When it comes to making change at the local level, sometimes the tiniest actions can spark the biggest changes—and in San Francisco, where the options for helping the greater good can seem overwhelming, starting with small daily tasks is the best place to start. As more wealth pours into the city and the economic divide grows wider than ever before, it’s important to help out your fellow San Franciscan, zip code and tax bracket be damned.
For San Franciscans looking to make their hometown a better place, we present these small, but substantial, ways that you can help make a difference.
From your home
1. Stay informed about local news. It’s hard not to be aware of national news these days, but to get a sense of what’s changing in your immediate surroundings, soak in some local news by making local papers and blogs a part of your daily media diet. The San Francisco Chronicle is, of course, important, but other SF outlets can help you stay informed—from hyperlocal news (Mission Local, Richmond SF Blog, Streetsblog SF, etc.) to established sources (KQED, San Francisco Examiner), and even more. Oh, and don’t forget Curbed SF.
2. Compost. Don’t believe the malodorous lies: Composting is easy and a great way of helping the environment from your kitchen. If your building or home does not yet have a green composting bin, the city will send you one free of charge.
3. Follow these pro-housing advocates, groups, and journalists on Twitter: Kim-Mai Cutler, Darrell Owens, Laura Foote, East Bay for Everyone, Alfred Twu, SF YIMBY, and YIMBY Action will keep you abreast of both anti-growth hypocrisy and action items that will help abate the California housing crisis.
4. Remember reusable bags. They’re easy to compile, but difficult to remember once you’re at Whole Foods. The cost of plastic and paper bags, both environmental and economical, are too much to bear. Stick a few reusable bags by your front door so you remember to bring them to your next shopping trip.
5. Donate, don’t discard, your old clothes. For those of you who simply cannot bear the thought of wearing last year’s jeans (perish the thought!) or want to whittle down your wardrobe to a minimalist offering, don’t trash your old clothes. Shelters like the St. Anthony Foundation can redistribute clean clothing to homeless San Franciscans. If you have professional women’s attire to toss, consider give them to Dress for Success. And Larkin Street Youth accepts gently worn clothing for at-risk, runaway youths. Best of all, you can drop off your goods directly at one of these locations.
In your neighborhood
6. Learn about your neighborhood’s history. Did you know the Castro used to be an Irish-American working-class neighborhood? Or that South of Market used the be called South of the Slot, which later became a novella by Nobel Prize-winning scribe Jack London? And who knew that Presidio Terrace was originally designed as a whites-only neighborhood? Take a deep dive into your neighborhood’s past, good and bad. After all, the city isn’t a blank slate.
7. Donate old books. Tidying up? Grab a handful (or trunkload) of books from your home library and add some inventory to the nearest Little Free Library. There are dozens in San Francisco and hundreds in the Bay Area. If you’d rather donate to the library, take your books to the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. It’s a tax write-off!
8. Take care of a neighbor’s pet at PAWS. For some people, especially those who are chronically ill, frail, and isolated by disease or age, animal companionship is crucial to their health and well-being. Volunteer with PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) to get paired one-on-one with members of the community (who may be LGBTQ seniors or people living with HIV, Hepatitis C, or cancer) who need help caring for their pet. Ideal for animal lovers with no-pet rental agreements!
9. Attend neighborhood meetings. The best way to find out about what’s up in your neighborhood is to attend public meetings organized each month by your local community association. Here’s a good place to start.
10. Wave to tourists when they pass you on cable cars or tour buses. They love that.
Along your route
11. Take public transit. While our city’s transit system is in dire need of rehabilitation, it’s also the best way to get to know your city. Learn Muni and BART routes along your most-traveled roads and hop on. And you’d be surprised how convenient the cable cars and F lines are. Here’s a great place to start: How to get around SF if you don’t own a car. Another great place to start: How to ride Muni like a pro.
12. Put foot to pedal. San Francisco is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Here’s a beginner’s guide to help you get started. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also has a slew of resources to get you moving.
13. Be kind to the homeless. It’s going to take great leaps and bounds from the city to solve its chronic homeless problem. In the meantime, there are small things that you can do to empower those who need help. For starters, remember that people become homeless for a number of reasons—so leave the stereotyping or judgmental attitudes behind.
14. Document your city. One of the best ways to get to know the city is to shoot photos. Better yet, post them on Instagram. You will discover thousands of photographers also share your love of the city’s many neighborhoods. It’s a great way of take a closer look at your hood and getting to know your neighbors. Just don’t forget to geotag correctly.
15. Be a conscientious pedestrian. From moving over to the right when using your phone to helping fellow pedestrians with strollers, there are a lot of ways to improve your two-foot mode of transportation around town. Because it’s 2019 and there’s no excuse for blocking a sidewalk. (And, no, scooters don’t belong on sidewalks.) Here’s a pedestrian etiquette guide to help sharpen your two-step game.
In your community
16. Say hello to people/ask people how they’re doing. SF has stopped being a friendly town. Let’s change that: If you’re walking around a neighborhood, or stopping into a local store, think about saying, “Hello.” Stop being rude to service industry workers. Do not order food or coffee with your phone attached to your ear. It’s dehumanizing. It’s insidious. Be friendly.
17. Know your neighborhood supervisor. San Francisco is broken up into 11 districts with elected supervisors representing each. Do you know yours? Many San Francisco supervisors go on to higher office. (State Sen. Scott Wiener and California Governor Gavin Newsom were once city supervisors in District 8 and District 3, respectively.) Go here to find out their names, learn what they do—and the best ways to contact them.
18. Fight hunger in the community. The uptick in foodie trends and prices have made nourishment seem like a privilege for the lucky and well-to-do. Not so. People are still starving in the city. Get involved with groups like San Francisco Food Bank, GLIDE Church, and Project Open Hand to make sure everyone in the community has food on the table.
19. Volunteer with the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. The department’s Pathways to Citizenship Initiative program always needs volunteers, interpreters, and legal professionals to assist with their bi-monthly naturalization workshops.
20. Get off Nextdoor. Beginning with good intentions, Nextdoor can, at times, turn into a cesspool of racism and bigotry for a lot of San Francisco residents. Not always; but sometimes.
With a group
21. Hook up with the Friends of the Urban Forest. See how you can help add foliage to San Francisco’s streets with this choice nonprofit. They organize everything from neighborhood tree plantings to sidewalk landscaping.
22. Dedicate your time to volunteering at one of the two Friends of the San Francisco Public Library bookstores. All proceeds benefit the public library system in San Francisco.
23. Host a letter-writing party. Written letters get more traction than email or @’ing your local lawmaker. If there’s an issue you feel strongly about, it’s more than likely you’re not the only one, and a letter-writing party is a great way to organize your community for a positive cause. Best of all, you can add a few bottles of wine and turn it into a real party.
24. Volunteer at Animal Care and Control. ACC receives roughly 10,000 animals every year and rely on volunteers to help out. These pets don’t get the luxe treatment found at nearly SF SPCA, so they could use all the love they deserve.
25. Show up. When people come together—especially in times of great need—they can do amazing things. This was especially true during the AIDS crisis and of the moments following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Go to protests. Attend rallies. Fight for others’ rights. Relish the fact that you live in a city that, in one way or another, however dim it seems at times, seeks for the betterment of all humans.