By Kat Anderson
November 23, 2011
While the world focuses on “Occupy,” a tiny non-profit in San Francisco feeds thousands for the holidays with no dedicated kitchen and almost no money. Where else but in SF can you get a free Thanksgiving meal served by a drag queen in a church that welcomes all practitioners, even pagans?
This Thanksgiving, from 1 pm to 4 pm, over 1,000 of SF’s neediest residents are expected to share dinner at the First Unitarian Universalist Church located at 1187 Franklin Street. There will be turkey, ham, and all the traditional sides, but they will be served up by a most non-traditional group of hostesses: the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a leading-edge order of queer nuns.
This amazing act of charity started with one person 37 years ago. Perry Spink was a bartender and drag queen performer in the Tenderloin. In 1974, someone gave Perry a bunch
of turkeys and he decided to share them with his neediest neighbors. He donned his “Tessie” costume and played hostess along with several of his not-so-sober bar buddies and made Thanksgiving memorable for many down-and-out elderly in the Tenderloin. Tessie also started giving gift bags along with the meals, a tradition that lives on today. These bags contain donated items such as toiletries, socks, gloves and an assortment of non-perishable food.
After Spink died in 1984, a committed group of volunteers formed the nonprofit “Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners” (TTHD). I first became acquainted with its president, Michael Gagne, in 2008 when I was working for Senator Carole Migden. At Migden’s behest, we office folks garnered some gift cards from Safeway so that Gagne could buy turkeys. According to Gagne, TTHD gives holiday meals on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, focusing on reaching out to those suffering from AIDS and the growing number of homeless throughout the city. “It’s a gesture that shows the San Francisco Community that no matter who you are; there is someone who cares.”
After reading this, I challenge you all to redistribute funds you might be spending at Apple, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, or Chevron and give some of your cash to Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners. And/or, plan to boycott Commercial Christmas and volunteer feeding the needy on Christmas Day. Rarely will you run across a better way to spend your money and your time. Michael Gagne told me that besides cash donations, TTHD needs to line up volunteers for the Christmas dinner and non-perishable goodies for the gift bags And, an especially urgent practical need is a kitchen in which to cook the turkeys the day before the meal. Two years ago, TTHD lost use of a hotel kitchen near the First Unitarian Universalist Church, and has been cobbling together resources since. Unfortunately, the circumstances aren’t the best and this Thanksgiving, they only have 2 hotels cooking 12 turkeys each. So, the 1,000 guests will only have 24 turkeys to eat; the dinner will be supplemented with cold hams.
Please visit www.tenderlointessie.com to make donations via PayPal. Michael Gagne may be reached at (415) 584-3252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.