Meals on Wheels Volunteer Delivers Groceries and Hope in the Tenderloin
December 12, 2023Jim Oswald
Meals on Wheels San Francisco Volunteer, Michael Bereskin

Recently, I tagged along with Michael Bereskin, a volunteer who delivers groceries as part of our Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG) program. 

It’s 8:00 am. In the Meals on Wheels parking lot, the 80-year-old San Franciscan shows me how to open the trunk of his new Audi Q5 hybrid electric vehicle. It’s full of newfangled things with sensors and cameras inside and outside — including one under the trunk.

“I can generally do the whole HDG route on one charge,” Michael explains. “It’s about 20 miles.”

We’re getting ready to deliver hundreds of pounds of groceries to 19 seniors who live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Getting ready means receiving thousands of pounds of food from our partner at The SF-Marin Food Bank and bagging staples such as chicken and eggs, canned vegetables, rice, fresh fruits, bread, etc.

Michael, who has been a volunteer with us since 2017, has logged more than 1,400 hours of his time, according to our records. He specifically delivers groceries to seniors in need living in the Tenderloin. He says he loves what he does!

“Volunteering at Meals on Wheels San Francisco gives me a purpose in life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even get out of the house.”

Consistency and predictability mean a lot to seniors waiting to receive food.  Michael explains that he tries to deliver to them within a 15–20-minute window.  “I like to see you try to get that [kind of service] with Comcast,” he laughs.

Delivering Groceries and Trust

By offering HDG, we begin a relationship with seniors who can still cook meals for themselves but need assistance in getting groceries due to financial circumstances, physical limitations, or both.  It’s also a natural progression for seniors to transition from HDG to our core Home-Delivered Meals (HDM) program as they age in place.

We pull up to the first building and delivery spot; his satellite radio is on the Studio 54 station which plays nonstop disco classics.

As we get out of his car, I ask him what is it about this Tenderloin route that he likes.

“It’s the people – I know I’m making a difference,” he says.  “I enjoy seeing them and I think they enjoy seeing me. We have this kind of relationship – it’s like a friend who does this every week. The groceries are incidental; it’s the visit that’s the important part.”

We’re inside the first building which looks a little rundown on the outside but the interior is clean.

“Ok, on the 10th floor, there are two clients – you’ll go to one, I’ll go to the other.” Michael directs me.

He runs a tight and efficient shift!

It’s About the People

Michael knocks on the door of his client – “Meals on Wheels” he exclaims. No answer.  After several attempts, he pulls out his phone and calls the Meals on Wheels safety board – a unit designed to help problem solve should a senior not answer their door during their dedicated delivery timeframe.  Getting eyes on a senior is just as important, if not more, than the meal delivery.

After a little bit, another neighbor across the hall pokes her head out of her apartment hearing all of our knocking. She tells us her neighbor is home – we just need to knock harder.  That seems to do the trick; the grocery delivery and check-in are made.

In another building on our route, Michael chats with the front desk guard. They seem to know each other well. In many cases, the buildings he visits entrust him with an elevator and certain door keys.

“Relationships are everything,” says Michael.

Inside, the maintenance man lets us into one apartment.  He tells us that the person we were to deliver to had to go to the doctor’s office unexpectedly, so making sure she didn’t miss her groceries, he lets Michael into her apartment who immediately puts the food safely in her refrigerator.

Another senior, named Peter, who has been receiving HDG for seven years, opens his door and smiles as he recognizes Michael.  “How are you doing,” Michael asks him as he introduces me to him. 

“I’m ok,” Peter replies. “This guy has become a joker,” the man tells me pointing at Michael who is smiling back. It’s obvious this is an inside joke between the two of them. 

He asks Michael if he gets paid to deliver these groceries to which Michael replies: “No, I don’t get paid. I do it because I like you.”

Little Treasures Along the Way

After that building, we’re back outside walking to our next destination. Michael is pulling a cart full of groceries past numerous homeless encampments.  “Check out this little treasure, Michael tells me, as he points at an iron gate.  “Look inside.”

To my amazement is a beautifully cultivated garden full of trees, lush plants, and what appears to be a small vegetable farm.

It’s the Tenderloin People’s Garden

We go into another building with a bundle of meals – probably 10 or so.  I ask Michael if we’ll use the elevator for this – he says no; he’s got a system down.

“We’ll carry these few on the bottom floors and then for the remaining meals, we’ll use the elevator to go up to the top floor.  

Volunteering is in Michael’s blood

It’s clear to me that Michael has volunteering and serving others in his blood. In addition to Meals on Wheels, he volunteers on Thursdays with the Community Living Campaign (CLC) bagging food. A few years ago, we partnered with CLC allowing them to use our HDG space so their volunteers can bag groceries as well.

I asked him if he was exhausted after doing all this – HDG and helping CLC out.  He says yes but comments the work he’s doing is “good.”

After about three hours of deliveries, and more than 6,000 steps (according to my Fitbit) we’re back in his car listening to Studio 54 classic disco as we return to the Meals on Wheels headquarters.

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