When displaced tenants from the fire on 22nd and Mission streets flooded into the Salvation Army for shelter or assistance, it became clear that the victims of the blaze would need to be fed. And when Vinny Eng, the Operations Director at Tartine, and Shakirah Simley at Bi-Rite grocery, caught wind of the need it didn’t take long for them to rally the troops.
Eng and Simley were quick to volunteer their own goods to those taking their meals at the Salvation Army. Hundreds of eggs, dozens of loaves of breads, quarts of butter and marmalade and more have made their way from Bi-Rite’s stores and Tartine’s ovens over to the shelter on Valencia street.
But it didn’t stop there. Eng and Simley quickly started reaching out to other restaurants in the area to see if they, too would consider donating some meals — and were met with immediate enthusiasm. Sprig, Tacolicious, Central Kitchen, Delfina, Kasa, Bernal Cutlery, Heyday, and Goodeggs, among others, all answered the call.
As it happened, disaster struck in a neighborhood that takes community and food seriously.
“This is actually becoming the hottest eating location in the Mission,” said John McKnight, who directs emergency and disaster services for the Salvation Army’s Golden State Division. He opened up his laptop to show reporters a meal schedule for the week.
“Shakirah and I work for businesses whose owners really believe that your community is more than just the customers that walk in that door and pay for your food,” Eng said.
McNight said that one of the challenges of arranging meals is that food can’t come from just anyone with a kitchen and good intentions. Rather, it needs to be provided by commercial kitchens because they are required to adhere to strict food safety standards.
Now, the Salvation Army not only has safe food, it has some of the Mission’s finest selections. And word has gotten around, it seems.
The restaurants also have the advantage of being accustomed to churning out high volumes of meals, from a few hundred to more than a thousand every day. In these cases, setting aside time to make an additional 60 to 70 meals is easy to do.
“Our restaurant does quite a bit of volume in terms of people, so it’s nothing that’s too out of our comfort zone,” said Telmo Faria, the executive chef at Tacolicious.
The restaurant provided a dinner of roast chicken, rice, beans, a salad and vegetarian enchiladas. Faria did some of the preparation and delivered the food himself.
“It’s hard to imagine yourself being in that situation, but you’d like to imagine that if it was you there’d be people there to take care of you,” he said.
Donors said they have also been assisted by their vendors, who supply the raw ingredients for their food. Several have donated extra boxes and crates of ingredients, or agreed to sell them “at cost,” meaning at just their own purchase price.
Craig Stoll, one of the owners of Delfina, said the restaurant could churn out the extra meals practically “in our sleep,” and that the process is simplified by the good nature of his vendors. He first heard about the fire when he approached a firefighter in the aftermath of a blaze in another part of town and asked him how bad it was. The firefighter said it wasn’t nearly as bad as what had happened in the Mission.
“It’s horrific. I’ve been looking at pictures, I walked by there or drove by there every single day for years and years,” said Stoll, who lived at 22nd and Treat until recently. He and Faria both called it a “no-brainer” to volunteer some nourishment for the displaced.
In fact, many of the restaurants that have volunteered for this cause have a long history of donating their food. Delfina and Sprig are both frequent donors to FoodRunners, a nonprofit that works with groceries, farmers’ markets and restaurants to deliver excess perishable and prepared food to those in need. Tacolicious also donates 15 percent of its proceeds on Mondays to local public schools.
“It’s been one of our missions at Sprig to make sure we’re never being wasteful,” said Viva Mogi, who leads civic engagement initiatives at Sprig.
But as relocation to longer-term, more private quarters gets put off again and again, the Salvation Army has found itself extending the shelter’s schedule, and next week’s meals still need volunteers. Eng said Tartine is likely to take on a few more breakfast slots, and he will make the rounds again among his already extensive list of restaurants, but if any other food providers want to step up and volunteer their donations, that would not be unwelcome.
Lunch donors are asked to provide 60 meals, and dinner donors should plan for 75. Meals should be something that diners can line up for and pile on their plates. Donor restaurants so far have taken responsibility for delivery themselves, while the Salvation Army has managed the serving process, but Eng said offers from donor restaurants to take over some aspects of food service as well would take additional work off the Salvation Army’s shoulders.
For some restaurant owners and chefs, it’s an opportunity to challenge themselves and make sure their community is cared for. For others, it’s just good citizenship.
Says Eng: “Empathy is like a muscle. You have to exercise it in order for it to become a really capable and strong ability.”