Noe Valley Voice October 2006

Making a Difference:

Volunteer Opportunities for Young People

By Ava Benezra

It's 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The line in front of St. Anthony Dining Room in the Tenderloin snakes around the block and out of sight. First in line is an elderly man, doing sun salutations on the street, his possessions in a neat pile beside him. Next in line is a woman in a long blond wig sitting on the sidewalk reading her Chronicle. The volunteers have long since arrived, including a number of teenagers who've come with their families or schools.

Finally, the doors open, four burly men start to let people in, and the daily procession begins.

A Catholic charity, St. Anthony's offers food, drink, and a clean place to eat every day of the year. Not only are San Francisco's homeless served; so is anyone who has trouble making ends meet and who needs a healthy, balanced meal.

Working in shifts of four to five hours, St. Anthony's volunteers serve more than 2,500 meals a day. They fold napkins, dish out food, and deliver trays to hungry patrons.

In the age of iPods, Xbox, and e-mail, it's sometimes difficult for people to connect with others in a meaningful way. Pre-teens and teens, whose life experience is limited, often take their many advantages for granted. For them, helping others who are less fortunate can be a real eye-opener. A charity like St. Anthony's, where young people are able to interact with people who are down on their luck, can help teens appreciate all they have.

Here are a few organizations that welcome the the helping hands of kids and teens.

St. Anthony Will Bless You

St. Anthony Dining Room, located on Golden Gate Avenue near Jones Street, is staffed by a number of people who are recovering from alcohol and drug abuse problems. Their optimism and good spirits are infectious. Volunteers and staff often share a feeling of camaraderie, and though standing for four hours straight is hard work, there is nothing quite as nice as hearing a heartfelt "Bless you" from one of the patrons.

St. Anthony's prefers its volunteers to be at least 13 years old, and asks that they commit to a regular schedule. Besides helping in the dining room, volunteers can help the St. Anthony Foundation in other areas, such as distributing clothing and furniture to people in need. To find out about the program, call 415-592-2726 or e-mail

Sorting for the Food Bank

The non-profit San Francisco Food Bank supplies organizations like St. Anthony Dining Room with food. The Food Bank, which has a warehouse at 900 Pennsylvania Avenue on Potrero Hill, accepts food from donors like grocery stores and gives it to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, Meals on Wheels, and after-school programs for children. The fruit might be bruised and the cans dented, but the food is still good, and it helps to feed hungry people in San Francisco, which is the Food Bank's mission.

Volunteers sort, label, and box fruit and cans, generally in three-hour shifts. The atmosphere is sociable, and it is easy to talk with friends while working, so the shift passes quickly. A regular commitment is not required, but you should call and schedule your shift in advance. The volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank can be reached at 415-282-1907, ext. 244, or on e-mail at; or you can go to

A Visit to Ronald McDonald House

At San Francisco's Ronald McDonald House, volunteers actually cook the food they serve. Patrons are families that come from all over the world to receive treatment for a critically ill child at one of several local hospitals. Most families cannot afford to put themselves up in a hotel for the duration of their child's treatment. Ronald McDonald House, a 10-bedroom residence on Scott Street, provides them with lodging and home-cooked meals to help lessen the burden.

As long as they are supervised by an adult, volunteers can be pretty young. (Those under 18 must bring a parent or adult.) In three-hour shifts, they generally cook, set tables, and serve, but they are sometimes also asked to garden and paint walls in this home-away-from-home for families with sick children. Ideally, volunteers should commit to a schedule.

To get the scoop, call 415-345-0361, ext. 101, or e-mail Also, you can fill out a volunteer application on the Ronald McDonald web site:

Like Books and Music?

St. Anthony Dining Room, the Food Bank, and Ronald McDonald House all involve food, but there are many organizations that do not, including the Mission Branch Public Library, where volunteers label and shelve videos, CDs, and tapes. It is not necessary to commit to a schedule, but those who do also learn the library's shelving system and the wide range of films and music that are on loan. Those who like to read can use this as an opportunity to scope out new books. The library invites children and teens 12 years and up to help out after school, on Saturdays, or in the summer.

The Mission Branch is located at 300 Bartlett Street (off 24th Street between Mission and Valencia). For information on volunteering, call 415-355-2800. To find out about activities at other library branches, go to the web site

A Match for Everyone

Animal shelters, environmental organizations, hospitals, parks, and senior centers also need help. For more ideas on kids and teen volunteering, check out

The work to be done is neverending, but so are the rewards that come from helping those in need.

Ava Benezra, 13, is a resident of Liberty Street and an eighth-grader at San Francisco Day School. Other than the Mission Library, she has volunteered at all the places she wrote about in this story. She attended Interlochen Arts Camp as a writing major and loves to read and write.