Old house gets new paint while ailing owner recovers at Home

Anne Koffman's brown bungalow had been standing on Geneva Avenue in San Francisco since 1912. But its faucets were leaking. The red paint on the security gate no longer matched the trim around the windows. The bedroom walls didn't have the freshly scrubbed look a Kelly-Moore can of paint with the title "White Sails" could have given them.

Koffman, in her mid-80s, wanted to do the painting herself, but she was recovering at the Jewish Home for the Aged from her third hip operation in less than a year.

So some of the members of two of Congregation Sherith Israel's young married chavurot pitched in and painted one Sunday last month, under the auspices of Project Lend-a-Hand, sponsored by Jewish Family and Children's Services, Sherith Israel and the Koret Synagogue Initiative.

As architect Marty Zwick, a board member of the S.F.-based JFCS, explained it, Project Lend-a-Hand is a Jewish offshoot of Christmas in April, a springtime event that involves thousands of people repairing as many as 50 houses in one day — houses that belong to the poor or elderly who can't afford to, or are unable to, fix them.

It took five months to plan and organize Project Lend-a-Hand's first fixer-upper on Koffman's abode.

"We chose Anne," said JFCS senior services volunteer coordinator Debbie Goodman, because "she's someone who's given so much to the community."

Koffman began volunteering with JFCS's Widow/Widower Outreach program a year and a half after her husband, Dr. Oscar Koffman, died in 1980.

She also volunteered at Jewish Museum San Francisco before it opened, and for nearly 10 years after.

"It was a little bit like my baby," said Koffman in a phone interview from the Home on Silver Avenue in San Francisco. "They had so much to be done. They asked me to do something, I did it."

Now, Goodman noted, "It's a situation where [Koffman] could use some help."

Last September, Koffman fell in her bedroom while trying to put on her slippers. She broke her right hip and went through three operations. The most recent one took place a few weeks ago.

During her stay at the Home, she saw the chavurah handiwork through photographs.

"Those kids really worked hard," she commented.

She had met with team captains before the work got underway. They seemed as impressed by her as she was by them. Said David Levine, a Redwood City lawyer, "It's nice to be able to say thanks to someone who gives so much, by not just saying thanks, but by giving to her."

Zwick said some of the prep work on the house took place the day before, things like buying ladders, moving furniture and putting up masking tape.

The next day workers divided up the Sunday paper to cover areas that didn't need painting, scraped surfaces, sanded and primed. All that was before lunch.

New paint went on after a feast provided by Ben & Jerry's, the Great City Deli, La Mediterranee Catering, Mozzarella di Bufala Pizzaria, Noah's Bagels, Shenson's Delicatessen and Restaurant, and Straus Family Creamery.

No one seemed chagrined by lack of membership in a painting and general contractor's union.

"I've never wielded a paintbrush," said Rabbi Alice Goldfinger as she slapped some stain on the back porch molding. "I'm here to have a good time and make friends."

Added marketing writer Karen Gordon Levin as she lay a coat of primer on the front entry security gate, "I've wanted to do this kind of thing for a long time. It's really nice to do it with the chavurah."

Meanwhile, attorney Steve Winick indicated it would be the first of many fixer-uppers to come.

"The supplies we're buying this year we're going to keep in storage at Sherith Israel, so [they're] here for the next year."