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Three Waymo vehicles parked outside of Openhouse before heading out to deliver groceries to community members.

Waymo and Openhouse SF Team Up to Support San Francisco LGBTQ+ Seniors

Aging can be difficult for anyone, but being an aging LGBTQ+ adult in San Francisco - with its high housing and living costs - presents its own challenges, especially for seniors living alone.

“They're often invisible in our community,” said Sylvia Vargas, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Openhouse SF, a nonprofit established to support aging LGBTQ+ seniors in San Francisco.

Sylvia Vargas, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Openhouse SF

Every day, approximately 10,000 people in the U.S. are turning 65, according to the UN Population Division. According to Openhouse, by 2030, there will be an estimated 30,000 LGBTQ older adults in San Francisco, a portion of whom live alone. At the same time, food and healthcare costs are rising nationwide.

Vargas said Openhouse was established to help LGBTQ+ seniors in San Francisco live with dignity in the communities of their choice – communities that they helped create – providing everything from case management to connections to housing and healthcare resources and services.

“We serve some of the LGBTQ+ older adults who fought for civil rights, fought for the rights that I get to enjoy today, and I get the opportunity to hear their stories,” Vargas shared.

For seniors who face challenges getting groceries, Openhouse runs a home-delivered grocery program every Wednesday. Volunteers help bag the groceries at Openhouse and then deliver groceries in person, offering a friendly face and social connection to help reduce feelings of isolation.

And the need for the program is steadily growing.

“We're always enrolling new members into the program,” Vargas shared. “We get phone calls all the time.”

Now, through a partnership with Waymo, Openhouse has been able to ensure the consistency of its deliveries and scale up its grocery delivery program.

Openhouse originally turned to Waymo, a longtime supporter of the organization, in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic as it was facing a volunteer shortage alongside rising food insecurity in San Francisco, especially among the aging LGBTQ+ community. 

Openhouse asked if Waymo could support the program by delivering groceries using Waymo vehicles. Waymo quickly agreed, and the weekly delivery partnership was born.

Three Waymo vehicles parked outside of Openhouse before heading out to deliver groceries to community members.

“We really needed something we could depend on that was going to show up every Wednesday at noon, because getting these bags of groceries to folks in their homes is critical,” Sylvia said. “Waymo has shown up in so many ways.”

Since July of 2023, Waymo vehicles have helped Openhouse deliver nutritious groceries to over 25 seniors every Wednesday. 

The partnership works like this. First, the SF-Marin Food Bank delivers boxes of produce and other food items to Openhouse, which are unloaded and packed by volunteers and staff, and then Waymo helps deliver them door-to-door across San Francisco.

SF-Marin Food Bank truck delivering groceries in front of Openhouse

One recent Wednesday, Openhouse volunteers David and Aiah climbed into a Waymo vehicle to help make a weekly grocery delivery to Louie, a longtime San Francisco resident with a rich tapestry of stories.

“Because of mobility, he is not able to get out as much,” Sylvia explained. “So that's why programs like this are so meaningful.”

When David and Aiah arrived at Louie’s apartment in the Tenderloin district with the grocery delivery, David greeted Louie - who he knew from past community events and programs - with a warm smile and handshake. Louie was reminded of the friendship he feels at Openhouse. 

“You go to Openhouse where you feel good, and that makes a community,” Louie explained.

Aiah and David delivering groceries to Louie, an Openhouse community member

David said he also values the Openhouse community and the sense of purpose he gets from volunteering to help address food insecurity in San Francisco.

“For me, it was a win-win, because I do suffer from isolation, and this gets me out of my house,” David shared, adding that he met one of his best friends while volunteering with Openhouse. “I've just gotten so much out of the program, personally.”

David said that he is also a recipient of the Openhouse grocery program

“Food has gotten so expensive and if it weren’t for [the Openhouse grocery program] my retirement savings would be disappearing really quickly and I'm sure other people are in the same position,” David explained.

Aiah learned about the opportunity to volunteer at Openhouse through the University of San Francisco where she is a student. 

“I have friends and family that are part of the queer community, and I know something really sacred to the community is this idea of chosen family and building community, so I feel like they've really fostered that well, here at Openhouse.”

David and Aiah, two Openhouse volunteers

In addition to the use of its vehicles for the Wednesday grocery deliveries, Waymo supports Openhouse through annual giving and provides additional support throughout the year as needs arise. Through Waymo's volunteer program, Waymo team members help out each year at Openhouse’s annual Fall Feast community Thanksgiving celebration and annual holiday gift distribution, and celebrate alongside Openhouse during Pride Month.

During Pride Month in 2023, members of Waymo’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group, called Pride@Waymo, took part in an intergenerational panel together with leadership and community members from Openhouse. “Waymo is invested in being part of our community, and that’s what we want,” Vargas emphasized. “I think it's a really good fit because Openhouse are also innovators – Waymo, they're innovators – and I think we have to figure out how we can bring more technology in to help our older adults.”

Waymo is invested in being part of our community.
Sylvia Vargas, Director of Community Engagement Programs at Openhouse SF

Vargas said making a difference in people’s lives gives her a sense of purpose. She still recalls a delivery she once made to an Openhouse community member. Vargas told the man that he looked visibly happier and healthier than the last time she had seen him.

“He took the bag and said, ‘It's because of this [grocery delivery program],’” Vargas recalled. Previously, the man, who was on a limited fixed income, was eating unhealthy food to save money. The home-delivered grocery program changed everything. “He said, ‘I feel better. My diabetes is under control. This is saving my life.’"

Vargas said the experience made a huge impact on her.

“It just made me realize just how important [it is to ensure] folks are able to nurture not only their soul, their mind, but also their body,” Vargas explained. “It's all interconnected.”

Vargas said the ultimate goal of Openhouse is building a world with greater mobility, housing security, food access, and life-affirming connections for all.

“It’s about creating this big community where folks don't have to worry about safe transportation, food insecurity,” Vargas explained.

And that vision for the future gives her hope – hope that’s grounded in the city of San Francisco and its long history of LGBTQ+ people proving that change is possible.

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