Faith in Action: Catholic ministry brings hot Thanksgiving meals to SF jails

By Valerie Schmalz

“Thank you for showing us that we are not alone and forgotten. It meant a whole lot to me. I wish I was spending this holiday with my family,” wrote Peter Elisary, incarcerated in the San Francisco jail for the holiday.

Father Michael Oringa blesses the team at the Hall of Justice.

Continuing a tradition begun in 2015 with just one pod of a couple hundred prisoners in the jails, Archdiocese of San Francisco Restorative Justice Ministry coordinator Julio Escobar and his team delivered Thanksgiving meals, blessing and fellowship to all the 1,100 men and women incarcerated in the City and County of San Francisco’s jails at the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street in San Francisco and in San Bruno. The ministry also delivered about 50 meals to the young people and staff at Juvenile Hall.

“For the people in the jails, this Thanksgiving, the message is that God makes his promises a reality,” said Escobar of Nov. 21-22 meal deliveries. This is one way “God is manifested for the least wanted and most marginalized in our society.”

Unloading the Thanksgiving meals.

Each of the incarcerated men and women also received a personalized card with their meal. Catholic school students handmade six hundred of the cards, formerly incarcerated Excell Scholarship students inscribed another 350, and other volunteers wrote the remainder, Escobar said.

One prisoner, Paul Keplar, thanked the team and the student who made his card in a note he wrote after receiving his meal and card. “Thank you for caring about all of the people who are stuck in places like this. And a special thanks to ‘Katie’ for the words in my Thanksgiving Day card. I don’t know you guys, but I love you all.”

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto joined Escobar and St. Brendan parochial vicar Father Michael Oringa at the Hall of Justice. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department donated $8,000 toward the Thanksgiving feast. Five Keys Charter Schools & Programs, which offers education in and out of jail, also donated $8,000. Other donors included Christ Centered Missionary Baptist Church in the East Bay, pastored by Excell Scholarship Program graduate John Cunningham, and an anonymous donor.

Father Oringa, Sheriff Miyamoto, Julio Escobar

VRS Catering Connection in San Mateo County, which trains formerly incarcerated people, cooked the meals. Students from Notre Dame High School-Belmont, Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, and Our Lady of Mercy School in Daly City created cards. The team members delivering the meals and fellowship included Restorative Justice Ministry volunteers, jail religious services and Five Keys staff.

“I want to say thank you to all of you guys for being a blessing in our lives and not forgetting about us. Thank you for giving us this wonderful meal. God bless you and all your families,” wrote Rony Aguilera in a note after receiving the hot turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.

Valerie Schmalz is director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity.