With the help of a grant from the ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grant Program, St. Francis now has an assistant cook to help with the Senior Program meals.
Fortunately, it was not difficult to find a person willing to take this position. Stephen Camarota, Food Programs Administrator, and the St. Vincent dePaul Committee only had to look to one of their volunteers, Megan Sue Belefonte.
Megan Sue was homeless at the time she came to St. Francis in February this year. She started to volunteer and quickly earned a spot helping in the kitchen. And it helps that Megan Sue went to cooking school and has been a professional cook.
Besides assisting in the kitchen for the Senior Center, Megan Sue also volunteers her time with Carl Tebell in the kitchen for the Hospitality Program. She has been instrumental in organizing the refrigerators and freezers. Nor is she at a loss to suggest ways to use food that is received at St. Francis.
Megan Sue is originally from the east. She and her husband traveled with carnivals and operated a food wagon. In late 2014 her father died of an aneurysm. About two weeks later her husband was diagnosed with cancer. He went into the hospital in February 2015 and died in April. Then her mother died in July.
Megan Sue decided to move to San Francisco. When she arrived in San Francisco with her car and some money, Megan Sue quickly learned that rents were more expensive than she thought. She lost her car and her money, and was down to one set of clothes. And she was on the street.
Megan Sue applied for San Francisco’s general assistance, but she didn’t qualify. Nor could she get anyone to give her any other information on where to go. She didn’t qualify at other non-profits. Megan Sue did find space at a shelter for 90 days near Bayshore Blvd. While at this shelter, she was robbed and raped.
“I’m a fighter,” Megan Sue told me, and she wanted to live in San Francisco. She got in another shelter and found her way to St. Francis where she started to volunteer. Megan Sue decided to help others. She started to take the leftovers to the street and hand out the food to those in need.
Eventually Megan Sue was able to get an apartment. From there she made meals with the food she could get, and took it to the homeless. Megan Sue realized she would need a permit to continue to provide meals on the street. But she could not afford the cost of a permit. It was at that point Megan Sue started a non-profit, Open Heart, Inc. This would be her third non-profit that she started. Because of this prior experience, Open Heart was given non-profit status within a day.
The purpose of Open Heart, Inc. is to help people who don’t qualify for other programs or assistance. Open Heart has obtained federal grants for its programs. The non-profit recently found a kitchen to use for preparing the meals that are given out. In addition to the food program, Open Heart helps clients get work experience so they can eventually get their own jobs.
Megan Sue is “hands on” with her clients rather than sit in an office. She will go out to help a client whenever asked. Sometimes Megan will get a call from the police or fire departments to meet with one of her clients who needs help. She has also been called to shelters to bring more food.
Currently, Open Heart is giving food at two locations, lower Polk Street and the Civic Center. Open Heart has been asked to start a third location at Church and Market by Supervisor Jane Kim.
Open Heart Inc. is holding a fundraiser on September 24th at St. Francis – 5PM to 7PM. It will be a spaghetti dinner and there will be entertainment by Stephen Camarota and Dustin Hart, both of whom performed at St. Francis for the Pink Pop-Up Pride Party in June. Megan Sue hopes to raise enough money so she can have some bigger fundraisers later.