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    Paul Margolis of OurTownSF.org Helps to Keep SF’s LGBT Community Connected

    Storefront windows in the Castro have, for decades, functioned as billboards for the LGBT community. An iconic 1982 photograph taken by legendary San Francisco Bay Times photographer Rink, for example, shows concerned gay male pedestrians outside of a Star Pharmacy window reading information about what would later be known as HIV/AIDS.

    To keep this important tradition of community news sharing alive, Castro merchant Patrick Batt in 2001 recruited Walgreens on Castro Street at 18th to donate a window for San Francisco LGBTQ nonprofits. The goal was for the nonprofits to use the space, called the Nonprofit Window, to promote their mission, recruit volunteers and to advertise their upcoming events. A decade later, in 2011, he turned over reservations to Paul Margolis.

    Since the Nonprofit Window faces busy Castro Street, there were long waitlists for a reservation. Due to this, Margolis created OurTownSF.org in October 2013 to continuously promote groups that serve our community. Since that time, he now shares reservations for the window with Gary Poe. Margolis clearly has been busy, as in the past couple of years, he has additionally organized the OurTownSF Nonprofit Expo. He recently took time to speak with us about his life and work.

    San Francisco Bay Times: First, please tell us a bit about yourself and your work over the years at OurTownSF.org

    Paul Margolis: I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1979, and volunteered for numerous nonprofits over the years, so I was pretty well-aware of many of them when I created OurTownSF.org in 2013. Most recently, prior to that, I was on the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: What inspired you to organize the first OurTownSF Nonprofit Expo, and now this second one? What challenges have you faced, and overcome?

    Paul Margolis: I began scheduling for the Nonprofit Window at Walgreens in 2011. The website grew out of that in order for San Franciscans to connect with all the nonprofits all of the time. A website has limitations that personal connections fulfill. Many nonprofits have the attitude that “everybody knows me,” when that’s so far from reality. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: This year’s expo seems to be so much bigger than the one last year. How much has it grown, and to what do you attribute the increasing interest in the event?

    Paul Margolis: Last year was a test to gauge community interest. The feedback was terrific from many groups who recruited new members and created new relationships. The comment I heard the most was that participants felt the love in the room. That struck a chord with me and I knew then that the expo had to be expanded. This year, the footprint will be much larger and we expect a huge turnout. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: Is it true that this year’s expo will be the largest of its kind—anywhere, ever?!

    Paul Margolis: There’s a larger LGBT expo in New York, but it includes both nonprofits and businesses. San Francisco’s expo is expected to include well over 100 and may include 125 nonprofits this year. (Editor’s note: Margolis’ estimate of 125 proved to be correct, per the information on page 19 of this issue.) Los Angeles is holding OurTownLA Nonprofit Expo the same day as ours, but it will be smaller.    

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please describe some of the highlights from this year’s expo in San Francisco.

    Paul Margolis: We’re taking over the entire Eureka Valley Recreation Center, both inside and outside. This year, we’re promoting the Castro as well as the services that our San Francisco LGBTQ nonprofits provide us. What’s new? Lots, including food and beverages from a dozen Castro eateries, drag makeup tutorials and a pick-up kickball game.  

    San Francisco Bay Times: If a person doesn’t have much knowledge or experience with local LGBT non-profits, how might they still benefit from attending the event?

    Paul Margolis: No matter a person’s interest, there will be participating nonprofits for them to discover. I hope they walk away with a sense of community, and a wish to get involved.   

    San Francisco Bay Times: Your event is one of the few that brings together our many great nonprofits. How might these organizations work together in future to achieve shared goals? What goals, for example, would you like to see them jointly work toward obtaining? 

    Paul Margolis: So many of our nonprofits serve the needs of the same individuals with overlapping services. In our current political climate, resources are scarce and getting scarcer. Sharing knowledge is more important than ever. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: Anything else to add about the upcoming expo?

    Paul Margolis: This will be a huge event with food, beverages and a fantastic lineup of entertainers and workshops. It promises to be a day of great fun for all!