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By Heather World
It was a stormy summer for seniors whose weekday lunches at the Noe Valley Ministry were threatened by budget cuts, but the clouds lifted in mid-July when an anonymous donor--a Noe Valley couple--came forward to pay for Project Open Hand's hot food deliveries for a month. Then the news got even rosier: the city's Office on Aging announced it would fund the meals through June 2010.
When Julie Wasem, director of senior services for Project Open Hand, called to tell the seniors about the reprieve, Noe Valley site coordinator Wendy Cohen couldn't believe her ears.
"We'd been all set to close, so I wasn't sure I'd heard her right. 'Did you say we're saved? Saved for the whole year?'" Cohen said, before excitedly informing the over-60 crowd sitting down for lunch at 1021 Sanchez Street.
Project Open Hand, which warned the Noe Valley Senior Center of the impending closure in the spring, had already come to the site's rescue once this year (see "Senior Lunch Saved for a Month," July/August 2009 Voice). The nonprofit offered to pay for July's lunches out of its own pocket, hoping the gesture would buy time for the mayor or Board of Supervisors to shift money back into the senior nutrition program.
As for the Office on Aging decision, Cohen credits articles in the Noe Valley Voice and the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner with spurring neighbors to call Supervisor Bevan Dufty and lobby for the lunches. Jim Illig, Project Open Hand's government relations director, said Dufty personally approached the head of the Office on Aging and asked her to restore funding to the Noe Valley site.
Though the fate of three other sites slated for closure is still unknown, Noe Valley will remain open for another year, he said.
"Without people putting the time in to save this, this wouldn't have happened," Illig said. "We're grateful."
Cohen, who has managed the Noe Valley site for more than 10 years, said her clients' reaction to the events of the summer was just what you'd expect. "They were thrilled," she said, especially with the largesse shown by the Noe Valley couple. The seniors begged to know the donors' identity, but settled for sending them an effusive thank-you card through her, Cohen said.
The seniors, too, were grateful for the community's concern and calls to supervisors, Cohen said. Many elders had rearranged their schedules in preparation for the closure. One woman even postponed doctor appointments because she figured she would have plenty of time for those after the center closed.
"It was tough to live that way," Cohen said.
Now that funding has been restored, Cohen and the two dozen diners will do their best to get more people to come to lunch, which is served at 12:30 p.m. for a suggested donation of $2. They plan to hang flyers in nearby libraries and pass them out at the Saturday farmers market on 24th Street.
"I'm hoping more seniors will come," Cohen said. "I know they're out there."
Seniors who would like to reserve a seat for lunch are asked to call the Noe Valley Senior Center, 648-1030, 24 hours ahead of time, so Open Hand can order enough meals. The senior center's hours at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street at 23rd Street, are noon to 2 p.m. For additional information, visit www.openhand.org or call 447-2300.