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Photo: Alan Greenblatt/NPR
Growing up, Liam Foley (left) was in charge of dishes and never cooked. He was still able to help chop the onions, though, at a burrito-making project for the poor in San Francisco.

Here’s another great story about ordinary people stepping up to try to make a dent in some of life’s knottier problems. This initiative is about making a dent in hunger and getting to know a few people experiencing homelessness.

Alan Greenblatt writes at National Public Radio, “Jimmy Ryan’s recipe for burritos is really pretty simple. It calls for 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of beans, a couple of cases of canned tomatoes and several hundred tortillas.

“That may sound like a lot, but Ryan is one of the organizers of the Burrito Project in San Francisco, an informal charity that makes and distributes about 500 burritos to the homeless once a month. On May 21, the group celebrated its second anniversary and rolled its 10,000th burrito. …

“The desire to distribute healthy, easily portable burritos is catching on. … A couple of the entities have registered as 501(c)3 charities, but others remain completely informal. Anyone is allowed to use the name as long as they’re providing burritos and not making any money off the service.

” ‘From what I understand, we have one of the only burrito projects that runs four days a week,’ says Rai Doty, a coordinator in Salt Lake City. ‘Four days a week, we feed 200 to 500 people a night.’

“The groups rely on a mix of donated food and sponsorships. In San Francisco, different companies pay the bills each month, helping out with both funding and manpower. …

“The crowd [I saw] was mostly young and white, but several other racial and ethnic groups were represented, with at least one grandmother helping out. For some, this effort represents just one stop along their personal charity journeys, which also include efforts such as working at animal shelters or churches. But for others, this was a quick and painless way to give back. …

“The organizers say they’re trying to make the event fun and welcoming, asking everyone to introduce themselves and providing kombucha and cake to celebrate their anniversary. …

“The soup kitchen that allows the Burrito Project to use its kitchen is located on the edge of the Mission District, which is ground zero for gentrification pressures in San Francisco. …

“The Burrito Project encourages volunteers not just to hand out food, but to stop and interact with individuals who are often neglected or avoided. …

“No one is under the illusion that handing out an occasional burrito is going to solve anyone’s problems.

“Some Burrito Project outposts try to do more than occasionally feed people. During the snowy season in Salt Lake City, the group partners with Warm the Homeless, which distributes blankets, coats and hats. The long-running project in Bakersfield, Calif., has been adopted by high school and church groups who hand out clothes and shoes when there are donations. Their ninth anniversary event on July 8 will provide a forum for representatives from other local groups that provide housing, health and legal assistance.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Elizabeth Hafalia, The Chronicle
Facing a need for affordable housing and arts space, San Francisco’s Mission Economic Development Agency is joining with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers to repurpose this neglected 1919 building.

Have you ever visited San Francisco’s Mission District? A poor, immigrant neighborhood, it is nevertheless a vibrant experiment in people-oriented housing and support for food entrepreneurs and the arts. The creative energy there is tangible.

Moreover, the neighborhood’s community-development folks never stop turning dreams into reality. J.K. Dineen has an update at the San Francisco Chronicle.

“A historic but long-neglected commercial building at Mission and 18th streets in San Francisco is poised to be rejuvenated with a mix of affordable housing, child care and dance.

“The dilapidated 1919 structure, a former furniture store that was remodeled with an Art Deco flair in the late 1930s, has been on and off the market for more than a decade. …

“Finally the Mission Economic Development Agency, a politically powerful group that often opposes market-rate housing, reached a deal to buy it by collaborating with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers, which will open a child care facility there.

“ ‘We are all going in together to do a new model of cooperative living and dancing and taking care of our children,’ said Krissy Keefer, executive director of Dance Mission Theater. ‘It’s going to be very communal.’ …

“Brokers with the San Francisco office of the realty firm Marcus & Millichap … said market-rate developers were scared off by the Mission’s anti-gentrification political environment and that ‘MEDA was very good to work with.’ …

“The building will be the group’s first home ownership project — the others are rentals — and the first targeting middle-income families rather than low-income folks. Mission Neighborhood Centers is providing some of the project funding, along with two nonprofits: Low Income Investment Fund, a financial intermediary that provides capital for community developments, and the Neighbor to Neighbor fund.”

I’m sure everyone has read about the housing crunch in San Francisco, with tech employees pushing prices up. It’s good to hear of anything designed to ease the shortage. More here.

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Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle 
Artificial turf is installed in a park under construction in San Francisco, which claims to be the first city with a park near every home.

More and more research is showing that access to nature and urban parks improves not only quality of life but the health of city dwellers. Municipalities save, too, when they have healthier residents.

Recently San Francisco was able to claim the distinction of being first in the nation to offer a park 10 minutes from every home.

Lizzie Johnson reports at the San Francisco Chronicle, “In 10 minutes, you can load a TV episode on Netflix, check your mail waiting for BART or make an avocado toast. Now, you can add to that list: take a walk to the park.

“San Francisco is the first city in the nation to have every resident live within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space. The percentage is calculated by the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that facilitates the creation of parks and analyzes park systems for the 100 largest cities nationwide. …

“But don’t expect to see a small army of city workers and volunteers with stopwatches in hand counting their steps. The data were gathered using a complex geographic mapping program. The average person can walk a half-mile in about 10 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which counts even your two legs as a mode of transportation. The distance has to include sidewalks — crossing highways or skirting canals doesn’t count.

“ ‘We developed this as the gold standard,’ said Adrian Benepe, the Trust for Public Land’s director of city park development. ‘A 10-minute walk to a park is an important indicator of the livability of a city.’ …

“Criteria for the nonprofit’s annual ParkScore analysis also includes the number of individual parks, overall spending and facilities upkeep. …

“The city has spent $355 million in bond and general fund money over the past four years to purchase land, renovate dilapidated parks and improve open spaces. In 2012, voters passed the $195 million Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond to fix up neighborhood parks.

“Those measures made the difference in reaching the No. 1 spot, said Recreation and Park Department Director Phil Ginsburg.

“ ‘It speaks volumes about this city’s commitment to open space,’ he said. “It is the reflection of literally a century and a half of decisions regarding parks and open space.’ ”

More at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Two women in San Francisco felt compassion for homeless people who have nowhere to go during the day. So they arranged with a local Catholic church to welcome them.

Patricia Leigh Brown wrote the story for the Christian Science Monitor series called “People Making a Difference: Ordinary People Taking Action for Extraordinary Change.”

“Tina Christopher’s day begins at 5:45 a.m. as she cleans the sidewalk in front of St. Boniface Catholic Church in the Tenderloin, the once-colorful vice district in San Francisco now better known as a province of the poor, the desperate, the addicted, and the down and out. …

” ‘All right my beautiful brothers and sisters!’ Ms. Christopher says in her always-chipper voice. ‘Good morning! Time to get up! Wakey wakey!’ Then she unlocks the church’s heavy iron gate.

“Soon, St. Boniface’s 74 backmost pews will cradle some 150 homeless people seeking ‘sacred sleep,’ the sound of snoring permeating the incense-filled room. Beneath the saints painted on the church’s glittering dome, they stretch out for nine hours of vital slumber, resting their heads on ad hoc sweatshirt and T-shirt pillows or sometimes their folded hands. For a brief moment, their faces, beatific and babylike in sleep, do not betray the nights of fearful wandering and the way concrete seeps into a person’s bones and stays there.

“Christopher is the program director of The Gubbio Project, a pioneering effort, believed to be the country’s first. … Cofounded in 2004 by the Rev. Louis Vitale, a well-known peace and human rights advocate, the program provides a place for homeless people to sleep during the daylight hours, when most shelters are closed.

The project is named after Gubbio, the Italian town where, the story goes, residents befriended a wolf after realizing the animal wasn’t dangerous, just hungry.

“The project’s guiding lights are two women who are devoted to the dignity of the people they call ‘guests.’ Laura Slattery, Gubbio’s executive director and public voice, is a West Point graduate-turned-social justice activist who wears jeans and hiking boots and exudes a sense of calm resolve, even in a crisis. Christopher is the exuberant all-hands-on-deck ground commander who knows the name of every guest and whose finely tuned antennae swiftly intuit their needs and issues. …

“At St. Boniface, Christopher writes daily notices on the whiteboard:

“Shower bus 8:30-2
“We have Blankets!
“Tomorrow – some socks.

“She is in constant motion, eyeglasses perched atop her head, dispensing cough drops, rubber bands, tampons, shaving cream, and other necessities from a converted confessional. She makes it a point to ask guests whether they’d prefer a pink toothbrush or a blue one, a black blanket or a brown one. ‘Even the simplest things are important to people who don’t have choices,’ she explains.

“Socks and other staples come from volunteers like Roberta Snyder, who has established relationships with housekeepers at nearby hotels and provides soaps, shampoos, and other items …

“[Slattery] thinks of The Gubbio Project as ‘the ministry of presence,’ one that dispels some popular myths about homeless people along the way. Quite a number of donations to Gubbio’s $350,000 annual budget, for instance, are made by guests. ‘Last week it was $42,’ Slattery says. ‘The week before it was 24. Flips the idea of panhandling on its head, right?’ ”

Click here to read about the women’s routes to their unusual calling — one through addiction, one through West Point.

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
Tina Christopher (l.) and Laura Slattery run The Gubbio Project, which gives people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco a place to go during the day.

1107-pmad-mgubbio

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Here’s a guy who didn’t just ring his hands when he learned that a magnificent butterfly species was endangered in his part of California; he decided to do something about it.

Zachary Crockett reports at Vox, “It begins its life as a tiny red egg, hatches into an enormous orange-speckled caterpillar, and then — after a gestation period of up to two years — emerges as an iridescent blue beauty. Brimming with oceanic tones, the creature’s wings are considered by collectors to be some of the most magnificent in North America.

“For centuries, the California pipevine swallowtail — or, Battus philenor hirsuta — called San Francisco home. As development increased in the early 20th century, the butterfly slowly began to disappear. Today it is a rare sight.

“But one man’s DIY efforts are starting to bring the butterfly back.”

Tim Wong, a 28-year-old aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, tells Crockett, ” ‘I first was inspired to raise butterflies when I was in elementary school … We raised painted lady butterflies in the classroom, and I was amazed at the complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult.’ …

“Years later, he learned about the pipevine swallowtail — which had become increasingly rare in San Francisco — and he made it his personal mission to bring the butterfly back.

“He researched the butterfly and learned that when in caterpillar form, it only feeds on one plant: the California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), an equivalently rare flora in the city.

” ‘Finally, I was able to find this plant in the San Francisco Botanical Garden [in Golden Gate Park],’ Wong says. ‘And they allowed me to take a few clippings of the plant.’

“Then in his own backyard, using self-taught techniques, he created a butterfly paradise.”

Read more here. It sure takes persistence.

Here’s hoping an elementary school project in 2016 will lead to the rescue of another endangered species down the road.

Photo: Tim Wong (@timtast1c)

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You may recall a post I wrote about the Daily Table, which takes produce that would’ve been wasted and uses it to provide good meals at low cost.

Jennifer Medina writes at the NY Times that Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco Bay Area start-up, has also “been selling what it calls ‘cosmetically challenged’ fruit and vegetables. …

“Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of ugly fruit and vegetables to people’s doorsteps in the Bay Area. A large box of mixed produce — 17 to 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables, with five to eight types of items, depending on what is in season — costs $18, for example; a small box of fruit (10 to 15 pounds) costs $12 a week. [Chief supply officer Ron] Clark primarily relies on buying produce directly from California farmers …

“Ben Simon, the chief executive, and Ben Chesler, the chief operating officer, began their work on food waste as college students, when they saw trays of food from the campus cafeterias thrown out each night. Mr. Chesler and Mr. Simon created Food Recovery Network, which now has more than 100 colleges donating uneaten food to soup kitchens. …

“The pair met Mr. Clark, who had spent more than a decade working to bring produce that would have otherwise gone to waste to food banks across California. Using his relationship with suppliers, the three have created a business that has attracted attention from many of the tech luminaries in the region, including the design firm Ideo, which receives its own drop-off each week.” More here.

Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times  
Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco Bay Area start-up, specializes in produce that is misshapen or cosmetically deficient but otherwise perfectly edible. 

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After Brian Bailey started to follow this blog, I took a look at his own WordPress blog. The first thing I saw was the watercolor below. I said, “Oh, wow.” Then I looked through his other drawings and watercolors and liked them just as much. So I want to share the Art of Brian site with you.

I’ve always loved watercolors, the gentle suggestiveness, the uncertainty of how the the paints will run. Although good work takes a lot of skill, there’s an element of the unexpected that to me is about the randomness of experience and the beauty of randomness.

Here are some thoughts from Brian on one of his recent paintings.

“When pulling together the shapes and lines that make up a composition it can be challenging to determine how much information is enough.  Some of my favorite drawings and paintings exhibit a very economical approach to line, saying just enough to let the viewer see what the artist sees.  In recent weeks, I’ve been doing many gesture drawings, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m trying to let my paintings be, somewhat, more gestural.  I started my painting today outside with lots of light and finished it at home by bumping up the shadows and contrast.  I’m really trying to stop myself from overworking each painting.”

Brian also has an Etsy store. I am liking everything I see there.

Art: Brian Bailey
The Orange Van, Watercolor, 4″ x 4″, © 2015

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