It was an intense feeling of dread that pulled Food Bank partner Bishop Greg Valentine out of bed at 2 am one fateful Friday morning in August 2015.
“I think somebody I know just died, and I need to go to the church to pray,” he told his wife. It would be several hours before Bishop Valentine would realize his fears were justified.
It turns out a group of vandals had broken in and defiled his house of worship, St. Paul’s Tabernacle Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. When he arrived later that morning, Valentine was greeted by yellow crime-scene tape and police officers.
“As I walked up the stairs, I remember Sister Beverly Taylor coming up to me and saying ‘Hey, you’d better get it together, they’re all depending on you,’” Bishop Valentine said. But nothing could prepare him for what he saw next.
Listen to Bishop Valentine and Sister Beverly Taylor describe the anguish and joy of their experience.
“The vandals really did a number, bleaching and urinating on the pews,” he recalled. “They spray-painted racial and homophobic slurs on walls and shattered a pair of giant mirrors. Hurtful is deep, but this went deeper.”
That week, Bishop Valentine held Sunday services outdoors to spare his congregation the shock and pain of seeing the desecrated church. His concern soon turned to the nearly 100 people who rely on the church’s food pantry every week. How would they get nutritious groceries when the church had to close down for repairs?
Sister Taylor, who helped start the church’s food pantry 20 years ago, was worried too: “There was a terrible need for people to be able to still go someplace to get something to eat,” she said. Fortunately, partners at nearby Providence Baptist Church Pantry stepped up to serve St. Paul’s pantry participants.
As horrible as the vandalism was, there was a silver lining, said Bishop Valentine. Within days, people with no affiliation to the church, from all walks of life, showed up and started painting walls, replacing the carpets, and repairing the pews.
Funds were raised, repairs were made, and nearly three months to the day from when the vandals struck, the church’s sanctuary was back, better than ever. This past September, St Paul’s Church celebrated its reopening and honored dozens of neighbors who helped put the small church back together again.
The food pantry reopened a week later on December 4th, much to the relief of Sister Taylor and the participants. “They were so happy the first day, to come back into the pantry – ‘our pantry’ as they call it,” she said. “They appreciate what they have every day.”
No arrests have been made, and investigators with the San Francisco Police Department continue to look into the case.
Feeling inspired? Help support our food pantry at St. Paul’s Church – and our pantry network throughout San Francisco and Marin – by making a donation.