Igliesa de Santa Maria y Santa Marta

It’s 8:30 a.m. and there’s already a line of 30 little old Chinese ladies. They gossip. They knit. They squat on the pavement, reading the Chinese-language newspaper. They play cards. They knit. All have wheeled suitcases, or collapsible wire shopping carts, or spring-loaded luggage carriers tricked out with an array of bungees and cardboard. It’s cold, and drizzling slightly, but everyone seems to be having a delightful time.

“We tell them not to come until 10 a.m.,” says Irma Inez, sighing. She, and a group of strapping men, are here to unload the food delivery truck, when it arrives from the Food Bank. They won’t be passing out the food until 11:20.

“I’m here for the chicken,” says one woman, in Cantonese to my friend Ed. Ed speaks Cantonese. “Also: there are many vegetables. Also: onions.”

The Mission is full of spots like this: parking lots and driveways and porticos that, for an hour or so here and there, serve as host to different nonprofits that hand out food, for free. There’s no need to prove that you’re broke, or unemployed, or anything – all that is required is a willingness to show up, and hang out in line. Excitement is in the air today because word is out that the Food Bank has a lot of chicken this week.

Ed and I go to the St. Francis and have a stack of bacon and green onion pancakes. On my way back, I see that the nonprofit has arrived and is distributing produce. This one is called Fill Up America because, as one volunteer puts it, “We feel full and overflowing and so on Friday we give out food to give back.” The volunteer  goes on to mention that she has just completed a year-long vocational program to become an instructor in Bringing Mindfulness to Sexuality. Turns out she’s a former student at the  counterpart to Fill Up America – the for-profit OneTaste, which is home of some of the most-wildly-varying reviews on Yelp ever – depending on who you read it’s either a sex cult, or a sincere and noble effort to bring Orgasmic Meditation to the Bay Area.

Nothing especially sexy, just a lot of onions and carrots being handed out, and the sound of people saying “Chicken?????” in Cantonese-accented English. No more chicken, alas. That runs out first.

Cesar Chavez Elementary

It’s 2 p.m., still gray and drizzling. This group, mostly Latino, has found out about this location via the school – most of them have kids that go here. Irma Inez and the crew of husky men are volunteering here too – her kids go to this school. Here, it’s Dolores Park Church handing out the Food Bank goods. And the food is slightly different – in keeping with the slight differences in clientele.

At Cesar Chavez elementary.

“We always try to get pinto beans and rice,” says Jimmy Quach. He’s with the church, and since they take donations to supplement the amount that they get from the Food Bank, he’s seen food turned down. Kale is not popular. Cottage cheese is a disaster. Also endive.

This session is winding down. Someone goes by us, vacuuming up flakes of onionskin from the carpet. A rain-speckled box is hauled outside: turns out this crowd doesn’t like pear halves in heavy syrup either.

A woman walks into the room. “Chicken???” she says.

“We debated and debated the turkey versus question,” says Quach. But it came down to this:

“Not everyone eats turkey. But everyone eats chicken.”