The spirit of Abbondanza filled hearts (and tummies) Sunday in the auditorium of Sts. Peter & Paul Church in North Beach at the North Beach Citizens dinner.
Now in its eighth year, the down-home event raises funds for this neighborhood homeless organization founded by film director Francis Ford Coppola.
“There is no doubt that if you were in North Beach nine years ago, this neighborhood was a target not only for the homeless of San Francisco but also a draw for homeless people from elsewhere,” said Coppola. “It depends upon whom you talk to as to whether homelessness has gone away completely.”
Coppola believes the organization’s greatest strength is its physical presence which provides neighbors and business folks with a tangible form of assisting those less fortunate.
“People can say, ‘Go check in. The neighborhood will help you’,” explained Coppola. “At NBC, being homeless doesn’t have the old stigma or rejection attached. Everyone is a ‘citizen’ of this neighborhood.”
North Beach native Armand Oliveri, a priest at Saints Peter & Paul Church, agreed: “We have done a lot of work with the disadvantaged in this parish -- going back to the first Depression in the 1930s.
“The homeless situation seems to me, a little bit better than it was. This is a time for everyone to curtail our level of spending and look at the essential in our lives,” said the good Father. “North Beach Citizens is a beautiful manifestation of all our work here in the neighborhood.”
And more than 400 neighbors, natives and North Beach fans toasted the fete (with primo Coppola vinos) at the family-style tables which groaned beneath great grub (house-cured meats with fresh sheep’s Ricotta flown in from Italy, frisee salad with fennel, roast chicken and asparagus polenta) cooked up by the generous gourmands of nearby Rose Pistola Restaurant.
Dishing it up again this year as co-hosts? That dynamic duo comprised of the Barkeep and the Bard of North Beach: Jeannette Etheredge (Tosca Cafe) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights Bookstore).
Event co-hosts Jeannette Etheredge and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
“There don’t seem to be as many homeless on the streets of North Beach as there are on other streets in San Francisco,” said Ferlinghetti. “That just goes to show how successful Francis’ program is. We’re doing wonderful work at our little storefront.”
(A neighborhood aside: this beloved poet and publisher is the subject of a documentary, Ferlinghetti, which receives its world premiere this month during the SF International Film Festival).
Jack Hirschman, Ferlinghetti’s longtime comrade and the reigning Poet Laureate of San Francisco, still sees room for improvement. He read one of his poems to the crowd during dinner -- a lamentation titled Requiem for the War Dead, that included a roll call of the homeless men and women who have died on our streets.
“My feeling is that there are actually more homeless right now. And these are not simply ‘down and out’ folks. Joining the ranks of the homeless are workers and the working class,” said Hirschman. “People with families. Just look what happened up in Sacramento.”
“Homelessness seems to be a condition of life in this society. We’ve become more estranged than ever. Even though we’re all using computers, thinking we’re actually in touch with the world,” continued this poet of the Proletariat. “That said, NBC makes it easier for a lot of homeless people to get access to the services they need.”
And many of those services were funded last night during the lively live auction -- the first such active auction we’ve seen in some time since the stock market went south.
From trips to Belize and cases of wine (donated by Coppola and his wife, Eleanor Coppola) to basics such as writing a $150 check to fund a University of the Pacific dental exam, auctioneer George Fox was a whirling dervish as he tracked bid numbers within the auditorium.
“This is incredible,” enthused Coppola, watching the action. “This is the upturn! Tonight marks the moving forward of our economy. Even better? It’s good for the community; it’s good for our clients!”
Check out photos below
Event co-chair Jeanne Milligan, Rose Pistola owner Laurie Thomas and co-chair Dick Grosboll
Lou de Mattei and his wife, author Amy Tan
Eleanor Coppola and her husband, Francis Ford Coppola
Tina and John Keker
Volunteer servers Leslie Kaye and Christina de Limur
Fr. Armand Oliveri and Fr. Austin Conmterno of Saints Peter & Paul Church
Alfonso Montuori and his wife, songbird Kitty Margolis
Laurie Thomas with (from left) Rose Pistola Sous chef Manny da Luz, Jeannette Etheredge, Rose Pistola Pastry chef Alicia Harper and Rose Pistola Chef de Cuisine Pablo Estrada
Kathleen Sullivan Alioto and Jim Meeker
Pia Hinckle and Anne Conlan
North Beach Bards Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Hirschman