Noe Valley Voice July-August 1998

Seniors Will Get Meals, With or Without Salvation Army

By Steve Steinberg

Noe Valley seniors breathed a collective sigh of relief last month after learning that the senior lunch program will continue to offer low-cost meals at the Noe Valley Ministry even though the Salvation Army will no longer provide the food.

"Seniors should experience no food interruption," says Kerry Parker, building manager of the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez St. Parker coordinates the Noe Valley Senior Center's weekday lunch program at the church.

Parker says she's been assured by the San Francisco Commission on Aging, which arranges for meal service at various senior sites throughout the city, that a new food provider will be found by the time the Salvation Army's contract with the city expires on Sept. 1. Parker notes that the commission has also encouraged individual locations to try to find their own food provider.

However, adds Parker, the commission stressed that no senior lunch program site -- including those like the Noe Valley Ministry that cater only to a small number of people -- will lose its meal service. She is also hopeful that a change in providers will not cause an increase in the $1.25 to $1.50 donation which seniors are now asked to pay for the lunches, served Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m.

A year-long dispute between the city and the Salvation Army came to a head June 3, when the nonprofit organization announced that it would be unable to comply with San Francisco's domestic partners ordinance because the law allegedly conflicts with its Christian beliefs.

Under the law, businesses that hold city contracts and offer health insurance to the spouses of married employees must provide the same benefits to the domestic partners of unmarried employees -- no matter what their sexual orientation. Those who fail to do so are ineligible for city money.

Rather than abide by the ordinance, the Salvation Army -- an independent Protestant charity -- simply withdrew as a city service provider. The Army's contracts amounted to about a sixth of its $18 million budget for services in San Francisco and, in addition to the citywide senior nutrition program, included a drug rehabilitation program and a shelter for the homeless on Turk Street.

The Salvation Army's withdrawal set the stage for a scramble by the city to find a new food provider. It has also caused concern among the city's senior population, many of whom are dependent on the inexpensive lunch programs for a nutritionally sound meal.

"We all felt terrible," said Noe Valley senior Julia Aune, who worried that without the help of the Salvation Army, the popular lunch program might fold. Aune says she is so dedicated to the program that she even pitches in as a server.

Another Noe Valley Senior Center member, Gerald McGarity, said he was so upset that he couldn't sleep when he first heard that the meal service might be in jeopardy. "I felt real bad. We often come over and have a hot lunch. We're not wealthy."

Other seniors faulted the Salvation Army for practicing discrimination against gays.

"People who are domestic partners pay taxes," said one senior who did not wish to be identified. "So they should get the same privileges as other people."