On a cold, damp San Francisco morning in late June, Clifford, William and Tommy sat together eating breakfast and sipping coffee in the parking lot of Glide Memorial Church, a long-time Food Bank partner. Their posture landed somewhere between socially distancing and huddling to keep warm and hear each other.
The foldout table was placed there by Glide’s staff and volunteers in preparation for Glide’s daily free breakfast – a staple for many in San Francisco.
A couple years ago William, Clifford and Tommy may have gathered for a quick breakfast in Glide’s basement dining hall. But when the pandemic hit, Glide immediately moved its meal program outdoors and started serving seniors and disabled individuals first.
That’s how these three men met – joining the first group to line up, they found a seat together and quickly formed a sort of pandemic breakfast club.
For William the mornings are a nice time to enjoy “some coffee, yogurt, pastries or a good boiled egg when they’re cooked right.” The cold, damp San Francisco weather is a little less to his liking. “I’d rather be downstairs in the basement at the dining table. Just to get out of the wind. I have lung problems, so the dampness and coolness set me off real easy.”
Tommy who has been coming to Glide for 13 years says, “I like it anywhere I can have breakfast, but it’s pretty good inside.”
Food Is Central
Food is central to creating community. When we can come together around a shared meal, we build connections, we foster understanding, and we grow together. And this isn’t true just of a family dinner or a special holiday celebration—meal programs like Glide’s are part of the fabric of our community.
George Gundry, who grew up in the Bay Area and is now Director of Glide’s Free Daily Meal Program put it simply: “I always knew about the meals line, I think everybody does. The meal line is the gateway to Glide.”
Long before the pandemic the breakfast, lunch and dinner Glide prepared daily for people living in single room occupancies (or SROs) without cooking facilities, staying in shelters, or living on the streets served as a de facto family meal.
For the breakfast club, the morning breakfast has become a ritual. Each day William, Clifford and Tommy pull up a chair in the parking lot and check in, swap stories and joke with the staff and volunteers.
On this particular morning, William makes sure his friends are doing alright – Tommy recently got out of the hospital and Clifford has a bit of a cold. But like any good meal the checkups quickly turn to how is the food – William thinks it’s good, Tommy jokingly says, “its edible.” And then it’s on to stories of the old days. Each of these men has spent decades in San Francisco, and in a city where the only constant thing seems to be change and rising prices, they were part of some of its most iconic moments. Huddled over breakfast, William starts talking about his days protesting and Clifford shares stories of working at the shipyard building boats that went to Vietnam.
Food does more than fill a hungry belly—it is essential to our humanity. A simple meal can nourish our whole being while turning strangers into friends and friends into family.