Sheltering-in-Place in the Laurel District

An arch over the street that says "Laurel."
35th and MacArthur. Photo by Bill Joyce.

Mine is the only car as I pull up to 35th and MacArthur early Tuesday morning. Usually swarming with students on their way to Skyline High and workers heading downtown or BART, only one man waits for a ride.

Along MacArthur, on my way to my new baby-sitting gig, I follow a bus and a couple cars aiming for the 580 on-ramp at High St. It’s clear sailing past the darkened morning eateries: no line outside Sequoia Diner and a darkened Cafe of the Bay. World Ground Coffee let folks in three at a time for carry out. Ace Hardware’s door is open but the parking lot is empty. Folks will have to get by a while longer without the aroma of freshly roasted beans at Cafe Santana following a morning workout at Planet Fitness closed now until further notice.

Normally, I avoid the frenzied traffic of the Laurel District and instead zigzag through side streets to get to the house of my granddaughter, Angie. Her mom will be returning shortly from the midnight shift at a local hospital where she and other nurses worry whether masks, gowns and gloves will run out. Even more, she fears picking up the virus and the possibility of being quarantined for two weeks, away from her 16 month-old daughter. Potential exposure to COVID-19 prompted the regular sitter to quit. Though I’m in one of the at risk groups at age 69—and otherwise scrupulously isolating myself and maintaining social distance on rare runs to the Food Mill and Safeway—I’m lucky to be able to support Angie’s parents, both of whom are extremely fortunate to still be working.

A couple weeks ago, at the suggestion of a council member’s aide, I delivered a burrito and information about housing to Isabella, the last hold out at the recently closed homeless encampment near Home Depot. She cracked open the front door of the small, backyard type shed which straddled several layers of pallets. About my age, Isabella held back two pit bulls and asked me to set the delivery on the stoop. She was quite content with her small home and more concerned about her husband who was recently hospitalized and recovering from back surgery.

The next day, I joined a shift at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. It turned out to be the last shift open to people over age 65 like me. A couple dozen volunteers scattered throughout the large meeting room for a pre-shift briefing on health precautions: wear plastic gloves at all times; wash hands before and after removing them; keep a safe distance from fellow volunteers. Three staffers kept the flow moving along an assembly line to package staples—canned fruit and veggies; packages of pasta, rice and bean; jars of peanut butter; boxes of Girl Scout cookies and more. 

I broke down boxes as rock music set a spirited pace to fill about 500 large, sturdy plastic bags to be distributed at one of the food bank’s more than 270 distribution sites. I left, sobered for the first time, of the need for safety precautions and impressed with the determined efficiency of the food bank’s operation.

As I pull up to Angie’s, I wonder—actually pray because I don’t know what else to do—that Isabella has found safe lodging for her tiny home. I hope there are enough volunteers to put together bags at the food bank, and that those staples are making it to the thousands of people along the food lines whose families depend on this food now more than ever. 

I find Angie fussing, something rare, and evidence perhaps that even she senses that all is deeply awry.


Check for updates on Laurel District businesses here.

Author Profile

Bill Joyce is a retired Berkeley teacher and 2016 alumnus of Oakland Voices.


  1. Thanks for providing a personal report. I feel for everyone and am grateful for reading what is happening in your neighborhood. Angie and her family are lucky to have you care for them. I would only ask that people who can afford right now donate money so the food bank can purchase food for those in need.

  2. Thanks Bill for giving us an inside view of what it means to be a working family in a big city during a pandemic.

    Please write some more.

  3. Beautiful, touching words about your experience. And you do so much for other people. I’m fortunate to number you among my friends.

  4. Bill, you cover so much and express, for others, the frustration of finally being seen as “old” vis a vis this virus. It so conflicts with the desire to help and to be out there. It so changes the meaning of being 76 and 82 (just numbers prior to Covid19) Thank you.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing these realities. Hope and prayers for Isabella and all the Isabellas worldwide, and all the volunteers like you! and especially little Angie.

  6. You have written a very moving, compassionate, and informative piece about life during these difficult times (and, for some people, always difficult times). Thank you.

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