I stayed in San Francisco for Thanksgiving this year and hosted dinner for friends that were on the same boat. Being far from family or typical Thanksgiving, I couldn’t be more thankful to have been surrounded by endless warmth, smiles, cheer, and (of course) food.
But in this very city, a large group of people didn’t have that. The night before Thanksgiving, a friend and I had just finished sipping fancy drinks while getting manicures and were walking down Octavia St in Hayes Valley, chatting away about the following evening’s menu — fairly ignorant of our surroundings as San Franciscans have been conditioned to be. But just as we were passing by Miette — among my favorite candy shops/bakeries/all around happy place that I never walk by without going inside — I noticed a homeless woman huddled on the steps bracing herself from the chilly, windy night. She probably hadn’t eaten dinner and slept there as a glaring juxtaposition to the tiny $10 bags of candy I thoughtlessly purchase just beyond the very door she was blocking. I don’t think many other passers by even blinked an eye at her. More often than not, even I wouldn’t have. If there was a dog in her place, a typical San Franciscan would have run to its rescue within seconds. But we live in a city where homeless people like her are usually viewed as lesser than animals — they’re almost grouped together with the trash that they often surround.
It’s also upsetting that as my friends and I piled our plates with food the next day, multiple children outside probably hadn’t eaten. As my apartment filled with aromas of turkey and thyme, someone outside was living in the scent of garbage and waste. It’s upsetting that I had food leftover to feed all of my friends all over again, but most people out there didn’t have food to feed themselves even once. These were all people in the very city I live in, many living on the street just down the block from me.
So instead of sending the leftovers home with friends or making cranberry turkey sandwiches the next day, I boxed them up and decided to give some of these people the holiday meal they didn’t have. It felt unnatural, intimidating, and completely out of my comfort zone. I usually walk quickly by these people or avoid them altogether by crossing to the opposite side of the street — now I was going to approach them. But in the end, this smallest possible gesture was worth it. The gratitude in their eyes and sincerity in their voices showed that it made a difference to them — someone walking by and treating them like humans instead of animals. And though it was a small difference, it was at least more than nothing.
San Francisco has over 6.5k homeless people.
58% of these people are on the streets. For a city that’s 7x7, that’s a lot. Based on a survey by ASR, 14% of respondents were first homeless before they even became adults and 67% have chronic health conditions or disabilities, making it even more difficult for them to get out of their situations.
Homelessness is a real problem that my community faces, but certainly not the only one. Extending this out beyond my community, there are countless unfathomable challenges that people are currently facing in this country and broader world.
Giving away my Thanksgiving leftovers was probably among the smallest gestures I could make to help my community. But as the holidays and time of giving are upon us, hopefully sharing this can be a nudge in the right direction for both myself and anyone reading this to look at our communities and truly give to help those that need it.