Volunteer Angel Jamaica with 101-year old Pantry visitor
More than fifty volunteers run The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Most are people who came to get food and stayed to help out; some are neighbors, and some are first-time visitors. Every one of them has a story, and together they create a living, growing community. This issue’s interview is with Angel Jamaica, 19, who’s one of the leaders at The Food Pantry.
I was born in San Francisco, and grew up here and in Oaxaca. My mother was super-nice. She solved everything with hugs and kisses. She’d always want to go out to the woods, out of the city. She had to get fresh air.
My mom loved helping people. She’d even let strangers stay in our place. I think that’s where I got my thing from: I’m the guy everyone comes to when they’re in trouble. I just say, “Hey, you can talk to me, it’s OK, we’ll work it out.”
When I was seven, we had to leave the cool apartment we were living in. I started switching schools like crazy. My mom and I lived in uncles’ houses, then it got worse: shelters, even the car. But we always stayed together, and that’s what made it bearable to be crammed into a two-door car.
Eventually we got a place in Potrero Hill. I had my own room for the first time in my life. I have a lot of good memories of that apartment, like Mom’s cooking. She’d have the whole table covered in food, and she’d put things together and taste it and experiment. Nowadays I like to spend time in the kitchen throwing stuff together.
I started going to The Food Pantry after my mother contacted St. Gregory’s for help. She was really sick. Everyone knew that at the pantry, and they let me go in first. I’d get this heavy sack of food and have to carry it up over the hill. It was always painful to leave my mom alone. I try to repress the memories.
When I was fifteen, my mom died, and my world turned upside down. I didn’t know how to do anything. I just thought, “Keep going; there must be a reason for it all.”
I started volunteering at the pantry out of gratitude: my mom always taught me to help out. I wasn’t very social, but everyone at the pantry treated me like family, and it became my family, all through high school. My first job was doing heavy lifting, cause I’m a big guy. I looked silent and scary, but people figured out I was a softy. They made this nickname for me: “Baby.” Michael and Eduardo and Kathleen taught me how they run things, and now I get to greet people, work on the line, mediate if there’s a conflict, show visitors around the church, help out whenever something falls through the cracks. A great thing is when the volunteers eat lunch together. It’s beautiful, like the Last Supper––but it’s never the last.
I love my job at the Pantry. It makes me happy when I can help the older women who come. Even if it’s just a bag of food, we’re helping.