HOW TO REVIVE A NEIGHBORHOOD
District 8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman has lived in Castro since 1999.
Photo: Anthony O’Donnell
“Off the streets and into housing,” calls D8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman
Art Walk Gains Momentum
Castro merchants participate in monthly art crawl
Photo courtesy of Heather Robinson
The next Castro Art Walk happens
Thursday, December 7th.
Kathy Howard is an open space advocate and on the Executive Committee of the SF Group of the Sierra Club
Beloved Thanksgiving Tradition Continues November 19th in Civic Center
Mama G’s Thanksgiving Dinner provides a warm meal to those who need it most. Photo: Mai Le
Q&A with Mama G’s Dinner co-founder Peter Gallotta
Looking to spend some time or money helping to share the wealth and good will this Thanksgiving holiday? Look no further. Mama G’s Thanksgiving Street Dinner, now in its ninth year, was co-founded by Peter Gallotta as a way of continuing the beloved family traditions of his childhood within the Tenderloin community, among those who need it most. Mama G’s, which started with a handful of willing friends and one table, has grown to many volunteers and six tables that are set up in the TL, ready to serve a community that most likely were not expecting a Thanksgiving dinner at all. They will have one though, thanks to Mama G’s Thanksgiving Street Dinner, which traditionally happens on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, and so this year will be served on November 19th.
Wendy: Mama G’s started on a much smaller scale than what it has become today, nine years later.
Peter: It was very small; it was myself and about seven or eight volunteers. We set out one small table and we were able to cook two turkeys and a few snack dishes; I think we had macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We showed up and we put out the food that we’d brought, and within minutes we had a line that formed right in front of our eyes. We had done very little outreach or advertising and within 30 minutes all of the food that we had prepared was gone. We walked away feeling excited about what we had just done, but at the same time, really moved by the amount of need in the community. What we had brought was not enough, and we had to turn people away. It was proof of concept that first year for us, that we could do it. I was even surprised that I could get other people to join me in doing this. I had folks who said, “I’ll cook something,” or “I’ll help out.” It was really those people who believed in this idea that we could redistribute resources in our community to those who really need it the most, who made it possible that very first year. We cobbled together some donations and some freshly prepared food; our whole mission has been about providing a high quality, nutritious, warm meal to anyone who needs it, but particularly those who need it the most.
Wendy: Mama G’s requests both financial donations and menu contributions, and those have expanded to include a lot more vegetable items, like collard greens and salad, as well as fruit.
Peter: Yes. Now, when we do our annual dinner we set out six tables, with food covering all six of those tables. As you said, we try to provide folks with a well-balanced meal, but also one that reflects what you would find on your Thanksgiving table. We have our fabulous turkey, and stuffing, and gravy, and mashed potatoes; now we have sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, casseroles that folks bring. A lot of folks cook their own family recipes; they bring their grandmother’s casserole, or another family dish. One of our volunteers brings roasted squash every year, and we have salad, and dinner rolls, and deserts: pumpkin pie, apple pie, blueberry pie. We’ve been partnering for a couple of years with an organization called The Urban Farmers, and they provide freshly gleaned fruit to us; for the past few years we’ve had persimmons. These persimmons would go to waste otherwise, [from] a tree in someone’s backyard [for example]. They’re not gonna use all of it, so this organization goes in and brings that fresh fruit to food banks and shelters. We’re hoping that they’re able to join us again this year, so we can hand out persimmons. They bring a lot of persimmons.
Peter Gallota (right) serves food during a previous Mama G’s Dinner
Photo courtesy of Peter Gallota/Steven Bracco
Wendy: And Mama G’s brings a lot of love, and a lot of work and commitment.
Peter: We’ve been able to do more because we have a growing volunteer base. We are volunteer run; our volunteers are really the backbone of our organization. At the six tables long dinner we have over 60 volunteers that join us that day. It’s just tremendous; we are so humbled by the outpouring of support that we’ve been shown over the years and the level of commitment that folks have to the work that we’re doing.
Wendy: I imagine that some of your volunteers, while they may not be in need of Thanksgiving dinner, may be in need of something wonderful to be a part of on Thanksgiving. A lot of people don’t go home for the holidays and their friends might all be busy that day, so this could be helping them too in a sense because it’s giving them something really heartwarming to do on the holiday.
Peter: Yes it is. One thing to note is that we do our dinner on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but it’s still very much in the spirit of Thanksgiving and it is a Thanksgiving dinner. We do feel it gives both our guests and our volunteers the opportunity to share in a very unique and special Thanksgiving experience. We really believe that our event is a way of building community, and bringing people together to share in a meal. For me, that was an experience when I was growing up that was very formidable; being with family and being with others was a constant. My mother was always the one bringing us together around food. This is really in homage to that because there is something special that happens when people get together and share a meal. I was very lucky to grow up around such strong caregivers, and strong, loving women, who were unbelievably generous and showed me so much about what it means to love, and to share what we have with one another.
Wendy: Are you looking for more volunteers this year?
Peter: This year we are. We’ll do a call for volunteers in early November. We’ll ask volunteers to sign up if they’re interested and available to volunteer on the day of the dinner, which is Sunday, November 19th. We also have some opportunities for volunteers to support the day before the event; there’s so much prep work that goes into our dinner now. We’ll follow up with folks about their specific roles on the day of. We coordinate with our volunteers to take on different shifts on the day of the event, depending on people’s availability. We expect a lot of interest again this year; we have kind of a good problem, which is that we have so much interest, but we’re excited because each year new volunteers come into the Mama G’s family, hear about what we’re doing and want to get involved. We also have a lot of longtime, long serving volunteers; some of them have been with us since that first year, in 2009. We really owe it to our volunteers for what they do and how they’ve kept Mama G’s going all these years. We’re looking at ways in which we can engage even more people in our event moving forward but we also want to make sure we’re providing meaningful volunteer opportunities for folks.
Wendy: You also have your Tenderloin Burrito Project for volunteers to get involved with during the rest of the year.
Peter: Yes. As we’ve grown over the years we’ve thought about how we can grow our impact and do more outside of our annual Thanksgiving Street Dinner. A few years ago we launched our pop-up Burrito Project events, where we bring volunteers together to help prepare and assemble fresh burritos, and then hand deliver those burritos out into the community. We’ve been doing that for three years, and we usually hold those events in the spring and into the summer. It’s an opportunity for us to engage our volunteers, who are very interested in continuing to engage and support the Tenderloin community outside of the one-time per year. I hear that all the time from our volunteers, “What else can we help with?” We felt there was an interest [from] volunteers, but really what spawned the Burrito Project was hearing from our guests at our dinner table, saying, “Are you guys gonna be back out at Christmas?” or, “Where will you guys be next?” We really [wanted] to be there for our guests and for folks in the community more than just once a year, and so we felt that the Burrito Project was a great way for us to again be able to provide a fresh, warm, nutritious meal. It’s easy for us to put them together and they’re really easy to transport. We end up delivering about 250 burritos per event.
Wendy: You’re involved with the community even beyond that because if you raise funds that you don’t utilize for your own projects, you give it right back to the community.
Peter: That’s right. Because of the level of support we started receiving, we were raising more money than we needed to cover the overhead costs of our Thanksgiving dinner, and so we [said], “We wanna zero out. We want all of the money that’s raised for Mama G’s to go back out into the community.” We donated the remaining funds to organizations that do this kind of work 365 days a year that are Tenderloin based, serve the Tenderloin community, serve folks fresh meals, provide nutritional services, or serve as food banks, because our core mission is about addressing food insecurity, hunger, and wanting more food justice in the Tenderloin. We’ve been able to do that now for a number of years, and provide direct support to a number of organizations that do this work every day. Those are the institutions that are undoing so much and making an even bigger impact than we are. We see ourselves as really being an addition to all of that, just a part of the mission around food delivery and food access. We’ve been very proud of that, to be able to support a handful of organizations every year with what we call micro-grants, relatively small donations that range from 500 to 2000 dollars.
Visit mamagstreetdinner.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The volunteers of Mama G’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo: Mai Le
40 Years Ago: Harvey Milk's Election Remembered
On November 8, under a rainbow of LED lights that pierced the night sky, nearly 600 people gathered in Harvey Milk Plaza to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Milk’s election to the Board of Supervisors. Photos by Jessica Webb
Photo Courtesy of Heather Robinson
San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the western coasts of both North and South America. An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it and with a free connection to the open sea. In other words, a great deal of the land/water interface in San Francisco Bay is estuary.
At the State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference at the Scottish Rite Center in October, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership presented one-time-only Legacy Awards to two people who have spent years on protecting the Bay -- Arthur Feinstein and Barbara Salzman.
I sat down with Feinstein over tea and bagels before a recent Sierra Club meeting. Feinstein has been involved in Bay conservation work for over 40 years. He is on the Executive Committee for the SF Group and the SF Bay Chapter as well as the State Conservation Committee. During our conversation, it became clear that his knowledge of both the Bay and its wildlife is extensive, to say the least.
The health of our estuary is vital to the survival of water-dependent wildlife. Many shorebirds go to the Arctic to breed in summer, but in winter they return south. As shorebirds migrate, often distances of 1500 or 3000 miles and some even 12,000 miles, many stop to feed and replenish their energies at various sites along the west coast. SF Bay attracts the largest number of the West Coast group over the migrating season - sometimes as many as a million birds over the course of a year.
The birds are attracted by the abundant and varied food supply available in the estuary. As fresh water flows from streams into the Bay, it meets the salt water that has entered due to tidal action. Brackish water results where the two meet and mix. Each type of water - fresh, brackish and salt - creates a unique habitat that provides both food and shelter for the birds.
Over 40 years ago, Feinstein found himself involved in the lives of the Bay’s water birds. It was the mid-1980’s and Feinstein was volunteering with the Golden Gate Audubon Society. He learned of the serious need to expand the SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent Uplands. His intense interest in the Bay resulted in a job with the Citizen’s Committee to Complete the Refuge.
Over the course of seven years, he met scientists and staff from California Fish and Game. As he learned more about the threats to habitat, he became passionate about protecting the Bay and its wildlife. After that, followed years of working with various groups and public agencies, in an effort first to stop the additional loss of wetlands and then to mold new development to protect the existing habitat and to expand the wetland areas.
Feinstein still finds that there is much to do to protect the wildlife in our Bay. For example, large development projects are currently proposed for San Francisco’s India Basin area. The current India Basin Environmental Impact Report (EIR) recognizes that more recreational users, such as kayakers and kayak launches, could “affect foraging, roosting, and nesting shorebirds...” and that “such an increased human presence in tidal marsh and open water habitat at India Basin could affect shorebird behavior, thereby reducing breeding success...”
However, the EIR then goes on to say that since the existing habitat conditions are already so poor, and since the new development may restore some tidal marshland and add new tidal marshland (less than one acre), this will “offset any potential impacts on nesting birds from recreational users.”
One problem with the report is that it ignores the impact on ducks. Ducks are particularly sensitive to any disturbance of their surroundings. Every time a duck is disturbed and has to fly away, that duck is using up precious energy that it needs for the return trip up north. For those of us who have seen park ducks, their actions are a little different -- many return to the same area and become accustomed to disturbances.
But the birds in the open Bay do not. Feinstein described ‘dead zones’ around ferry landings and regular boat routes across the bay, which ducks avoid out of self-preservation.
Another problem is the short-term view in the EIR. We need to plan not only for replacement habitat for what is destroyed but also for greatly increased habitat to offset past damage to wildlife populations as well as the upcoming sea level rise. Sea level rise estimates keep, well, rising -- to where the possibility of a 10-foot sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay is now being discussed.
What will be the impact on existing wildlife populations, how can we protect them and provide adequate habitat, and how is that balanced against the needs to protect the communities surrounding the Bay? These are complex issues that Feinstein has been working on for years, and will continue to do so.
If you would like to help, you can:
Write to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission (Recpark.Commission@sfgov.org). Ask them to please consider ducks and shorebirds in the India Basin Plan and support winter closure for kayaking and other recreational activities that make it harder for the wildlife to thrive. Contact Arthur Feinstein if you would like to learn more: (415) 680 - 0643
Kathy Howard is an open space advocate and on the Executive Committee of the SF Group of the Sierra Club
During migrating season SF Bay attracts thelargest number of West Coast water-dependent wildlife. Photo: Eddie Bartley
© Castro Courier 2014