SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Planning Commission members gave their unanimous support Thursday to
plans to open a soup kitchen in San Francisco’s Mission District, despite fears from neighbors that it would draw long lines of homeless people and crime to the neighborhood.
The commission voted to reject challenges filed by a homeowners association and property owner against the soup kitchen at 1928 Mission St., with commissioners arguing that it provided a necessary service and would, if
anything, improve the neighborhood.
The soup kitchen at 1928 Mission St. will be operated by nuns with the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth, who currently operate a similar facility at 54 Turk St. in the Tenderloin.
The nuns began searching for a new location last year after they were hit with a steep rent increase. They are being assisted by philanthropist Tony Robbins, who has offered to help buy the Mission Street space.
On the day the sisters of the Fraternite of Notre Dame found out the fate of their soup kitchen, their biggest benefactor showed up to lend support.
Robbins said, “This was a project of love because these sisters are so dedicated here, when you meet them you can see it is not just about feeding people, it is about supporting people and being a better human being.”
When multimillionaire Robbins heard rent was driving the sisters out of their current Tenderloin spot, he donated $1 million to buy the sisters a spot in the Mission.
While neighbors voiced concerns about public safety in the area and the large crowds the kitchen could draw, the project had the backing of a number of community groups including the Mission Economic Development Agency
and the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
Many residents at 1930 Mission St. objected, leaving the decision in the hands of the city planning commission.
Commission members argued that the project would, if anything, improve public safety by increasing the number of “eyes on the street.”
Commission President Dennis Richards said he was persuaded by testimony from Tenderloin police that the sisters “run a tight ship.”
Ultimately, Richards said, “I have hard time seeing the difference between this and all other restaurants where you have a line.”
The sisters currently serve around 250 meals for lunch three days a week at their Turk Street site, bake pastries for sale elsewhere and make dinners that are taken to United Nations Plaza and the Bayview, according to their letter responding to the homeowners.
They would like to expand the number of days they serve meals, if feasible, the letter states.
Robbins said, “Today is the big fight, today is to make sure we get the approval.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also showed up at the sisters’ current soup kitchen to show support for the move.
Benioff said, “If we are not supporting these sisters, then I don’t know who we should be supporting. These are truly people who are doing God’s work.”
At the city meeting, dozens packed in. Many lined up against the proposed soup kitchen.
“I think a soup kitchen belongs in the Mission…I just don’t think it belongs in a 15-unit residential building,” one person in attendance said.
But with prayer beads in hand, the nuns’ prayers were answered.
The city planning commission voted to allow the soup kitchen to open in the Mission.
And the sisters say they are committed to being good neighbors.
Sister Marie Benedicte with the Fraternite of Notre Dame said, “I know it’s not so easy to live when you have a lot of encampment on the street, but we need to work together to help those…people get out of the street.”
The sisters haven’t said what day they will relocate to the new Mission location, but they hope to pack up and move as soon as possible.
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