Brad Reiss, the founder of Healers Without Borders, had some advice for the volunteers showing up at Wednesday’s Thanksgiving giveaway: “Don’t just drop the food and leave. We want to engage with people. We want them to know our names, and we’re here to offer help.”
During the two-hour giveaway in the Mission, volunteers handed out 100 sandwiches, chips and drinks, as well as socks and clothes. Most of the supplies that landed at three sites were ordered by donors from the Amazon wish list provided by Healers Without Borders. Others were donated by volunteers and shops like Teani’s Deli.
At noon, Reiss, five members of his organization, and other volunteers carried out sandwich boxes and hygiene kits from their trucks. They met behind the Best Buy at Harrison and Alameda streets where, nearby, at least 20 tents had been pitched.
“Happy Thanksgiving! We bring some sandwiches for lunch and other stuff,” shouted volunteers when passing by the tents. Some people poked their heads out and took the food. Those who needed clothes came out to the trolly to pick their own sizes and styles. Almost everyone expressed their thanks and returned the holiday wishes.
Reiss started the monthly giveaway in July, and will organize more in the coming holiday season, he said. He is thinking about doing a family-friendly giveaway event after Christmas, gathering 15 8- to 16-year-old kids with their parents.
There were more people in need than Reiss thought. He said they usually hand out 60 sandwiches at the first site. But almost 85 sandwiches were gone after the first stop.
Reiss then drove to two other smaller sites around Franklin Square. Homeless residents camping far from the main encampments are less likely to get food, said Reiss, and they are hungry, too. That seemed to be the case.
One man tore the wrapping paper from his sandwich as soon as a volunteer handed it to him. A woman, in all black and barefoot, kept saying, “thank you” after taking a bag of second-hand clothes.
A middle-aged man took out his guitar from the camp when volunteers were about to leave. “Do you happen to have a guitar string to replace?” He strummed his guitar with two broken strings, watching volunteer cars leave with a smile.
Socks and blankets are the most requested items. Reiss didn’t realize the importance of them until he first started passing them out to homeless people in the Tenderloin. Such items are needed but infrequently donated, he said. That’s why he listed socks in the donation wish list and carried some to each distribution event.
He told Mission Local in July that his rehab experience made him determined to help others, to “soften the blow” by showing up at where less fortunate people need help.
Now, his work is recognized by more people. Healers Without Borders just won the Warriors Impact Award. The organization got twelve tickets for the Warriors game on Wednesday night and received the awards during halftime at the Chase center.