Two nuns who have been making national headlines following the eviction of their soup kitchen in the Tenderloin, where they fed the hungry during the day and slept at night, are moving their services to the Mission.
Last week, blessed with some unexpected altruism from none other than multimillionaire life and business coach Tony Robbins, Marie Valerie and Marie Benedicte of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth found their way to the Mission District, where they were able to secure a commercial space in a four-story building at 1930 Mission st.
Though they are still searching for a new place to live, if all goes as planned, the nuns could start setting up their new soup kitchen close to the 16th Street BART station and adjacent to the city’s 75-bed Navigation Center that provides shelter and services to homeless in April.
Ensuring the nuns’ immunity from future evictions, Robbins bought the 1,430 square-foot ground floor retail space that sat empty for nearly two years for $750,000, and donated another $50,000 to help the women get their new soup kitchen up and running quickly.
Nick Patel, the nuns’ former landlord at 54 Turk St., had almost doubled the nun’s rent in January, raising it from $3,465 to $5,500, and effectively displaced them from the space where they lived and worked for some eight years.
Upon reading about their eviction, Robbins, who experienced homeless in his childhood, took it upon himself to support the nuns throughout the process. The renown self-help expert initially offered Patel $25,000 in cash to extend their lease for one more year, but the nuns later declined that offer. Instead, they worked with Robbins to come up with a more sustainable plan – buying a permanent space to call their own.
With a pending eviction hanging over their heads and the backing of Robbins, the nuns decided that owning their own soup kitchen was the only way to continue their mission of serving the poor without interruption. Real Estate Agent Antonio Gamero, who works at Re/Max Futura at 1010 Valencia st., said that he felt that it was no coincidence that the nuns showed up at his door with an unusual request.
“That morning, I woke up and said ‘please, give me something good,’” said Gamero. Around 6:30 p.m., Gamero said he was locking up at the real estate firm when the nuns knocked on his door. “I had heard of their eviction, but didn’t put two and two together until they were sitting in front of me.”
With a budget of $1.5 million, the nuns told Gamero that they were looking for a mixed use building, with a commercial space at the bottom out of which to run the soup kitchen and a residential space above, where they could live.
“I told them that would be impossible to find [that combination] unless they were willing to evict current tenants,” said Gamero, a route which the nuns refused immediately. Still without a place to live, the nuns were more successful in their hunt for a new soup kitchen location. Gamero spent the next day with the women searching for an appropriate location, until finally coming across 1930 Mission st.
“The next thing I know, I get a call from Tony Robbins,” said Gamero. “I felt like a 15-year-old girl at a Backstreet Boys concert.”
Gamero said that the space will be appraised tomorrow, and if it clears, the nuns would be able to set up shop soon.
“It is more than just a transaction— it affected me,” said Gamero. “Its something that truly benefits a community that is in need.”