San Francisco’s Ella Hill Hutch Community Center has become an emergency community hub

The Ella Hill Hutch Community Center is most known and loved for its murals of Black leaders. The mural begins here at the front entrance with a portrait of the center’s long time director, Lefty Gordon. 

Quarantine Chronicles #5

by Minister of Information JR Valrey, The Black New World Journalist Collective 

The neighborhood known as Fillmore or Western Addition has been one of the most, if not the most, organized Black communities in the Bay Area when it comes to providing and distributing resources to its residents in need. This has been the case for years, and in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing has changed. 

The Ella Hill Hutch Community Center is located at 1050 McAllister in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. It is named after the first Black woman to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in 1977. It continues to serve as a beacon of hope in today’s dismal reality.

“At Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, we distribute over a hundred bags of food for the kids and their families, from the San Francisco Unified School District, every Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. We also do school lunches on Friday, but we do hot meals five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

“Meals are paid for by the City, and they come from restaurants all over the city. The San Francisco Human Rights Commission put this program into place and got it started. They are delivering to all the public housing sites too,” said former San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown, who now works as a community organizer with the non-profit, Opportunities for All.

I pulled up to the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center and was surprised to see the center in full swing, with Vallie Brown, James “Uncle Stank” Spingola, the center’s director, and others managing the food and supplies that were being compiled for the daily and weekly giveaways. 

A huge mural on two sides of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center tells the Black history of San Francisco with a montage of portraits of community leaders. Instead of the recent proposal to demolish the center, the murals should be restored and the center should continue to be a community hub as it was for decades.

“We do everything we feel that is needed and what we can handle. I contacted other community leaders in District 5 to reach out for hygiene packs and bags to put them in. Since the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they could bring donations there. 

“That’s why everyone thought it was important to keep Ella Hill open. It’s an emergency hub,” said a passionate Vallie, in a mile a minute explosion of words. “I think the big thing is, because we have a community center as a hub that James agreed to open up, a lot of his staff are coming back to help. 

“Everyone wears a mask and gloves and we practice social distancing. So many want to help but don’t know how.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine has complicated life for many who live at the bottom of the economy, not just in San Francisco, but all over the country. People have been laid off from their jobs. Seniors are scared to leave their dwellings because people with aged and/or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to falling victim to this invisible killer. 

There are long lines outside of grocery stores, because they can only let a limited number of customers in at a time to abide by the new social distancing rules. And small brick and mortar businesses may be a thing of the past, since the pandemic is demanding that business owners pay rent on their commercial spaces that are not allowed to be occupied, if the business is deemed non-essential, during the pandemic. 

“Some don’t have family members to go outside for them and shop for what they need. Some don’t have the money.” 

Another major change is that children are home all day because school has prematurely ended, and education has pivoted to being strictly online. Now that is a problem for a student body, district-wide, that has not been equipped with computers or even internet access where they live.

“We have been giving out Chromebooks (computers) for the San Francisco Unified School District. The school district bought some, and the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center bought some too. SFUSD is giving them out to every kid in the school district, so they can keep up,” said Vallie Brown. 

“We gave them out in public housing, in the Western Addition, Sunnydale, the Mission, and in Bayview Hunters Point. The school district is giving them out on a consistent basis. 

“We are going to have a program with the Human Rights Commission, checking in with these kids. When they get these Chromebooks, there are assignments that they are going to have to do. 

A closer view of one side of the mural

“When the kids don’t go to school for six or seven months, the achievement gap widens. People don’t even have wifi, so the district is trying to figure out these problems and serve these populations. 

“We’re helping with the seniors to make sure that we deliver to senior complexes in the Western Addition. A lot of the seniors can’t go out. 

“Some don’t have family members to go outside for them and shop for what they need. Some don’t have the money. 

“Food security is eye-opening and intense. We have one Food Bank that is doing deliveries instead of having people line up,” said a spirited Vallie. “They just deliver 15 bags to this development or that one, and it is divided up there between needy residents. 

“We’re trying to address seniors and food issues. We’re seeing people who have never been to food banks in line at food banks.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Vallie Brown will return to her job with the non-profit Opportunities for All, which takes inner-city youth and helps place them at internships at companies like Salesforce, American Airlines and the Port. She also helps college students get fellowships. This is the Mayor Breed’s program for inner-city youth. 

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube.