Public Comment

Commentary: Giving is the Most Important Part of Thanksgiving

By Terrie Light
Tuesday November 21, 2006

At Berkeley Food & Housing Project, giving is the most important part of Thanksgiving. 

The days are getting shorter, pumpkins and turkeys are in demand and the nip of fall is in the air. At this time of year we come together in many ways, whether with the families that we were born into, or the families that we have made, to count our blessings and express our gratitude for the plentitude in our lives. It is also the time we feel the tug to reach out to those less fortunate neighbors living in our midst: from the ones who go to sleep at night hungry; to the ones living on the streets; and to those who struggle emotionally and physically each day just to get by. Thus we search for ways to make a difference, ways to give back to a community that has nourished and sustained us over the years.  

At Berkeley Food & Housing Project, a community-based organization serving Berkeley’s hungry and homeless residents for more than 35 years, this is a simple task. You need look no further than the individuals and families who come to this organization for support. I want to share the story of a local senior who eats at the Quarter Meal, a daily hot meal program served by Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP). Cassie, an artist who turned 60 this year, moved to the Bay Area from New York City seven years ago after the end of a long marriage. Cassie suffers from chronic arthritis and depression and cannot work. She is fortunate to have senior housing, but her income is meager and she has no health benefits. Although Cassie is careful, her modest disability check is not enough to get her through the month. Cassie makes ends meet by joining us at the nutritious Quarter Meal, which BFHP has served for well over three decades.  

In response to dire community need, Berkeley Food & Housing Project now delivers a continuum of services to the community’s poor and homeless through seven programs: In 2005 alone they provided over 300 meals every weekday (90,000 yearly), an increase of 25 percent over last year; over 500 women and children stayed in their Women’s Shelter, receiving a bed, 3 meals a day accompanied by tremendous moral and emotional support; their Men’s Shelter provided 16,790 bed nights for homeless men and of these, 780 men received case management and 177 moved into housing; their Multi Service Center served 524 new resource counseling clients - nearly double the number of clients they had planned on serving; their Russell Street Residence continues its excellent work, providing permanent housing to 21 long-term chronically homeless, dual diagnosed clients. And these are just a few of the highlights. 

In this era of ever-shrinking support from the government, the support of Berkeley residents is key to Berkeley Food & Housing Project’s ongoing ability to carry out its mission: to ease and end the crisis of homelessness in this community. Indeed, it is gratifying and humbling to witness the generosity and outpouring of support the agency receives year-round, but particularly at Thanksgiving. In your generous support of their work on behalf of the homeless and poor, you demonstrate that—whether by dining in one of BFHP’s partner food establishments during Dining Out Month, volunteering to serve meals, sponsoring events or making a donation—“giving is the most important part of Thanksgiving” is more than a tired platitude for die-hard members of the Berkeley community.  

As Assemblywoman Patty Berg reminds us, California will be the grayest state in the nation…exceeding the elderly population of Florida by 2020. A University of California study has found that a majority of the Bay Area’s homeless people are aging into their late 40s and early 50s and are staying on the streets for longer periods... and without coordinated care they soon will start crowding hospital emergency rooms and dying in large numbers (San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 4). Men comprise roughly 84 percent of Berkeley’s total homeless population. The percentage of homeless men is high compared to women and yet services specifically targeted for them are rare. Men are more treatment resistant so that when they finally agree to assistance they are in poor physical, psychiatric or medical health and in street years 50 is already equal to 65! 

BFHP’s vision is supported by decades of listening and learning as well as solid experience about what does and does not work in serving this vast and shifting demographic of homeless clients. As the numbers show, people are quietly and consistently being helped by BFHP programs. And the outpouring of support they receive from Berkeley residents demonstrates further that many in the community know this. Yes, seeing people overcome temporary or chronic homelessness gives BFHP the energy and enthusiasm to continue their mission. However, they are equally inspired by the empathy and consistent giving of time, resources and money from the collective Berkeley community. BFHP salutes you and wishes you a particularly Happy Thanksgiving 2006.  


Terrie Light is the new executive director of Berkeley Food & Housing Project.  


The Quarter Meal and other BFHP programs can be seen on a virtual tour at On-line donations are accepted or you can contribute to: Help the Homeless…by Dining Out at SKATES on the Bay, Poulet, Double Tree & Rose Garden Inn (all will donate a portion of their November proceeds to BFHP and in addition SKATES will donate $1 from every Thanksgiving meal)! Call 649.4965 x312 for more information.