St. Anthony’s Dining Room Serves Last Meal – Valerie Schmalz

Posted on 05. Mar, 2012 by in Justice

A guest at St. Anthony’s Dining Room holds the last tray to be used at the last meal to be served at the dining room’s original location. The same tray is slated to be used for the first meal at the new facility when it opens in 2014. Photo courtesy of Catholic San Francisco Online

The great Franciscan, Fr. Alfred Boeddeker ofm,  is often quoted as saying, “The great activity of our lives is to love, like the sun always shining.”  This inclusive love, as scripture says, “falling on the just and unjust”, animates the JPIC values of St. Anthony Foundation, the organization that is Fr. Alfred’s legacy to the city of San Francisco.  At this great turning point in the organization’s history it is good to recall how advocacy, service, and peace-making have been combined with perseverance, generosity, and sacrifice in the efforts of so many thousands of good people.  Because of these spirited individuals – volunteers, donors, staff, and guests – for over 50 years St. Anthony Foundation has been a JPIC beacon.

St. Anthony’s Dining Room serves last meal at original building
By Valerie Schmalz

St. Anthony’s Dining Room is a dining room – not a soup kitchen – and that philosophy of respect for the dignity of the human person was on display yet again as the dining room served its last meal Feb. 1 in the converted auto repair shop at 45 Jones St. that has been its home for 61 years.The dining room has been open every day, serving a free hot meal to its guests, since it opened Oct. 4, 1950. It will continue in an interim facility at 150 Golden Gate Ave. while a new larger dining room is under construction at 121 Golden Gate Ave., said St. Anthony Foundation Executive Director Shari Roeseler.

The new dining room will open in 2014 with seating for 43 percent more people and 40 percent more space for food storage. For the first time St. Anthony’s guests will have a street level view and natural light rather than walking down the former car shop’s concrete ramp into the dining room. On the floors above, Mercy Housing will build 90 units of affordable housing for seniors. The second floor will house St. Anthony’s free clothing program and social work center.

Ten million of the $15 million capital campaign for the new facility has been raised, Roeseler said. Completely outfitted, the new dining room will cost $22 million, the foundation said.

St. Boniface Parish pastor Franciscan Father Alfred Boeddeker founded St. Anthony’s in the first year of his 31-year pastorate, “in response to what he saw as a growing need on the sidewalks outside the church” in the Tenderloin District – a need that continues today, Roeseler said.

“Everyone who came through the door was a guest,” she said, stressing the philosophy of St. Anthony’s, which serves 40 percent of the free meals in San Francisco and is the only free food program in San Francisco open every day. It receives no government funding, but meets its $17 million annual budget with donations, bequests, corporate and foundation grants, investment income, and program revenue. Thirty eight million meals have been served since 1950, with about 3,000 people eating at the dining room daily, the organization said.

“He would not have any part of soup kitchen,” said Father Boeddeker’s nephew Joe Boeddeker, who attended the ceremony Feb. 1. “It was very important to him, the dignity of the person. That’s why the name St. Anthony’s Dining Room.”

“You represent the best we do here in San Francisco,” said Mayor Ed Lee about St. Anthony’s.

Approximately half of St. Anthony’s 9,000 volunteers are Bay Area high school students, who serve meals and then eat a meal with the guests, St. Anthony’s said. “Our trips to St. Anthony’s … bring more light into the minds and hearts of my students than the other 79 days we will spend in the classroom that semester,” said Archbishop Riordan High School religion teacher John Ahlbach who takes his sophomore classes to St. Anthony’s.

The first day St. Anthony’s opened in 1950, Father Boeddeker expected to serve 150 meals and had 400 guests, in what has become, in St. Anthony’s lore, the “Miracle on Jones Street,” Roeseler said. From that day until this day, “somehow there was always enough food.”

The statue of St. Anthony of Padua that greeted guests will move temporarily to the interim facility and then be permanently in place in the new facility, said Karl Robillard, spokesman. The statue depicts St. Anthony holding the Christ Child in one arm and offering a loaf of bread with his other hand.

The continuing success of St. Anthony’s is a credit to those who have followed after Father Boeddeker, said his nephew Joe Boeddeker, who attended the ceremonies Feb. 1 with three U.S. Naval Academy buddies who graduated with him in 1964. “It continues and continues to grow,” said Boeddeker. About a quarter of those eating at the dining room are veterans, said Boeddeker. “It’s tragic.”

Father Boeddeker’s absolute faith in God motivated the founding of the dining room and kept it going, said his nephew.

“He way he put it was: ‘You do it and I’ll help. If you won’t do it, I won’t help.’ He really felt he was there as God’s instrument,” said Joe Boedekker who was a child during the early days of the dining room but would hear stories as his uncle and parents chatted. “When facing a challenge, he would put problems in his prayer and all of a sudden the next day someone would come forward with a solution to a problem and they didn’t even know there was a problem.”

From February 10, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

One Response to “St. Anthony’s Dining Room Serves Last Meal – Valerie Schmalz”

  1. Br. Tim

    01. Apr, 2012

    Enjoyed the article about Fr. Alfred and the Dining Room. Did not know that they had closed the old place. Sounds like they are making great progress. As we all know they need more low income housing. Br. Tim

    Reply to this comment

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