June 1, 2020
On May 5, 2020 we lost our long-time co-worker Christine Baker who passed away after a short struggle with cancer. Many of you know Christine Baker from her work at the dining room over the past 20 years. In February she had an operation to remove a cancerous tumor in her abdomen. The surgery went well, but during surgery the doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized to other internal organs. After the surgery her doctors told her they would be surprised if she ever left the hospital. They were wrong. After more than a month of post-operation recovery at Kaiser San Francisco Hospital she had a stay at the St. Francis Convalescent Pavilion in Daly City. Then in early April she returned home as a hospice patient with around-the-clock care providers to make her final days as pleasant as possible. While not happy to have the hospice designation she was happy to return home, as she told me, “I don’t want to die in a care facility.” She got her wish. Christine will be greatly missed by all at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.
The first few years she volunteered with us she was working at Sprint Telecom and would assist at the dining room once or twice a week. A South San Francisco native. I was always amazed by how many of our guests and volunteers she knew from living in the area her whole life. After taking an early retirement package she was looking for new work so we offered her a position at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. This made perfect sense because for several years she had been my go to person if I was sick or out of town. She was also indispensable at our annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, as well as preparing food for the annual walk-a-thon fundraiser with Mercy, Notre Dame, and Serra High Schools. As a volunteer and as an employee she was totally dependable, even keeled, and compassionate to those we serve.
Our initial idea for Christine’s responsibilities at Catholic Worker Hospitality House was for her to start a boarding home for women similar to the other boarding houses we operate. As the best-laid plans often go, that house never materialized. Instead she expanded our work in a variety of other ways. Her presence allowed us to operate the dining room a fifth morning a week. The dining room is our core service project, so to be able to expand that service was a great gift to those we serve and this extra serving day has been greatly appreciated by our guests. I also liked being able to expand our work without having to do the work myself!
Then there was Christine’s work with the Adult Transitional Program (ATP). The ATP is a partnership between the South San Francisco Unified School District and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that assists special needs youth with the transition from high school to the work world by giving them work experience at a variety of locations. A few years ago ATP contacted us to see if Catholic Worker Hospitality House would be one of those work locations. Christine happily took on the project. Twice a week, the students come to our dining room after our dining room serving time to prepare food and to clean around the church grounds. Christine and their teacher would assist the students with chopping vegetables, mixing batter, and all the other tasks of creating a meal for our shelter guests. Some of the students are very high functioning and easily accomplish the tasks assigned to them, while others struggle to accomplish even basic tasks. Time and again Christine helped once awkward and timid students gain confidence from accomplishing an assigned task. By giving, they receive and slowly come out of their shell to become active participants in our work.
Several years ago we got a call from Maria at Peninsula Food Runners asking us if we would like some of the food they receive. Food Runners is an organization that distributes excess food from caterers and restaurants to local Bay Area non-profits. My impulse was to say no. “It’s too much trouble! We have enough food!” But once again, Christine took on that project and greatly improved the quality of meals we serve to our guests. Three days a week Christine would coordinate getting that food for our dining room and shelter. Then on her own she started distributing the excess food to other churches and organizations in need of food.
With her background in computer work at Sprint she was a natural to be our “IT person.” She started and maintained a Catholic Worker Hospitality House Facebook page, updated our Website, and set-up on-line giving opportunities for our supporters through PayPal and Benevity. She brought me kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.
Her outgoing and compassionate personality was a real asset in working with our guests and volunteers. While I’m friendly to our volunteers and guests, I’m not nearly as sociable as Christine was. She was ever attentive to our volunteers — always making them feel welcome and needed. In addition she would regularly arrange volunteer luncheons where we not only showed our appreciation of their help, but forged deeper bonds of friendship. Similarly with our guests she was invariably compassionate and attentive and would go out of her way to assist them with their various needs. When I would leave the dining room early to attend to other organizational tasks she would stay late and utilize guests who wanted to help out by cleaning the dining room at the end of the serving day. Many others are thirsting for the opportunity to serve in any capacity and a gift we can give them is the opportunity to give back. Christine was so good at giving and receiving that gift — and as a result the dining room was much cleaner.
From a purely selfish standpoint I loved having Christine on staff as she made my life so much easier. She not only expanded the ways we could serve our guests, but she took part of the load off of my shoulders. I have been working at Catholic Worker Hospitality House for the past twenty-four years and a large part of that longevity has been due to Christine’s help at the dining room and shelter. Last year I was able to take extra time off to visit family and friends as well as engage in other interests because of her presence.
Christine wasn’t a perfect person, none of us are, but she strived to be a good person and make the world a better place and all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House are lucky that we were one of the recipients of Christine’s gifts. She gave of herself to improve the lives of others and was always looking for more ways to expand the services we provide. She was totally dependable and clued-into the Catholic Worker tradition of working in solidarity with those we serve. She was a great co-worker, a faithful friend, and open to all she met. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her. We ask that you keep Christine, her family, and friends in your thoughts and prayers.
In Christ’s Peace,
Catholic Worker Hospitality House