Head Start and meals for senior citizens were canceled on Thursday at Mission Neighborhood Center’s flagship Capp Street location to accommodate an unlikely renovation crew: 130 employees from Aramark, the global catering and professional services corporation.

The workday was part of the Philadelphia-based company’s “Building Community” national tour—a three year, $5 million project to partner local employees with community centers in 30 cities across the country.

Aramark invited regional employees from their food service, career apparel, and facility management divisions to refurbish the center at 362 Capp Street on Thursday in lieu of reporting to their regular jobs.  The employees landscaped the courtyard, added a fresh coat of paint to the building’s interior, and painted murals in key rooms.

Aramark volunteers paint the banister at the Capp Street Center entrance (Noah Buhayar)

“It has been tiring but it’s worthwhile,” said Aramark beverage service employee, Trevor Nedland, 35, after a long day scraping and repainting the Center’s banisters. “If we can make someone’s day better, it’s a better day for me.”

The initiative is a way for Aramark, which reported sales of more than $11.6 billion in 2006, to focus its charitable giving on select long term projects, as well as provide an avenue for employees to get involved in their local communities, said Aramark Corporate Affairs Vice President, Rick Martella.

Mission Neighborhood Centers is the Building Community tour’s first San Francisco partnership.

“After touring their centers and understanding their programs and needs, we realized this would be a really good partnership for us,” said Aramark spokeswoman Bev Dribin, citing the nonprofit’s focus on dining services and job training.

Mission Neighborhood Centers, which provides social services to low-income Mission residents through a chain of 11 community centers, is headquartered at the Capp Street Center.  Every day, the 10,150-square-foot facility hosts English as a Second Language classes, programs for roughly 60 preschoolers and lunch for 50 seniors.

Maria Bermudez, the director of operations for Mission Neighborhood Centers, said the partnership couldn’t have come at a better time.  Just last spring, students at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business recommended that the nonprofit beautify the Capp Street location so it could rent out the space  to raise revenue.

If it hadn’t been for the company’s help, the nonprofit would have been forced to wait much longer to refurbish the space, said Bermudez.

“We would have tried to partner with a foundation or generate funds through bake sales,” she said.

Bermudez says that the Center’s first public event after its makeover will be a piano recital catered by local restaurants on October 18th.

Dribin estimated that the company spent $15,000 on the tools and materials alone for Thursday’s renovations.  But she says this is just the beginning.

Aramark plans to provide financial support, as well as on-site cooking classes and workforce training, Dribin said.

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I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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