A long line of pickup trucks formed outside of the West Oakland BART. Drivers were anxiously waiting for droves of volunteers wearing Project Open Hand t-shirts to descend the escalators carrying hot meals prepared for an unanticipated emergency delivery.
Minutes after the trucks were loaded, drivers carefully set off to deliver meals to the chronically ill and those displaced to shelters in the East Bay hours after the devastation of the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
This was not the plan Vickie Giusti envisioned for the opening of Project Open Hand Oakland on October 17, 1989.
Minutes before the magnitude 6.9 earthquake caused the loss of 67 lives and $5 billion of damage, Giusti was with a friend settling in to watch her favorite baseball team. At a hotel near San Francisco International Airport, she was ready to cheer on the San Francisco Giants against the Oakland A’s in the "Battle of the Bay" World Series. Then the clock hit 5:04 p.m., and the broadcast cutoff.
“We were just getting ready to sit down for the ball game, and then the quake happened,” Giusti said. “The plan was to watch the game and go home, but I ended up staying at the hotel…and didn’t make it home until the next day.”
Vickie’s family and friends were unharmed and safe. But the same could not be said about the Bay Area.
A part of the Bay Bridge collapsed. In West Oakland, the upper deck of the Cypress Street Viaduct of Interstate 880 fell and crushed drivers on the deck below. Smoke from fires engulfed the Marina District in San Francisco.The Bay Area was a disaster zone but Project Open Hand was ready to answer the call for help.
The Project Open Hand kitchen, located back then on 17th Street in San Francisco, was one of the few commercial kitchens still operational and ready to cook meals. Plans were quickly made with the Red Cross to deliver meals to displaced families and individuals at shelters in the East Bay.
Volunteers in San Francisco would pick up the meals and cross the Bay by way of BART to the West Oakland Station. Pickup truck drivers, many of whom heard the call for help on a country western radio station, would meet the volunteers, pack their trucks, and fan out across the Bay to deliver the meals.
Vickie Giusti was prepared to orchestrate meal delivery to Project Open Hand clients on October 18th, but now was called on to coordinate over 50 volunteers and dozens of trucks to get the meals to clients’ homes and shelters in the East Bay.
“It was really rough. It was hard…the coordinating of it. I was out there with my husband and my baby. It was chaotic,” said Vickie.
Although the scene was chaotic, Vickie remembers an unforgettable moment when the first volunteers began arriving around noon.
“I keep thinking about when the volunteers in the Project Open Hand t-shirts came off BART with the food, and the people that met them,” she said. “It’s just amazing how people can gather together and make things happen when something like that happens.”
Project Open Hand produced 15,000 meals daily and with the support of community volunteers, delivered them to clients and to those affected by the disaster on both sides of the Bay.
“I thought it was incredible that Project Open Hand stepped in right away,” Vickie said. “As one of the few industrial working kitchens in the City, they stepped right up to the plate.”
The launch might not have been the plan that Vickie and staff envisioned, but it laid an everlasting foundation for the next 30 years -- meals with love were here to stay in the East Bay.