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Inspiration: Real World Stories

Client Stories

Do you ever wonder what circumstances lead people to seek assistance from the Food Bank?

Read about a cancer survivor who credits the food at the pantry with improving her health; a retired election worker who’s taking care of his great-nephew; and parents who are out of work and raising a child with special needs.

Former city worker. Caregiver. Cancer survivor. Once homeless. Food pantry client.

These words map out the life of Glenda Robinzine, a 65-year-old woman who bakes for her neighbors and now lives in social service housing. 

A Long Way from Home
Originally from Chicago, Glenda moved to San Francisco to take care of her aunt, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  After acting as caregiver for 16 years, Glenda found herself put out on the street.

“When she passed, her son wanted me to pay $1,600 in rent and all the utilities,” Glenda said. “I couldn’t do it, so he evicted me.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Glenda was receiving treatment for cancer of the mandible.

“If I hadn’t had the cancer, I could have been working,” she explained. “I worked all my life. I always had city and county jobs.”

Back in Chicago, Glenda worked as an administrative assistant for police department and worked in the state attorney’s office for Richard Daley before he became mayor.

“I had to give up everything to come out here and take care of my auntie,” Glenda said.

Cancer and Homelessness
Without family support in the city, Glenda stayed in shelters, rode the bus and slept on the couch of a lady at her church – anything to stay off the streets.

Glenda’s cancer made the situation all the more dire.

“I was wearing 300 milligrams of morphine on my back and my doctor was worried. I couldn’t be in the heat or it could kill me or the cold, because it could kill me, too.”

A social worker intervened and found Glenda the last spot at Mosaica Family and Senior Apartments, a mixed income housing complex managed by Lutheran Social Services.

The single room apartment, with full kitchen and a private bathroom, was heaven compared to the shelters. And the apartments came with an additional surprise – a weekly food pantry with food provided by the Food Bank.

Help from the Food Bank
While at the shelter, Glenda had received weekly groceries from her church, Mt. Enon, which also received a distribution from the Food Bank. It was like coming home.

“I’ve been dependent on the Food Bank before I got here,” Glenda said. “It’s been really helpful. I couldn’t make it without it.

“Oh my goodness, every week we get eggs or meat and that lasts me the week. Every day, I can have breakfast.

“They give me everything I need. Eggs, banana, fruit, bread, milk, cereal. You can make your meals out of what you get down there. There’s carrots, cabbage, potatoes. You can do so much with potatoes!”

And then there’s the cake mix.

Glenda enjoys baking for her downstairs neighbor, who is on oxygen and can’t cook for herself. In fact, Glenda enjoy baking for just about everyone in her life – her doctor, her pharmacist, her neighbors and children celebrating birthdays at her church.

She uses the oil and eggs she receives from the Mosaica pantry to make cakes, brownies and cookies. The Food Bank holiday distribution even included fresh pecans, and those go into special candies.

“It’s my way of saying thank you,” Glenda said.

“I’m blessed to be able to do what I do and have what I have,” says Lionel Hill, a retired election worker who volunteers at the food pantry at George Washington Carver Elementary School.

Lionel is also a recipient at the pantry, where he gets weekly groceries to help take care of his 6-year-old grand-nephew Desamuel.

Every Wednesday morning, Lionel gets up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus to meet the Food Bank delivery truck at the school. He then helps with the set up before the pantry starts at 8:00 a.m. It runs for about an hour — “or until all the food’s been given out.”

“I should have learned when I was in the army not to volunteer for nothing, but it’s a habit that I have,” Lionel joked.

As a retiree taking care of extended family, the Food Bank helps Lionel make ends meet. “The food is a tremendous help,” Lionel says. “And the food is healthy, too.”

Healthy Food Meeting Families Where They Are 
The Carver Elementary pantry is part of the Food Bank’s Healthy Children Pantry network, which distributes food to 59 schools and activity centers in San Francisco and Marin. The program is designed to allow parents to collect groceries in the same location they drop their children off for class or daycare.

“Some of the parents are reluctant to come get groceries — you see their pride, you sense it and you feel it,” Lionel says.

Many families at Carver have taken part-time jobs after the recession or are still looking for work. And many, like Lionel, are taking care of nieces and nephews or grandchildren.

On a recent Wednesday morning, Lionel calls hello to parents as they walk their kids to school. The food pantry operates in the elementary school’s courtyard, next to the front door.

“Do you want some potatoes? We’ve got extra potatoes,” he tells them.

A few extra parents stop by and gather handfuls of produce into paper bags. Lionel helps them select the allotted number of potatoes, apples, carrots, onions, oranges, yams, bags or rice and a carton of eggs each.

“Our families really need this food and the accessibility and nutritional value is a godsend. It’s so appreciated,” says Donna Smith, the parent teacher liaison at Carver. 

While news reports indicate the economy is improving, the Hernandez family isn’t seeing the same signs.

“My husband has been out of work one year,” Viviana Hernandez says. Her husband worked as a plumber for four years prior, but due to the downturn in the economy he doesn’t have any leads, and nothing looks promising.

Viviana, formerly an aesthetician in her native Italy, now works as a part-time caterer and volunteers at her son’s school. Her son Joshua, 7, is a special education student in first grade at Hillcrest Elementary in the Excelsior.

Viviana helps in the school office, cooks for events, and on Thursday mornings at 8 a.m., she volunteers at the Healthy Children’s Pantry on campus. The Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry staples and lean protein for the weekly distribution.

“It’s very difficult to get by,” Viviana says. “We’re lucky because we have pantry food.”

About 75 families use the pantry, Viviana estimates, most of them are parents of the children at her son's school. The school bell rings at 7:50 a.m., so after dropping off their kids for school, parents can stop by the food pantry for weekly groceries.

“The vegetables and the fruit are very fresh,” Viviana says. “I think it’s important that the food is nutritious. We tell the kids to eat fruit and vegetables every day.”

The food their parents take home from the pantry reinforces the message. 

The Food Bank also provides a morning snack for the students at Hillcrest and helps parents enroll in the CalFresh program, as food stamps are well known in California.

Maritza Dicicco, campus engagement coordinator for Hillcrest, says the pantry is a lifeline for the families at the school and helps foster the community.

“I get a lot of parents that right now don’t have income,” Maritza says. “They’ve lost their jobs or are low income and this is a big benefit for them because then they are able to get food.

“The snack for the kids has been very helpful because a lot of kids don’t eat breakfast and they’re hungry. Now we know we have fruit to give them. The kids really like it and it’s good quality.”

Without the pantry, Maritza isn’t sure what families would do.

“Oh my God, families literally would miss meals,” Maritza says. “That’s how bad it is.”

Viviana agrees.

“The pantry is a blessing,” she says.