On Wednesday, April 19th and Thursday, April 27th Gleeson Library participated in its second community outreach event. Staff from different departments joined to take part in Gleeson’s April Action at St. Anthony’s. There were a few hiccups along the way but the staff at St. Anthony’s were very accommodating and kind with everyone who participated.
St. Anthony’s is located in the heart of the Tenderloin, neighboring the hustle and bustle of Market Street. Opening its doors to the St. Anthony’s Dining Room on October 4, 1950 by Franciscan Friar Fr. Alfred Boeddeker, the dining room was expected to serve 150 meals to low-income and homeless guest. On its first day, St. Anthony’s Dining Room ended up serving 400 meals.
“Today, we continue to thrive on serving hope daily and providing essential support to our Guests in need. We bring people together in this work because we know it takes a community to break down barriers and create a society where all people flourish. Find out how you can help.” — https://www.stanthonysf.org/our-history/
Franciscan Friars continue to play a vital role in the organization to promote justice, peace, and helping those in poverty. A lot of the work that St. Anthony’s provides runs on the help of volunteers and donations. The organization has expanded to include Health Care services, a Free Clothing Program, Addiction Recovery assistance, Technology Access & Training, and even Social Work.
Our Gleeson volunteer groups participated in their Free Clothing Program. Clothing donations are dropped off daily, 10 AM – 2 PM. Everything goes through three sorting processes, before garments and accessories are place in the store front. The second floor of the 150 Golden Gate Avenue building houses the store front and the back room where the sorting takes place.
Volunteers go through all donated material, sorting each piece into bins with labels such as “Women,” “Men,” “Children,” and “Outer Wear.” They are then sorted into more general categories, before being prepped on hangers to make a debut. Anything that doesn’t make these selections are tossed into a green bin for recycling. The great part about St. Anthony’s is that nothing goes to waste. All recycled items are re-purposed giving it a new life perhaps as a kitchen towel. The best way of deciding whether something is store worthy was nicely put by our staff guide, Sophie, stating that “If it is something that you wouldn’t want to give to a friend or loved one, it doesn’t go out to the store for our guests.”
Both Gleeson Library groups helped out front in the store, assisting guests in finding sizes, styles or certain garments that weren’t on the clothing racks. Guest arrive based on their time appointment. During their appointment guests shop and choose the items that they want. There is a daily board that lists how the number of certain garments that guests are allotted. The Free Clothing Program provides each guests with 30 outfits. As volunteers we provide each guest with the “shopper experience” that will give a positive and dignified shopping experience to all guests, regardless of where they come from.
Anxious with the familiar feeling of knots in my stomach, I found myself on the store floor relying on my previous retail experience to calm my nerves. My first interaction was with a woman looking for a pair of shorts. I inquired if she preferred a certain color, cut or style before I dashed off to the back where the extra clothes were kept. As I searched I was unable to find any women’s shorts among the racks. I return with the bad news and although I wasn’t able to fulfill the customers request they were very understanding and grateful that I tried. She continued to browse through the clothes and find something else. Another customer who I remember more vividly was looking through the assortment of dresses. She asked for my opinion on whether to choose a solid color dress or a floral pattern. That day I was wearing a floral shirt myself, so I mentioned that perhaps I would be biased but ask what were her typical wardrobe choices and built worked from there. She was very happy to find so many options in her size.
Not only are we making a difference in their lives but we are changing our own through our compassion and our actions. Change can begin with one person. We may not always know what a person may be going through or how they got to where they are in their life, but no matter what we are all people.
“St. Anthony’s provides fantastic services that place an emphasis on the dignity of individuals. Volunteering with them is a truly rewarding experience.” – Anders
“I really loved the personal interactions with the people I was helping. I was really moved when I was given a big hug for finding a woman a comb that would work for her hair and I felt joy with the fellow who yelled “I love these!” when I brought out a pair of very bright green tennis shoes.” – Matt
“I am grateful for the opportunity to interact with each customer as an individual. Beyond the basic necessities, their unique needs were instructive — for example, reading glasses or a bathrobe — and trying to meet them was enlightening.” – Justine