIDE’s Harm Reduction staff met them where they are. In addition to 225 packaged Thanksgiving meals, the team provided mobile harm reduction services, such as supplies of Narcan (a powerful opioid overdose reversal medicine), clean syringes and hygiene supplies.

Another unique fixture to this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations was the Roving Vax outreach units, who made the rounds through the festival tents to provide COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots to diners. The Roving Vax initiative has been critical in bridging the vaccine equity gap in the Tenderloin community, meeting people where they are to boost confidence and vaccine uptake in a neighborhood that has been hardest hit by the pandemic. The Roving Vax outreach has been a major success since its inception in the spring of 2021, accounting for 80% of all the vaccines administered by GLIDE.

The holidays at GLIDE are always joyful and soulful, but this year is special as we celebrate the resiliency of our community. In our celebration, we also honor the spirit of Janice Mirikitani, who passed away recently. Janice was the co-founder of GLIDE and a tireless champion of racial and social justice. As Mayor London Breed wrapped up her volunteer shift at GLIDE, she remembered Janice’s profound impact: “GLIDE is so important and we’ve got to continue this tradition, especially after losing one of our fearless leaders, Janice Mirikitani,” Mayor Breed reflects. “I feel her spirit, I feel her love – even today as we do the work – and I know that GLIDE is in good hands. I know she’s going to be watching us to make sure that we take care of this extraordinary place that continuously does what Jan always says: ‘We’ve got to feed the people.’”

Join us this holiday season as GLIDE continues to do what it does best – bring people together to support and serve our most vulnerable neighbors.