Despite still coming to the office when the shelter-in-place began in mid-March, I became restless as the days turned to weeks. Because I was deemed an essential worker, my usual weekend volunteer jobs asked that I not come in. As a result, I not only felt restless, but helpless as well. Sequestered in our office, I didn’t necessarily feel essential.
But after Ivar encouraged Commission employees to serve as DSWs, I learned of an opportunity to deliver meals and groceries to people in quarantine throughout San Francisco. I volunteered to be deployed and reported the following week to Moscone South. I expected to join a large group of existing drivers and be split into small teams or pairs but, to my surprise, I learned I was only the fifth driver – and the first female – in the EOC’s Feeding Unit. Our daily approximate average of custom meals delivered was around 1,200. On days when we weren’t delivering meals, we would pick up large bags of groceries from the SF/Marin Food Bank and deliver those instead.
Half of our team drove box trucks while another driver and myself would drive 15-seater vans throughout the City: downtown, Tenderloin, Mission Bay, Mission Dolores, Richmond, Sunset, Excelsior, Visitacion Valley – uphill, downhill, wide streets, narrow streets, streets riddled with potholes, one-way streets and detours from closed streets because DPW was in the process of fixing them. A couple of the guys even delivered to a home on Treasure Island a few times. The residences ran the gamut, from housing projects, single-room occupancy hotels, houses, apartment buildings, and even luxury condos. We didn’t know if any of these recipients were actually infected with COVID-19 but as we have all learned, we had to behave as if anyone and everyone is infected, including ourselves. When it came to these quarantined recipients, we wanted to minimize their risk, as well as our risk of exposure, as much as possible. We knocked on doors, rang doorbells, called the recipients from our phones, and would stand back, drenched in sweat and eagerly wait for them to answer the door and pull their food in. I was warned that I would get a gruff “Who is it?!” from some people, but as soon as I chimed back with “Food delivery!” their tones softened, and they were so grateful. They’d tell me to have a good day and I would wish the same back for them. I felt like I was spreading holiday cheer in the springtime. Some recipients lived alone, others were large families. All were different ages. This virus and its risks did not discriminate.
I’ll admit there were a couple of my stops that gave me anxiety, not so much because of their location, but because of the amount of meals or groceries I would have to deliver at just ONE stop. Figuring out the logistics of each delivery gave me more respect for those who do this for a living. My thought process sometimes went like this: Where can I park or double park the van? How am I going to get into this old building if my arms are full of bags of food? What if someone breaks into the van? On hot days, would I pass out from climbing up narrow staircase after staircase, mask on, hoping these paper bags of food wouldn’t break? The guys told me to avoid using elevators since the elevators in these buildings were mostly tiny and would not allow for proper social distancing. How am I going to get this food to this person or this family that can’t leave? How quickly can I make this delivery so I can get back inside the air-conditioned van and take my mask off to breathe in oxygen instead of my own breath? Why is it all of a sudden raining? All I wanted to do was to ensure these folks received the food they were promised. I wanted to literally and figuratively deliver. During my first week I was a bit nervous, hoping it wouldn’t take me too long to complete my route. But I quickly found myself becoming more accustomed to the routine.
That’s where my team came in. I loved working with this little team. I affectionately refer to them as “Our Little Team that Could.” Two from Port, one from the Public Library, and the other from the Asian Art Museum. Eventually another female driver was added from Planning, and towards the end of my deployment we had additional help from another delivery unit since the entire operation kept expanding. Even though we drove and delivered solo, we were in constant communication with each other. If one person finished their route, they would notify the entire team and ask who needed help. At the beginning of each day we would review the various routes and choose which ones we wanted. At the end of the day we debriefed on any issues we experienced. We swapped notes and gave each other tips, and, most importantly, we motivated each other with just getting through each day. I could not have asked for a better team. There was one day a few of us were headed to the Food Bank, and I snuck a snapshot from my position as the last vehicle in our mini caravan, heading out from the underbelly of Moscone South. I felt like I was part of a convoy! I was so proud of what we were doing and how we were doing it. So proud that at the end of my 2-week stint, as exhausted as I was, I agreed to stay on an additional week to help out because we were never sure if we were going to get new drivers.
Since my deployment ended, I have kept in touch with a few of the other drivers. We encouraged each other to get tested (the swab is actually not that bad) and even talked about if we would volunteer again. Overall I am happy that I was a part of this operation. I grew up and lived in the City for over 30 years but probably did not drive through all its diverse neighborhoods as much as I did in that 3-week span. I am grateful for the experience, the camaraderie, the reconnection with my hometown, and the success of our efforts.