Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Your support today will keep me living indoors.

I'm sure you've seen them, all the letters that folk like me send to folk like you because we know that this is the time of the year when most of our fund raising dollars will come in. And in an economy like this one, there are loads of Executive Directors out there, like me, who are wondering if the money will come at all.

The answer is only known by you, trusty donor.

But, one thing is certain, now more than ever thinking about who you're giving your hard earned money, donations and time is vital to the life of the programs that support those who are most vulnerable. And this is the part of the letter where beg you to make Welcome the organization you give your money to.

Insert a heart warming story for those who give from the heart. Insert a fancy invitation and creative end of the year fundraiser, for those who need an event.

The links above will connect you to the tried and true fund raising strategies that you'll find in all those letters coming to your doorstep this month. Enjoy them if that's what works for you.

But I thought this year I'd try something new: the truth. The truth is that Welcome is an amazing organization that helps people one-on-one improve their quality of life through our core programing that teaches volunteers hospitality as we feed more than 680 individuals a month.

We also provide education for congregations and faithful individuals throughout the country. More than 89,000 read our blogs, I led 74 church services and spoke at 13 universities, national conferences, shelters and congregations around the country.

All our work is completed by 1 staff person and our more than 875 volunteers a year. But, we are so good an organizing communities, that nearly all the stuff we give away (more than 3,600 outfits, toiletries and socks a year and more than $3,000 of food a month) we get for free from donations.

This means when other organizations tell you that they spend very little on salaries and most of their funds go towards stuff for people, we do the exact opposite. We get all the stuff donated from congregations, organizations and individuals around the country and feed more than 8,000 people a year for about $7,000 a month. Most of this cost is my salary.

So today, I am literally begging you to help pay my rent. Living in San Francisco, my salary at Welcome only $7,000 a year more than my rent costs. You can see why a downturn in the economy makes me very very nervous. We are not an organization that can cut fluff from our budget during a tough fund raising year.

I am a pastor who works with the homeless, but I am reminded with each paycheck how close to homelessness I am myself.

Why would you want to help pay my rent? Well, if you've followed my blogs you've probably noticed how hard I work and how much I get done. But beyond that, you know that helping me stay housed, in turn helps thousands and thousands of others.

When I had the idea to make a farm that could provide free food to people in our neighborhood people thought I was crazy and it couldn't be done. When I fought to create the Homeless Identification Project, people thought we could never get funding for it.

These ideas have all come out of my deep listening to the homeless that I am blessed to get to work with. But, the real truth is that each year Welcome needs to come up with new innovative ways to serve the homeless or we are unable to get major grant support from foundations.

Together, with hundreds of other donors, your gift of $20, $150, $2000 can make a real difference to me.

Your gift today will take my mind off paying my own rent, so I can go back to supporting the homeless and hungry who need my time and support more than they ever had. $43 pays for an hour I spend with someone to help them avoid relapse; $129 can provide trauma care for a veteran and help them navigate life in supportive housing; and $258 allows me enough time with a homeless youth to help them find a job, reconnect with family and find alternatives to suicide.

If you don't have cash to spare during this difficult time, you can always help by recommending our program to your friends; asking folk to support us rather than giving you Christmas gifts; donating items to Community Thrift on behalf of our organization or by encouraging your congregations to support us with their benevolence funds.

Please consider donating now online or by mail:
Welcome, 1751 Sacramento St., San Francisco, 94109

Thank you for all the ways you support Welcome throughout the year!

Rev. Megan Rohrer
Executive Director

P.S. Your support now, helps us feed and care for thousands of homeless individuals in San Francisco.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Non-Event Fundraiser


So we hope you won't join us at our:

Non-Event Fundraiser


Saturday, December 24th
Instead of hosting a fundraiser,
we'll be be feeding 300 homeless and hungry individuals.
Dinner will be served between 5:30 and 7.
Volunteers are needed at 4pm.


Buy your ticket, by donating online:

Or, by mailing a check to:
1751 Sacramento St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Dinner Photo Story

With more than 300 meals served and 40 volunteers, this Saturday Community Dinner at Welcome is typical of what you would find any 2nd or 4th Saturday of the month.

I began cooking the chili at 3pm. With nearly 10 years experience cooking for the homeless and hungry, I've got cooking for large groups down to a science. Tonight's meal cost about $750 in total (donations from volunteers, in-kind donations and from facebook friends paid for tonight's meal). Other nights AA groups, interfaith groups or meditation groups bring the food.

Volunteers begin arriving at 4pm and then start setting up tables for our guests.

Volunteers also sort toiletries and clothing that are donated by congregations around the Bay Area. We give away hundreds of clothing and toiletry items at ever dinner.

Since I my blog posts are read widely and I travel often around the country sharing the work of Welcome with congregations, sometimes we receive donations from outside the Bay Area. This week, a box of socks arrived from St. Andrews Lutheran Church in San Mateo, CA.

After the donations are sorted, around 4:30pm the desserts are cut and put on plates. Cake is a favorite of our guests. Since the craving for sugary foods are similar to those for drugs, we give our guests many sugary foods through out the evening to enable those working on their sobriety to battle their cravings.

Steve, seen below, brings bread and candy that he begins handing out to guests waiting outside in line around 5pm. Steve also chats with the guests and helps to ensure that they are treating each other with respect and mindful of neighbors who live nearby.

Around 5:15pm all the volunteers gather to set their intentions for the evening. Instructions are given and volunteers are able to ask questions about the dinner before it starts.

At 5:30 guests arrive, find their seats and the volunteers begin to serve our guests.

Sometimes a guest or volunteer will hop on the piano and play some tunes for our guests.

Meals are served from 5:30 - 7pm.

After the meal, volunteers help clean dishes, the bathrooms and the kitchen. Clean up typically finishes between 7 and 8pm.

Saturday Community Dinners

Most feeding programs in San Francisco are not open on Saturday or Sunday nights, the Saturday Community Dinner is vital to hundreds of hungry individuals in our neighborhood. But unlike other feeding programs:

1. Our community dinners serve guests restaurant style (in terms of how we serve and the quality of food), instead of making them wait in a line. Volunteers have often been heard saying that the food served at our dinners is higher quality then they eat at home.

2. We eat with guests, learning their names and stories, allowing them to serve us. As a result, many volunteers discover that they receive more than they feel like they give at our dinners.

Every 2nd and 4th Saturday a month the Welcome Ministry provides a meal to 150-200 members of the community. Many of our guests are homeless or formerly homeless, many are seniors, many are low income and others come to be a part of the community.

Different congregations, students or groups provide the food and volunteer each dinner and eat with guests. For groups, like students and others who cannot afford to provide the food, dinners are sponsored by donors including the Van Loben Sels/Rembe Rock Foundation and a local AA Group (see the photo below). On special occasions we also hand out clothing, socks, help people send cards to family members and hand out blankets.

Fred, Michael and Steve are volunteers who have supported the Welcome Ministry dinners for years. They use the dinners as a way to stay sober and to encourage others to work towards sobriety.

If you are interested in volunteering at or hosting a Saturday Dinner please contact Pastor Valerie McVee (sfcare@saintpaulus.org or 415-673-3572)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reform More Than Wall Street!

This Reformation week, I've been thinking about the ways Luther's actions would have been different if he lived today. Certainly, the political climate of the Occupy Movements have a similar populist gile that mimics the unrest of Luther's day. I imagine the reformation mobs that marched to abby's and churches to burn them down and distribute their riches to the poor, are similar to the longings of many angry marchers who head towards banks.

Thankfully, today's marchers are a lot more nonviolent and less likely to get themselves murdered if their top leaders flip-flop or align with political leaders, as Luther often needed to do in order to keep his head and neck attached.

Certainly the Pope and his theologians were as good at spinning bad press as Republicans are at convincing those desperately in need of health care that when the get it it will be a bad thing.

In my previous blog, I have argued that we should occupy churches and give power to the moral voices we want to have a national voice in our country's future. But, I wonder if optimism can cause Reformation if it lacks the sharp tongued venomous anger that Luther claimed as his vice.

Hatred and violence worked for our Lutheran origin, but I believe it cannot work today. At least here, from my privileged place as an employed Pastor in San Francisco, I must acknowledge that I'm nowhere near desperate enough to reform myself or the church in the ways Luther did.

That was Luther's to do.

My work is with the homeless and others living in poverty. My voice is heard by many and I hope it's because I see a vision of a more just world and deeply believe that if I do my part and you do yours we can be the society our neighbors deserve and at times desperately depend on.

As much as we may desire that others pay their fair share (whether it's bankers or seniors and those with disabilities), in the end it is up to us to roll up our sleeves, dust off our check books and feed people every time they are hungry.

Today our reformation is more likely to involve donations, cleaning dishes and toilets and loving everyone (without excuse) then it is to involve marching or pillaging.

So join me in the spirit of the Reformation and do at least one useful thing for the world, whether it's watching the kids of tired parents or raking someone's leaves - the new Reformation is one of compassion and care without an expectation that money needs to be exchanged for such things. Isn't that the heart of the historical Reformation anyway?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Volunteer Assistant on Board

Hi there, my name is Valerie McEntee. I’m the new Volunteer Assistant here at SF CARE (a collaboration of Welcome, The Night Ministry and St. Paulus Lutheran Church) and this is the obligatory self introductory post.

The very short version of my background:

I graduated from Pacific School of Religion with my M.Div in 2008 and was ordained by the United Church of Christ that same year. In addition to my work at SF CARE, I’m an Assistant Night Minister with San Francisco Night Ministry and the Coordinator of Christian Education at the Congregational Church of Belmont, UCC.

The reminder to come back often:

I’ll be blogging here about the great time I’m having on this job and all the ways you can get involved in the work of SF CARE, so drop by every week or so to see what’s going on. And don’t forget to check out SF CARE’s Facebook page.

The contact info:

You can reach me at sfcare@saintpaulus.org. I’ll have a working phone number to post here in the next week or so.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

'Encampment' brings attention to homeless LGBT youth


Homeless youth and their allies staged a "street sweep" in the Castro last Saturday to bring attention to budget cuts for social service programs. Photo: Matt Baume

The May 14 encampment was part of a nationwide demonstration to raise awareness of homelessness among a demographic known as transition-age youth. Homeless and foster youth between 16 and 24 years old can face unique housing challenges, particularly as they age out of the foster care system and learn to navigate services for adults.

"We're here to engage the community on homelessness, and specifically queer homeless youth issues," said organizer Beck, who uses only one name. "We're in kind of a state of emergency, saying, 'hey community, wake up.'"

Saturday's action started at Civic Center with games, an unveiling of protest banners, and hot meals served by Food Not Bombs. A march proceeded to Harvey Milk Plaza, where speakers read poetry and called for improved access to services to get off the street.

Their requests included housing with kitchens, rather than single room occupancy hotels with no facilities for food preparation; employment opportunities for youth who are unable to complete school; and an end to the sit-lie ordinance.

According to local organizers Trans Youth Rise Above, there are 5,700 homeless youth in San Francisco, of which at least 1,000 are queer.

Operation Shine America, which coordinated similar rallies in other cities, estimates that there are 2 million homeless youth in the country. Queers for Economic Equality Now also organized the San Francisco event.

Beck explained that organizations like the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center and Larkin Street Youth Services' Castro Youth Housing Initiative have faced repeated budget cuts, reducing services that can prevent youth from living on the street.

Jodi Schwartz, executive director of LYRIC, agreed that times are tight. "There has been a sizable decrease in investments in LGBTQ youth services," she told the Bay Area Reporter. "Just for LYRIC, if we were to lose the last piece of dollars for transition-age youth workforce, our decrease in funding would be 72 percent over the last four years."

Larkin Street Executive Director Sherilyn Adams told the B.A.R. that the extent of cuts won't be known until Mayor Ed Lee releases a budget later this month.

"There's no proposed cuts to the Castro Youth program," she said, but added, "it does not begin to meet the need."

To address the potential consequences of such cuts, Lee recently convened a stakeholder group consisting of representatives from organizations that advocate for homeless youth. Based on feedback from that group, the mayor asked that the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families prioritize funding for LGBT and undocumented youth.

While organizations hope to turn around the recent budget cuts, local organizers are seeking ways to demonstrate how the city's rate of youth homelessness could worsen.

After Saturday's protest concluded, about three dozen homeless youth spent parts of the night camped out around the Muni station, according to organizer the Reverend Megan Rohrer, director of the Welcome Ministry, a coalition of 12 churches that seek to provide a faithful response to poverty.

Rohrer is currently working with the GLBT Historical Society to raise visibility by drawing inspiration from past struggles. She incorporated a "street sweep" into Saturday's protest, in which participants swept Castro Street sidewalks with brooms to evoke a similar 1960s-era protest.

In that action, LGBTs protested the city's negligent sanitation and police roundups by pushing brooms through the Tenderloin.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chosing Not to Sleep on the Streets

I made a decision last night to not sleep on the street as planned. At first I was ashamed of my decision. The Rev. Megan Rohrer told those who gathered there that sleeping on the streets that night would not make you a better person but if you went home, just remember you could not do it even one night, when all these youth don't have that choice (paraphrasing there to get the gist!) She was right, it would not have made me a better person, but knowing myself well enough, it would have made more smug. I would have been more critical of colleagues who didn't even show up at all. She was right, I could not, of my own free will, choose to sleep out after all.

But I do know a little something of what it is like to no longer have the choice. I did spend one week of my life homeless, but unlike these youth, it was thru my own stubbornness, my own stupidity. Every day I saw where people had found my clothes and possessions that I tried to hide, since I couldn't carry them all, having been ransacked and little by little I lost them all but for the one small bag I carried with me. I did not have to sleep on hard streets, like most of the youth and other homeless folks do here in the city, I had park, I would crawl into the underbrush and cover myself with leaves so no one would see me. However, I did only have to do this for a week. And I did move on from there. But that experience stuck with me and is why I work with SF Night Ministry and it was why I joined the rally and march last night.

But I still chose not to sleep on the street.

One of the things I have learned in ministry is that it is tough to find out you have limits. There are just certain lines you come to and cannot cross at that moment. Sometimes all you can do is bear silent witness to others suffering, pain, anger etc. and even there, you still reach your limit. I heard things last night that I did not agree with, things I did not want to hear, things I needed to hear. And sometimes I could not hear a thing as I began to wrestle with what it all really meant, what was I supposed to do, how was I supposed to witness?

I chose to stay as long as the speeches, then I chose to go home. My limit, that line last night was that I could not sleep on the street.

Will I go to another rally like this? You bet I will! And another, and another and another, for as long as I am able. And who knows, maybe next time, or the next time or the time after that, I may cross that line and choose to sleep on the street! or Maybe that will never happen. We will see.

-Bishop Rusty Clyma

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Shining a light on homeless LGBTQ youth

Guest Opinion

It is estimated that nearly 2,300 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in San Francisco are homeless.

In 2007, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition on Homelessness concluded in their joint study, "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness," that 40 percent of homeless youth in this country identify as LGBT. One would have expected a tremendous outcry in the queer community when that study was released. Especially here in San Francisco.

Where was that outcry?

You'd think that a community such as ours, which is capable of raising millions to promote gay marriage and to fight "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would have poured a lot of effort and money into housing young people by now. But, where are those resources?

Programs that support transitional age homeless youth are usually left out of local and national fundraising strategies that allocate millions of dollars for lobbying efforts in the name of our families and the safety of our community. What about the homeless queer youth who reside on the streets and who are looking for family and safety, but instead often encounter exploitation, violence, and criminalization under laws which make it illegal to sit or lie in public?

They need services, but where are the queer youth services in San Francisco?

An activist group spearheaded three emergency winter shelters, a food program, and a shower project for homeless youth and others in the Castro in the late 1990s after the dot-com boom caused a sharp spike in rents throughout the city, making it impossible to afford an apartment. Those services opened despite unbelievable opposition from merchants, landlords, and residents. When the last of the shelters folded, the Youth Empowerment Team secured $750,000 in city funds for 29 beds for LGBT homeless youth under Larkin Street's Castro Youth program. That program is now down to 22 beds and looking at more cuts this year. Not to mention the devastating cuts to the LGBT Community Center's Transitional Youth program, which packs in over 300 youth a year for food and resources.

Meanwhile, the LGBTQ youth space at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center was shut down in 2010. Advocates have been negotiating with the Recreation and Park Department for nearly a year to have it re-opened, but it is clear that consistent staffing, hours, and overall youth access to the space, will continue to be compromised. The Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center has been forced to reduce its open-door programming for transitional age youth due to lack of city support, and its internship program, which was cut last year, is facing a possible total elimination in the budget of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

The closure of New Leaf: Services for Our Community's youth substance abuse treatment program was a hard hit for those attempting to access LGBTQ friendly substance abuse counseling and mental health treatment. While the clinicians at Dimensions Clinic do an excellent job, services meant to engage youth in treatment have not been fully restored.

Clearly, the community needs to speak out.

This Saturday, May 14, queer youth and allies are taking part in a national effort to shine a light on homelessness among queer youth. Hosted by Operation Shine America and the AJ Fund, youth organizers will provide makeovers, video and photo booths, art workshops, freeze tag, and a free dinner donated by Food not Bombs. This begins at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center. At 7:30 p.m., youth art from the AJ Fund will be used to decorate a march that will make its way toward Harvey Milk Plaza. Marchers will remember AJ Trasvina, a local youth who spent his last years providing support to homeless queer youth.

At Harvey Milk Plaza, we will illuminate our lanterns and shine a light for a homeless youth open mic. Participants are encouraged to wear purple and bring candles. The event will culminate with a sleep-in at the plaza that is a separate event organized by Welcome Ministry. Later, some plan to perform a peaceful street sweep with handmade brooms and signs, symbolizing the poor being displaced by lack of access to space and support.

Through stories and information, we will illuminate the local and national issues of homelessness among queer youth, much of which is caused by rejection by family and community, the high cost of rent, criminalization, and a lack of employment opportunities and training.

It's time for all LGBT organizations and our community to make homeless queer youth a priority by allocating resources to these vital services. Not from year to year, but for many years to come.

Beck, Adele Carpenter, and Tommi Avicolli Mecca are all members of the newly formed coalition, QUEEN, or Queers for Economic Equality Now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gaga Mass & Vanguard Tour

I'm excited to announce that the Lady Gaga Mass will be traveling to select locations along with the Vanguard Traveling Exhibit and Speaking Tour. With the Vanguard Talk at 7pm (featuring Joey Plaster Oral History Chair at the GLBT Historical Society and Mia Tu Mutch trans youth activist) and the Gaga Mass, arranged by Pastor Megan Rohrer (Executive Director of Welcome and co-pastor of the Community of Travelers) at 8 pm. The Gaga Mass offering will raise money for local LGBTQ youth ministries and shelters in the area of our tour.

We'll be adding tour dates, times and locations to this site soon. Start getting excited!

Copyright permission for the Lady Gaga Mass obtained through PERFORMmusic License#6400
Mad love to the Gaga!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Memorial for Troy Swann

We've included the words of Troy's service online so that those who were unable to attend the service can participate as they are able.

Welcome & Opening Prayer

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us and grant us peace. For the unbearable toil of your sinful world, we plead for remission. For the terror of absence from our beloved, we plead for your comfort. For the scandalous presence of death in your creation, we plead for the resurrection. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.

Come, Holy Spirit and heal all that is broken in our lives, in our streets, and in our world. In the name of the Holy Parent, Child and Healing Wind.

Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your servant Troy. Acknowledge, we humbly ask you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, into the glorious company of saints in the light. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Psalm 22: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;* 3 he restores my soul. *He leads me in right paths* for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,* I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely* goodness and mercy* shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Ephesians 2:4-10: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ 5 (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Words of Reflection:

Lead By Pastor Megan Rohrer, followed by reflections from the community

Prayers of the People:

Lead by Pastor Maggi Henderson


Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died,
Heaven's gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! loves me still,
When I'm very weak and ill;
From His shining throne on high,
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He will stay,
Close beside me all the way;
He's prepared a home for me,
And some day His face I'll see.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

The service has ended. Participants are invited to join us at the community dinner downstairs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In the News: The Sacramento Bee

At Free Farm in S.F., all veggies are given away

Published: Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

SAN FRANCISCO – There was one common reaction when the Rev. Megan Rohrer said she wanted to start a farm in a weedy, glass-strewn vacant lot a few blocks from the Civic Center.

"People told me I was crazy," Rohrer said. "They said it was the wrong kind of space, you'll never be able to weed it, no one will come to work on it."

Yet the Free Farm will celebrate its first anniversary today, a year in which it grew and gave away more than 2,500 pounds of vegetables, making it the most bountiful of six gardens planted on Lutheran church-owned space in the Bay Area.

In an age when farmers markets are sprouting in every urban California neighborhood, the Free Farm is an unusual tale of success. Its "Hecka Local" brand produce, from tomatoes and zucchini to dwarf kale, pineapple sage and watermelon radishes, is prize-worthy, but is tended by volunteers and donated, no questions asked, to anyone who wants it.

"We want to provide an example of how to live based on generosity and sharing, instead of everything being seen as a profit," said a farm manager, who calls himself Tree.

He is joined Wednesdays and Saturdays by a dozen or more willing workers who mulch, shovel, weed and eat a communal vegan lunch. The volunteers come from all corners. There are students, teachers, members of a local temple, gardening mavens, food justice activists, the unemployed and people who describe themselves as living off the economic grid.

"We have eatings instead of meetings," said volunteer Pancho Ramos, as he sat with a bowl of bean stew and rice at the farm one day recently.

Ramos, who says he lives "without traditional currency," has watched the lemon and fig trees start to bear fruit and neighbors come by to get vegetables, surprised to find they are free.

"One woman took some zucchini and came back an hour later with empanadas," he said. "That's what a church should be."

Rohrer, executive director of Welcome, a faith-based nonprofit that works on poverty issues, saw the farm as a way to bring quality produce to inner-city residents. She had worked with the chronically homeless for about a decade and saw them struggling not only to keep housing, but also to afford good fresh food.

"The city wanted community gardens, but there was all this red tape," she said. "Everything was taking years, so I started talking to different Lutheran pastors about getting space."

One of the available spots was the lot on Gough Street, one-third of an acre that had had been unoccupied since a fire destroyed St. Paulus Church in 1995. Like much of the city, it sat in close proximity to wealth and poverty, blocks from the ornate Opera House, expensive condos and public housing.

Rohrer, who grew up in South Dakota, knew backyard gardens and had learned community organizing, but she turned to local experts for farming help. Tree and Lauren Anderson, founder of Produce to the People, which harvests food from backyards and community gardens, joined her.

Together with volunteers they built a ramp from recycled Christmas trees. They scrounged for old pallets, buckets, concrete and hardware. They fertilized the sandy soil and built a labyrinth with bricks salvaged from the burned church.

Today's scheduled celebration includes a greenhouse-raising. Tree hopes to use the structure for seedlings to plant and give away.

"I want to inspire people to pay attention to where food comes from," he said.

The Free Farm continues the work he's done since the 1970s, when he first started gardening and planting avocado trees in the Mission District. He took his name because of his connection to trees, he said, but prefers not to talk about himself. ("It's not about me. It's about the work we can do," he says.)

He started the Free Food Stand in the Mission District in 2008 to give away vegetables from community gardens and surplus collected from other farmers markets. The stand, which has given away more than 12,000 pounds of produce in the past two years, now also gets vegetables from the Free Farm. "Hecka Local" always goes first.