911 operator warming homeless hands

February 14, 2008 6:56:10 PM PST
Heart art is blooming in San Francisco this Valentine's Day. The San Francisco General Hospital held its third annual Heroes and Hearts fundraiser at Union Square where some of the city's local heroes are honored and where those giant heart artworks are unveiled.

Since 2004, dozens of artists have made and left their hearts in San Francisco.

For the last three years, those hearts have been helping San Francisco General Hospital raise money. In combination with its annual luncheon, the auctioned-off hearts have raised nearly $3 million dollars for the hospital foundation.

The luncheon also honors local heroes who have helped make San Francisco a better place.

Five heroes were singled out Thursday at the Union Square event. Toni Dukes is one of them. She was nominated by a co-worker for her work in San Francisco's Tenderloin. That's where many of the city's most disenfranchised people live, many of them on the streets.

"Well what I [seen] was ... cold people ... and I felt kind of bad driving through with my heater on going to my warm house," said Dukes.

Dukes works the night shift as a 911 operator in San Francisco. On her way home through the Tenderloin, she had a sudden inspiration.

"I started purchasing gloves from little novelty stores and Wal-Mart and just the next day started passing them out," said Dukes.

The Tenderloin police substation has helped her out. Usually she's on her own, though friends and co-workers now support her with donations.

"I think what happened, a co-worker might have seen me in the Tenderloin like at 7 in the morning, like 'what is Toni doing in the Tenderloin?' It got back to my job, 'what are you doing?' So I had to make this announcement, 'hey, I'm just handing out gloves' and they were like, 'that's cool.' So people started giving me a dollar here, $5 dollars, $10 dollars," said Dukes.

Dukes said she was shocked by her nomination for the award, but was excited and overwhelmed.

"We know that we can't save the world as an individual, but we can make a difference and if we just keep that in mind the world will be a better place, honestly," said Dukes.

So ABC7 News salutes Toni Dukes and all of this year's recipients of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation's Heroes and Hearts Award.

If there is someone you would like us to salute, e-mail us here.