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 60’s
and 70’s. 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. These dinners, served on the last Thursdays of the month,
garnered Tessie many honors and she earned the title of Empress 15
Along with the dinners, Tessie started
the tradition of giving gift bags along 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 on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were served
at a church on the corner of Eddy and Gough and began focusing on
the needs of those suffering form AID’s and the growing number
of homeless throughout the city.
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
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.
Everyone is welcome at our meals!