Despite almost two years of setbacks that included neighborhood opposition and navigating The City’s permitting processes, two French nuns are steadfast in their mission of opening a soup kitchen serving the homeless in the Mission District.
The soup kitchen, originally slated to open today in the space of a former restaurant at 1928 Mission St., “should be completed in three months,” said Sister Marie Benedicte, of the Fraternite of Notre Dame.
“We wanted to open for Christmas Day but it was not possible,” she said, adding that the space will be subject to electrical work and renovations in the coming months.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection confirmed that a permit filed last year for a change of use of the ground floor restaurant space was issued in May, and a final outstanding permit for the installation of a new sheet metal awning in front of the store was issued in November.
With the permitting in place, construction to the 1,430-square-foot space has been greenlighted, the spokesperson said.
Standing inside the space of her first soup kitchen at 54 Turk St. in the Tenderloin District, which resembles a miniature restaurant with a handful of tables and a kitchen area in the back of the space, Benedicte said on a recent Tuesday that the set-up at the Mission location will be similar.
“We are gonna do the same seating as here. We [will] put a small table for two or four people, not bigger [than] this,” she said.
The hours of operation at the new location will likely resemble those at the Tenderloin site, at least initially. There, the nuns serve food on three days out of the week.
The nuns were nearly booted from their Tenderloin location out of which they served the local community for almost a decade after the landlord almost doubled their rent in January 2015.
News of the impending displacement prompted multimillionaire life and business coach Tony Robbins to step in. At the time, Robbins provided the nuns with some $750,000 to purchase the new space in the Mission, effectively protecting them from future displacement.
Robbins also gave the nuns some $50,000 to build out the new soup kitchen.
Antonio Gamero, the Mission District-based real estate broker who helped the nuns secure the space in March 2016, said the Anthony Robbins Foundation is “still involved [and] they are helping with providing a free contractor for the buildout” of the space.
But Robbins’ philanthropy was met with bitter opposition by the building’s Homeowners Association when the nuns first moved to purchase the space.
There are some 17 condominiums above the proposed soup kitchen space and an adjacent medical marijuana doctor’s office, and many of the residents there objected the addition of a soup kitchen in their building, fearing that it would increase loitering and crime.
The residential block is already heavily impacted by the area’s homeless population. A Navigation Center for the homeless operates directly next door to the building in which the soup kitchen will set up shop.
Last January, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny an appeal to stop the kitchen from opening.
Since then, Benedicte said most of the homeowners have come around.
“We are owners now, too,” she said, adding that the nuns meet with the residents of the building regularly.
Others are anxious to see the nuns finally move their altruistic operation to the Mission District.
“I go every other week to help out in the [Tenderloin] soup kitchen,” said Gamero, adding that meeting the nuns, along with Robbins, “was a big a deal in my life.”