San Francisco City Impact Thanksgiving Outreach
By: Jonathan Ye

On Thanksgiving Day, 2017, 63 students and parents from Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) attended the San Francisco City Impact Outreach. The Outreach is an event where hundreds of volunteers go to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to help serve those in need and spread the holiday cheer and festivities. The Tenderloin district is one of the poorest in San Francisco, with over 26% of the population below the poverty line.
    Volunteers from GLI were divided into 6 groups. These groups did a variety of tasks to help out the poor of the Tenderloin District. Tasks included preparing meals in the kitchen, delivering meals, helping run events at a kids carnival, serving people at a medical station, cleaning up, and more. I was assigned to meal delivery. My group of 10 people, plus a City Impact leader, would retrieve boxes of meals from the food preparation center and deliver them to low-income apartments.
    At the beginning, I was hesitant to converse with unfamiliar people. However, as I became more comfortable with communicating with the people I was serving food to, I began to talk with them more. I connected with two residents over their cat, whom one of the residents had owned for over 9 years. Another resident told me his worries about a friend who was going to jail. Another person that we delivered food to later helped us out, giving us useful advice. And, in one of the most memorable parts of my day, a single mother told our group about the incredibly difficult life that she had lived, but how she still maintained a positive attitude, working towards passing the bar exam.
    These experiences showed me something about happiness: making others feel good makes you feel good as well. When I gave people food or wished them well, their face would light up. The recipient’s happiness would spread to me, and I would spread it to the next person I met. As the great writer and poet Maya Angelou once said, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
    Over 6 hours on Thanksgiving Day, City Impact’s volunteers helped prepare and serve roughly 6,000 meals to both residents and homeless in Tenderloin District. But the numbers are not the most important part. I may have only been able to help out a few dozen people, but the connections made, the joy created, and the experiences gained are invaluable.

Special thanks to:

Project Leaders: Hua Li and Eric Luo

Group Leaders: Wendy Chen, Darron Dai, Robert Lin, Roy Lin, Helen Ye, Rena Gong, Fang Yuan, Nanxiang Wang, Wenhui Li, and Jonathan Ye, for being group leaders.

And everyone else who volunteered!

“City Impact” We have a meal for you!

These exact were said probably over a hundred times that day as I walked through the streets of San Francisco. During my time volunteering for the City Impact program in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, I was given the opportunity to help bring food to hundreds of people in one of San Francisco’s least affluent districts, the Tenderloin. Here, crime is above average and many people live below the poverty line. Being raised in the suburban town of San Ramon, California, I had always known that there were such people out there, however I had never fully had the chance to interact with them. Society’s preconception of the area had led me to
become emotionally detached from the entire situation until this day. During my shift, I was part of the meal delivery team. While other teams prepared food in the kitchen, we signed up to hike the streets of San Francisco. We went up local streets, such as
Eddy and Jones, to find the apartments in which we were to deliver food. As we entered the lobby, we all split up, each group of two in charge of a floor. I initially observed that the buildings they lived in were not so shabby. They had elevators, running water, and all the necessary utilities. It was also very comparable to the average apartment life, or even dorm life at Berkeley in terms of the size of their room, however it was rather dark and unwelcoming initially.

The day soon went by quickly as we knocked on each door that had signed up for a meal, handed them food, and then proceeded. While some chose not to respond, I realized that many others did strike interesting conversations. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that these people were not much different from anyone else. They lived their own lives, and had their own dreams and aspirations. Some were artists beginning their career, while others held day jobs at their own family-run businesses. The more you connected with them and conducted a genuine conversation, the more sympathetic you began to feel as despite their current situation, they were still able to see happiness in the world around them. Their hunger to improve themselves and the world around them was evident and is often overlooked when taking just a cursory glance.

The time spent that Thanksgiving was definitely extremely rewarding. I had been to San Francisco numerous times in the past, however it was quite the surprise to see that just a couple miles out from the heart of San Francisco, beyond the Embarcadero, Pier 39 and the lights and tourism of Union Square, neighborhoods like this could exist. Thus, I’d urge those who have not had a chance to volunteer away from home to take the time one break and get to experience a whole new world to see life beyond suburbia.

​- Eric Gan, UC Berkeley, Class of 2021