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    Tenderloin Tessie Free Thanksgiving Dinner 2022 Will Include Music, Hair Cuts

    For over 40 years, Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners has fed the community of San Francisco on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Volunteers work hard to prepare a bountiful meal and a gift bag for all patrons in a welcoming environment. The dinners average a thousand people each holiday and take place at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of Franklin Street and Geary Boulevard. Everyone is welcome!

    This year’s Tenderloin Tessie Thanksgiving Dinner will take place on November 24 from 1–4 pm. Patrons are asked to bring their ID and proof of COVID-19 vaccination, but no one will be turned away.

    “Tenderloin Tessie is an all-volunteer organization that includes the Board Members,” President Michael Gagne told the San Francisco Bay Times. “Not only do we feed those in need, but we also provide them with a gift bag and clothing when they leave.”

    He added, “We also provide them with live entertainment. This year that will be from The Songstress of Tenderloin Tessie, Vanessa Bousay!”

    And, he said, “For Thanksgiving 2022, we will be providing free haircuts.”

    Tessie was the drag name of Perry Spink, a local performer/bartender who was very familiar with the people and character of the Tenderloin District in San Francisco during the 1960s and ’70s. Legend has it that on Thanksgiving in 1974, he received several turkeys and was inspired to cook and serve them to the local Tenderloin residents (with the help of less-than-sober bar buddies). It was a gesture that showed the San Francisco community that no matter who you were; there was someone who cared.

    The dinners continued on a monthly basis for a while. “It was a Godsend for the little blue-haired women of the neighborhood who were trying to live off meager social security checks,” the Tenderloin Tessie website holds. These dinners, served on the last Thursdays of the month, garnered Tessie many honors and she earned the title of Empress 15 in 1980.

    Along with the dinners, Tessie started the tradition of giving gift bags with the meals, a tradition that lives on today. These bags contain donated items such as toiletries, socks, gloves, and an assortment of non-perishable food.

    Sadly, Tessie died in 1984, but the meals continued on an uneven basis. Three years later, the name Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners was created and the meals became a holiday tradition three times a year. They were served at a church on the corner of Eddy and Gough and began focusing on the needs of the growing number of homeless and those suffering from AIDS.

    The meals were a very satisfying way to help the community, but were becoming very large and were a great deal of work and stress for the few volunteers who loosely made up the board at the time. The program suffered a severe blow when the church burned to the ground in 1995. With the board in limbo and no place to stage the meals, many members felt it was time to move on.

    A new board came together and the meals were moved to the present location, the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Franklin and Geary. Since that time, the organization has become a non-profit and is stronger than ever and always mindful of the original mission of Tenderloin Tessie to help anyone in need.

    Published on November 17, 2022