San Francisco city and community leaders marked the end of an era as the original St. Anthony Dining Room served its last meal this afternoon.
The dining room, located at 45 Jones St. in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, has served low-income and homeless residents since 1950 but is closing temporarily while the old building is demolished and a new facility is constructed at 121 Golden Gate Ave.
During the closure, which is expected to last until 2014, meals will be served around the corner in an interim dining room at St. Anthony Foundation headquarters at 150 Golden Gate Ave.
Fr. John Hardin, who served as the executive director at St. Anthony from 2002 to 2009, began to tear up as he discussed the closure of the original dining room.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Hardin said. “It’s a funky old building but I’m going to miss that … there’s just something about these walls.”
Kathy Mills, who said she had been coming to St. Anthony for meals for 35 years, seconded that emotion.
“These walls have been my refuge from hunger,” Mills said. “I have met some angels, or at least volunteers disguised as angels.”
Volunteers at the dining room serve an average of 3,000 meals a day, and the line to the building today, as on most days, stretched up Jones Street and around the corner to Golden Gate Avenue.
Mayor Ed Lee was among several city officials who attended the event.
“I don’t see (the closure) as anything negative,” Lee said. “I’m excited for the new chapter.”
The interim dining room will be smaller than the original, with about 50 less seats than the room that closed today, according to St. Anthony spokesman Karl Robillard.
“It’s much smaller, but we’ll manage,” Robillard said. “We don’t have too much of a choice.”
But the new dining room, once it is built, will provide 40 percent more seating and storage space, according to the foundation.
St. Anthony Foundation has the support of the San Francisco Giants, whose team president Larry Baer attended today’s event and whose pitcher Barry Zito is a spokesman for the nonprofit.
“Sometimes people say Third and King,” the intersection of the Giants’ home ballpark, “is the most important intersection in the city of San Francisco,” Baer said.
“But I’ve got to say as much as Third and King is important to a lot of us, Jones and Golden Gate is the most important intersection in this city,” he said.
Along with having served more than 37 million meals in the past 61 years, the St. Anthony Foundation provides a free medical clinic, free clothing program and a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, among other services.
More information about St. Anthony Foundation, including how to donate to the organization, can be found at www.stanthonysf.org.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News