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In the early 1960s, Melvin, 76, then a young man fresh out of college, knew he wanted something different. Graduating into the real world just as the war in Vietnam was beginning to escalate, Mel didn’t see himself entering the military like so many of his peers. Instead, ready for an adventure, he left his home in Alexandria, Virginia and joined the PeaceCorps.
For the next 10 years, Mel traveled throughout Asia training local teachers and learning their languages. Eventually he arrived in the Philippines to teach an advanced college course where, as fate would have it, he met his future wife, Natividad. Together, Mel and Natividad helped to build out local volunteer programs abroad over the following several years.
Mel and Natividad enjoyed many wonderful years together as loving husband and wife, but in 1989, Natividad was killed tragically in a car accident. Seeking a fresh start, Mel moved out to San Francisco. After living in a private hotel for some time, he was evicted. Unable to find housing with an eviction on his record, Mel bounced between emergency shelters for about 6 months, eventually resorting to sleeping on the street. “I’d never been in this situation before,” recounts Mel. “You learn a lot of things about how the homeless have to survive… I slept on Polk Street, because I felt safer there.”
Through sheer perseverance, Mel eventually secured a room in an SRO—a single room occupancy hotel—one of a few he would live in before coming to the Raman Hotel in 2005. Here, life has been pretty good. “I have a place where my home is a home, so to speak,” he muses. “Even if it’s a room.”
Although Mel had found a place to call home, issues remained. Like over 19,000 of his fellow senior San Franciscans[i], he continued to suffer from food insecurity. Mel, lacked access to healthy foods in his neighborhood, SoMa, and his own personal kitchen. He attempted to use the communal cooking area in his hotel, but mobility issues from a stroke in 2004 made it difficult for him to prepare meals for himself.
This is where Meals On Wheels of San Francisco came in. “At nighttime I didn’t know where I was going to be eating,” Mel explains. “Now Meals On Wheels stabilizes me and gives me the right kind of food. I’m diabetic—it was discovered two years ago. By using Meals On Wheels, I can have a controlled diet that gives me the nutrition that I need.”
At 76, Mel is still very active in his community. Now, he advocates for people of his generation: “I’m always involved in something…I’ve been very involved in volunteer work all my life, even since I left the PeaceCorps. And when I moved out to San Francisco and saw some of the issues here, I became a senior advocate. We’re 35% of the population in the city, and there are certain programs that have to exist to help that kind of population.”
As one of the safety net programs Mel speaks of, we at MOWSF ask you to join us as we #MarchForMeals this month, ensuring that Mel and his senior neighbors are provided the critical support they require.
[i] San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services