The First 100 Days | Q&A With Executive Director Tanis Crosby

May 27, 2021

100 days into her tenure at the Food Bank, Executive Director Tanis Crosby reflects on her experience, her gratitude, and on the enormity of the imperative work ahead.

Tanis CrosbyWhat’s your overall pulse, 100 days in?

I feel incredibly grateful and humbled and… at home.

What’s one memory from your first 100 days that will stick with you?

One Wednesday evening, I volunteered packing boxes of food for seniors. Music was playing through the speakers—whoever curates our playlists is just magical—and next to me was this lovely man named John, who had been volunteering with us on Wednesdays for 21 years, wearing his food bank sweatshirt as a badge of pride. Next to John were a couple of women who were having a blast working together, just completely welcoming, and some families who came to volunteer as a unit. It was this beautiful community within a community that had sprung up.

At the end of the shift, the Food Bank project leader Robert announced how many pounds we had collectively packaged, and I looked around and felt such pride and celebration of taking action to fight hunger together. It was such a clear image of our vital service and the wholly unique way in which we bring the community together for a great cause. It was a moment.

Your second 100 days may look very different from your first as vaccines roll out. How is that changing the way you think about our priorities?

The pandemic is revealing that which we already knew to be true: Poverty and racism are inextricably linked to food insecurity. That is not going to go away when the masks go away. We’re going to focus on advancing our mission with the analysis and the framework that this team’s wisdom created, which is understanding that we are addressing not only the consequences of hunger, but also the causes. We will work on upstream and lasting solutions and are steadfast in our commitment to ensure we are making meals possible for our neighbors right now.

As we look forward, we also need to determine what it means to sustainably serve all of those who need us – those we are currently reaching and those we hope to reach. After more than a year spent responding to this crisis, how do we return to solutions we know work, but weren’t possible during the pandemic – like a farmer’s market style distribution to enable choice – and what innovations from our crisis response do we maintain – like the grocery delivery. This will be hard work, but it is essential work. The Food Bank is part of a critical safety net that is made up of grassroots, well-established, and new community-led organizations as well as government programs. Together we will find the solutions. Because we are all working collectively to fulfill our purpose of ending hunger.

This isn’t just a vision, it will be a future, with partners, donors and volunteers making it real.

Do you think there are ways in which the pandemic has changed our community for the better?

The pandemic was a stark reminder that you can work hard, get a job, and still find yourself at risk of homelessness or relying on the Food Bank to make sure that you’re not choosing between your PG&E bill and feeding your family. You can have good job and not be able to make ends meet in San Francisco or Marin.

That’s not going to go away anytime soon. And what it has created is empathy and a deep-seated understanding that food is a human right. The community wants to be part of taking care of each other. Whether they are a 10 year-old donating their small proceeds from a lemonade stand, or a Foundation giving millions, donors of all ages, of all means are recognizing that we’ve got to take care of each other. And that has been completely inspiring.

The Food Bank just announced its Capital Campaign to expand warehouse facilities. How do you envision that helping to chart our way forward?

In this coming year, we have a tall order. Delivering on these expansion plans is really about delivering on current community need; we started this project 5 years ago with the goal of building for the future, but it turns out we are building for right now.

We are renovating not to expand, but to sustain. Because it’s not about a building and it’s not about the number of pounds of food, it’s about having the space to feed our neighbors who are making real and practical choices every day about where they’re spending scarce dollars. Our community is hurting. People are making choices–choices that weigh on families, choices that are hard and hurt.

Our job is to relieve that hurt, to make it less stressful and more hopeful. It is not about a building. It’s about what happens as a result of having that capacity to deliver on this critical need, person, by person, by person, in all of the neighborhoods in which we serve.

What has surprised you most during your first 100 days?

What surprised me was what it means to see that sheer scope upfront, to see it come alive in the field. What surprised me was how excited I would feel to see the orders being built, knowing that they would be landing in a neighborhood pantry, a pop-up or a drive-thru and put into the hands of people in our community, our neighbors. Just the magnitude of what this scale feels like, to see it and to know what it means, not just hear about it or read about it, but to see it. And just the enormous sense of… I can’t think of another word other than pride. I feel so proud to be part of this team – staff, donors, and volunteers – that is delivering food and hope to every corner of our community.

Adopting a Building Creates Relationships

March 29, 2021

Volunteer sign inIn September the Food Bank approached several regular Pantry at Home volunteers with an idea: adopt a building; commit to making all your deliveries to the same location and the same participants at the same time week after week for three months.

A few regular volunteers were all in.

Kelly Runyon and his wife Barbara decided to adopt a building as a way to show their love for a neighborhood they enjoyed visiting.

“I filled out an application and said I’d be interested in Chinatown,” said Kelly, who spent the next three months delivering to 44 participants every Monday and Tuesday.

Patricia Tuori, who had been volunteering twice a month for weeks, though it would be a great way to keep volunteering even after her work schedule changed. After adopting a building, Patricia always knew her Tuesday route would take about an hour and a half door to door.

She explained, “I was working while I was doing this, so, it was nice to take a little bit less time at it. But I still got to do it.”

A Whole New Experience

Both Kelly and Patricia felt that adopting a building (or in their cases a few buildings) enriched the Pantry at Home experience for both themselves and the participants.

Kelly and Barbara have lived in San Francisco since the seventies. Despite decades in the City, they still “went to a lot of neighborhoods that we had no idea even existed. So, it was interesting for that reason. We kind of got to know the city better.”

But the real joy came in adopting a few buildings. “We got to know individuals and they got to know us,” he said. “They knew when I knocked on the door, they knew my knock.”

They also discovered suppressing benefits on a pragmatic front. Coming back week after week helped them learn the ins and outs of each building. One apartment required a key fob to use the elevator – meeting the building manager and getting her cell phone number was their ticket in.

“Each week we could just text her as we were getting parked and then pick up a fob and do our thing,” explained Kelly. Delivering to that building “went from being an absolute, impenetrable ‘how do we do this’ problem to a whole procedure that was straightforward and always worked.”

Getting to Know the Neighbors

PatriciaFor Patricia, the greatest reward was getting to know people. “Rather than just going up to a house and you don’t ever see them again, you see the same people every week. It’s a really nice way to develop a relationship,” she said.

“When I was doing the same two buildings every week, I knew that the neighbor for this person takes both their bags,” she shared. “Or that the person in 202 would leave their door open and they want you to put the bag right inside on the stool.”

The support that came from getting to know each other went both ways. One woman saved all the jars she struggled to open during the week for Patricia to help her open them. Another participant checked in to make sure Patricia was okay after she took a couple of weeks off to quarantine.

“The benefit to [the participant] is just knowing that every Tuesday at 12:30, which is when I did it, there’d be a delivery and they didn’t have to hang around all afternoon or wonder when someone was coming,” said Patricia.

Adopting a building was “just a really nice way to develop a relationship. I don’t know why more people wouldn’t want to do it that way if they could,” she said. “It takes a lot of the unknowns out of it.”

 

Food Bankers Tell Their Stories

March 16, 2021

365 Days of Unprecedented Need

The time before COVID-19 fully entered our collective consciousness feels so far away, so unrecognizable it isn’t fair to say they feel like 10 years ago – it is of a different place and time entirely.

It’s almost as if we all celebrated the New Year prematurely, ignoring a much more consequential marker of time: March 17, the day the Bay Area shelter-in-place order officially went into effect. The eve of which was not spent watching fireworks or drinking something bubbly, but panic shopping and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

After a very long and very challenging year that has forever changed the fabric of our community, we do not celebrate but we acknowledge this occasion. Between March 2020 and March 2021 more than 529,300 (as of 3/15/21) people died of the coronavirus, tens of millions of people lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of businesses shut down, and in the process, 45 million people nationwide – including 15 million children – were thrust into food insecurity.

Food pantry line

“I was naïve.”

Food Bank staff packs bags

“I’m pretty sure I was at the office,” said Michael Braude, thinking back to when he first heard about the shelter-in-place order. “We already had been meeting to address our response efforts, but I don’t think anyone expected a complete shut-down to come from out of the blue as it did.”

Looking back none of us expected to be here a year later.

“I was naïve. I thought it would be over when the order was lifted – three weeks later,” remembers Gunilla Bergensten.

Food Bank staff and volunteers

“A devastating blow.”

As the months wore on, we all saw the images of food bank lines nationwide and the heart-breaking portraits of those in them. For the Food Bank staff, this need was not distant. Day in and day out we saw our community hurting, we saw our neighbors, our friends, and our family in need.

Cars wait for food pantry

“COVID has magnified the existing health and income disparities in the community I support,” said Lucia Ruiz. “This has been a devastating blow, which often causes me to feel both sadness and anger.”

Lucia Ruiz

Almost overnight we saw the need in our community double. In just 2 months we went from serving 32,000 households a week to 62,000 (we are now steadily seeing about 55,000 households weekly).

“Seeing the surge in people who needed food, oftentimes for the first time in their lives, kept me going,” said Joseph Hampton.

Food Bank warehouse

Keeping up with that level of demand was no small feat.

“The biggest challenge I think was getting food quickly while the retail market crashed. And operating at such a high UOS (Food Bank term for households) without increasing our physical working space,” said Angela Wirch. “With everyone panic shopping there was no getting rice…there were so many challenges. The money and infrastructure were gradual, but the need was immediate. We filled that second warehouse so fast.”

Angela Wirch

Two tractor-trailers, 10 bobtails, two new warehouses, and one giant tent to cover our parking lot later, we somehow found the space for 77 million pounds of food to meet the tremendous need.

Food Bank warehouse

Finding the People Power

“Never in my career have I experienced a more profound threat of not having a safe work environment for workers or enough workers available to run the operations,” said Nadia Chargualaf.

Nadia Chargualaf

“Half of our team was incapacitated because of COVID, so we were short-staffed for a long period,” said Johnny Lee, remembering how many staff members needed to stay home because of their health. “Many of our sites were closed at the beginning, and a few remain closed to this day. We used some PPE before COVID, but now we follow all the guidelines given to us by the CDC and strictly try to enforce distancing between participants.”

Johnny Lee

Cody Jang remembers, “I was at work when the news came in. Within hours we had lost close to 3,000 volunteer reservations. We were worried about how we would complete the work without volunteers.”

Cody Jang

But the community not only stepped up, they stepped up in droves. Within a matter of months, if not weeks, we were seeing twice as many volunteers as we welcomed pre-pandemic – that’ more than 157,000 volunteer hours since March 2020. Not to mention the support of Disaster Service Workers, corporate partners and community groups.

United Playaz

Challenges: Emotional and Physical

“The biggest challenge has been trying to stay safe during the days that I physically need to be at the office. Even after all this time, I still get a bit of anxiety when working in the office due to the extra layers of planning and endurance (mask-wearing, sanitation, etc.) that go into working within close proximity to others during the pandemic,” said Joseph Hampton.

Joseph Hampton

“The biggest challenge is really the emotional toll that COVID is taking,” said Ken Levin. “Both in people we may know that have been directly affected, or those affected tangentially. This past Saturday, I brought food to a friend who had just lost a family member. I left it at her doorstep. Then on Monday, I attended an online memorial for another friend’s husband. Not being able to see, hug, and be with these people in their time of need has been particularly difficult.”

Ken Levin

“There were multiple types of challenges to face. But one that I really wasn’t ready for was the isolation and loneliness of being separated from my loved ones,” reflects Lauren Cassell. “A lot of things in my life changed because of the pandemic, and I wish I had been more kind to myself. Having hard, unproductive days in the midst of a pandemic is okay.”

Lauren Cassell

Policy Makers Rise to the Occasion

As the need rose, so did the public consciousness around food insecurity. Even before the pandemic 1 in 5 San Francisco and Marin residents was at risk of hunger. Food Banks can’t meet the need alone.

“Before COVID, getting movement from elected officials on policies that impacted low-income people was much more of an uphill battle. By thrusting millions more Americans into hardship, COVID forced politicians to listen to anti-poverty and anti-hunger advocates much more seriously and take immediate action,” reflects Meg Davidson. “Things we’d been told were impossible for years we were able to make happen in a matter of weeks. Turns out, we were onto something when we’ve been repeating that making it easier for people to get the help they need when they fall on hard times is good for everyone.”

Meg Davidson

“We adjusted, pivoted and made the necessary changes to help more in our community to reduce food insecurity during the pandemic. I’m proud of some of our legislative victories, such as, improvements to CalFresh, like waivers, increases in benefits, the P-EBT rollout, online EBT purchase ability, etc.,” said Marchon Tatmon.

Mayor London Breed with Food Bank staff and volunteers

Perseverance Despite the Weight of the World

“I feel very lucky to work at the Food Bank. As challenging as this year has been, I am grateful for my colleagues. I’m heartened by the generosity of our supporters,” said Iris Fluellen.

Iris Fluellen

“There have been challenging moments, and breaking points, and everything in between, but we’ve kept the work going for our communities and for ourselves,” said Claudia Wallen. “My mom always says, ‘You must have a plan B, and if possible, a plan C.’  Never before has she been more right.”

Claudia Wallen

“Being able to help so many new people get CalFresh benefits – and getting to know my staff’s pets – has kept me going,” shared Liliana Sandoval.

Liliana Sandoval

“Although I haven’t sat in my pod or met everyone internally or externally, I’m humbled to be a part of the team,” shared Denise Chen. “The dedication and commitment we have in serving our community is truly amazing.”

Denise and Donna

“Growth is messy, even when you plan it. We definitely haven’t felt like the most organized bunch on some days, but we did the work that needed to get done clear-eyed and together. My heart is so full of respect and love for each and every team member,” said Kera Jewett. “We may have been tired, sore, in PJs, short-staffed, and completely overwhelmed, but I know for a fact everyone did their level best every single day. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to go into battle with.”

Kera Jewett

“Looking back I would tell myself, this looks really bad, but there are many, many good people doing amazing things to turn this situation and this world around, politically, scientifically, and morally, so keep your eye on the prize and don’t give up,” said Bob Brenneman.

Bob Brenneman

 

Honor Black History Month

February 19, 2021

February is Black History Month and this year more than ever we have the opportunity to rethink how we acknowledge and affirm this month. Not only in the month of February but all year round, it is essential we recognize that our Black communities, neighbors and friends face food insecurity differently. The disproportionately high numbers for food assistance and lack of food access are a result of systemic racism. 

We at the Food Bank will continue to work to reduce barriers to food access for our BIPOC neighbors in need of food assistance. We will work with various local Black community members, organizations, faith-based groups and our local partner agencies to improve our programming and to increase food access.  

This month, in honor of Black History Month, consider donating to any of our partners who is doing the work to address this disparity head-on. The below is a selection of our community partners who serve the Black community.

Our Community Partners

In the coming weeks and months, we will also be spotlighting many of these partners on our channels so stay tuned.

 

Statement on Recent Attacks | 關於最近攻擊的聲明 | Declaración sobre ataques recientes

February 12, 2021

The Food Bank unequivocally denounces the surge of violent, racist attacks that are being perpetrated against Asian Americans in the Bay Area and around the country.

The pandemic has exacerbated anti-Asian racism and hate. Between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020 Stop AAPI Hate received over 2,800 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate incidents, and more than 700 of those took place in the Bay Area. We are horrified by the trauma being inflicted on our community as a result of violent racism and xenophobia.

We are in resolute solidarity with our Asian American staff, participants, partners, and supporters during this incredibly challenging time. The community continues to suffer lost wages, businesses, and lives due to COVID-19. We also echo the recent calls of many Asian American organizations in the Bay Area to demand action from our local leaders to do more to stop these attacks.

More than half of the Food Bank’s participants are Asian Americans, many of them elders, and we see firsthand the fear and trauma the community is experiencing. Our team cares deeply for our participants and is working to ensure our food distributions remain safe, so those who need food will be able to continue to come without fear of violence. Over the coming days and weeks, we will also be working with our community partners who serve Asian American communities to ensure we are supporting them in the way they need during this challenging time. No one should forgo food due to fear and racism.

Systemic racism and white supremacy are pervasive. The same issues of institutional racism that perpetuate food insecurity are threatening the lives of people of color in our community. Anti-Asian racism, like the attacks from recent weeks, is often underreported and cannot be ignored. If we are to work towards being an anti-racist organization, then we must advocate firmly against all forms of racism.

As many celebrate Lunar New Year today, we will continue to support our community in healing from this moment.

If you would like to take action and support the Bay Area’s Asian American community, please see the resources below from many of our partners and other Asian American organizations around the Bay Area.

In solidarity,

Tanis Crosby

Resources


食物庫明確地譴責在灣區及全國各地針對亞裔美國人激增的暴力事件和種族主義襲擊。

這個疫情加劇了反亞裔的種族主義和仇恨。在2020年3月19日至2020年12月31日期間,Stop AAPI Hate收到了超過2,800宗反亞裔仇恨事件的第一手資料,其中超過700宗發生在灣區。暴力種族主義和仇外心理給我們社區造成的創傷使我們感到震驚。

在這個充滿挑戰的時刻,我們堅決聲援亞裔員工、參加者、合作夥伴和支持者。由於2019年新型冠狀病毒肆虐,社區繼續遭受工資、業務和生命的損失。我們還回應灣區許多亞裔組織最近的呼籲,請求我們的當地領導人採取更多行動制止這些襲擊。

食物庫一半以上的參加者是亞裔美國人,其中許多是長者。我們親眼目睹了社區正在遭受的恐懼和創傷。我們的團隊深切關心我們的參加者,並正在努力確保我們的食物分發安全,因此那些需要食物的人將能夠繼續前來而不必擔心暴力。在接下來的幾天和幾星期內,我們還將與為亞裔社區服務的社區合作夥伴合作,以確保我們在這個充滿挑戰的時期以他們所需的方式為他們提供支持。沒有人應該因恐懼和種族主義而放棄食物。

系統性種族主義和白人至高無上主義普遍存在。制度性的種族主義問題導致糧食危機長期存在並正威脅著我們社區有色人種的生活。像最近幾星期的襲擊一樣,反亞裔種族主義經常被低估並不能忽視。如果我們要努力成為一個反種族主義的組織,那麼我們就必須堅決反對一切形式的種族主義。

正如今天有許多人慶祝農曆新年,從這一刻起我們將繼續支持我們的社區恢復正常。

如果您想採取行動並支持灣區的亞裔社區,請參閱以下來自灣區許多合作夥伴和其他亞裔組織的資訊。

團結一致,

Tanis Crosby

資訊

  • 如果您或您認識的任何人遭受反亞裔攻擊,請在stopaapihate.org上舉報。
  • 閱讀:橫跨灣區的亞裔組織合力要求採取行動打擊暴力
  • 參加2月14日(星期日)下午1點在市中心廣場愛我們的人民:恢復我們的社區集會

El Banco de Alimentos denuncia inequívocamente la oleada de ataques violentos y racistas que se están perpetrando contra los estadounidenses de origen asiático en el Área de la Bahía (en inglés: Bay Areay alrededor del país. 

La pandemia ha exacerbado el racismo y el odio contra los asiáticos. Entre el 19 de marzo de 2020 y el 31 de diciembre de 2020, Stop AAPI Hate recibió más de 2.800 informes de primera mano de incidentes de odio contra Asia, y más de 700 de ellos tuvieron lugar en el Área de la Bahía. Nos horroriza el trauma que se inflige a nuestra comunidad como resultado del racismo violento y la xenofobia. 

Nos declaramos en solidaridad absoluta con nuestro equipo, participantes, y colaboradores asiático-americanos y quienes nos apoyan durante este período tan increíblemente difícil. La comunidad continúa sufriendo la pérdida de salarios, negocios y vidas debido al COVID-19. También, hacemos eco a los recientes llamamientos de muchas organizaciones asiático-americanos  en el Área de la Bahía para exigir acción por parte de nuestros líderes locales para hacer más para detener estos ataques. 

Más de la mitad de los participantes del Banco de Alimentos son asiático-americanos, muchos mayores de edad, y vemos de primera mano el temor y el trauma que sufre nuestra comunidad. Nuestro equipo se preocupa profundamente por nuestros participantes, y está trabajando para asegurar que nuestras distribuciones de alimentos permanezcan seguras, para que aquellos que necesitan alimentos puedan seguir viniendo sin miedo a la violencia. Durante los próximos días y semanas, también trabajaremos con nuestros socios comunitarios que sirven a las comunidades asiático-americanos para asegurarnos de que los estamos apoyando de la manera que ellos necesitan durante este período difícil. Nadie debe privarse de comida debido al miedo y racismo. 

El racismo sistémico y la supremacía blanca son omnipresentes. Los mismos temas de racismo institucional que perpetúan la inseguridad alimentaria están amenazando las vidas de las personas de color en nuestra comunidad. El racismo anti asiático, al igual que los ataques de las últimas semanas, frecuentemente no se denuncia, pero no se puede ignorar. Si vamos a trabajar para ser una organización antirracista, entonces debemos abogar firmemente contra todas las formas de racismo. 

Mientras muchos celebran el Nuevo Año Lunar hoy, seguiremos apoyando a nuestra comunidad para que sane por lo que sucede ahora. 

Si usted desea tomar medidas y apoyar a la comunidad asiática-americana del Área de la Bahía, favor de revisar los recursos a continuación de muchos de nuestros socios y otras organizaciones asiático-americanos en el Área de la Bahía. 

En solidaridad, 

Tanis Crosby 

Recursos 

Phillis & Lee: ‘Boring’ Until You Know Them

January 14, 2021

COVID-19 has brought tremendous attention to Food Banks. Newspapers nationwide included images of long lines of cars or people standing six feet apart waiting for food at food pantries in their top images of 2020. But something is lost in those images of people waiting for hours – the people.

Participants at our pantries are more than their circumstances.  They are people with families and friends, with jobs and hobbies, with hopes and fears, with sorrows and joys. And many of them – like Phillis and Lee – are full of surprises.

We first met Phillis (89) and Lee (81) in a line of cars waiting for groceries at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center’s Pop-up Pantry. They started coming to San Geronimo by way of the Community Center’s weekly senior lunch held on the same day as the pantry.

“We were friends with someone else who comes here. For weeks she kept saying you’ve got to come to the lunch, it’s great, you’ve got to come. Well finally we came,” explained Phillis. “We had lunch with her, and next door was the food pantry.”

Since coming to the pantry, they no longer need to spend money on groceries – a huge advantage considering almost half their income from Social Security goes to rent. Without it, Lee says, “we could survive.” Phillis pipes in, “but it would be very difficult.”

Despite their financial situation, they both say the real benefit of coming to the pantry has been the community.

“We are just so grateful for the San Geronimo Valley Community Center,” said Phillis. “We’ve met so many wonderful people, you can’t imagine.”

The Neighborhood Pantry: A Community Gathering

Food pantry coordinator greets participant

Before the events of 2020 neighborhood food pantries weren’t just the primary way the Food Bank gets food to those who need it—they were bustling, thriving communities. Regardless of if you were a volunteer or participant or both the pantry was a chance each week to catch up with friends. The farmer’s market-style meant not only that people chose the food they wanted, but that they were encouraged to mingle with their friends and neighbors before and after picking up their food.

“When you start talking to people, they may look old or they may look funny to you, but once you start talking to them, you just can’t imagine how much background there is, and just the lives they’ve led,” said Phillis. “When people say they are retired, you never hear their story.”

Lee agrees, “that’s so true. You think ‘boring’ until you know them.”

Lee and Phillis certainly were not boring, but they did have stories to tell—stories that went far beyond the pantry.

After talking to Phillis and Lee about why and how they started coming to the food pantry they mentioned they’ve only been married for three years. The two finish each other’s sentences constantly and have the banter of an old married couple, so you’d never guess it had only been three years.

Phillis said she was living in a veterans home in Yountville and “I needed a walking partner, and I heard him say he likes to walk.” Before she could say more, he chimed in, “it just grew.”

These are the kinds of stories you hear when you spend time at a pantry. At the Food Bank, our hope is food pantries will continue to foster this sense of community, and the food people receive will help to support the lives they want to lead—because everyone deserves to do more than just survive.

A Holiday Like No Other

November 19, 2020

For many, Thanksgiving is synonymous with three important things: family, gratitude, and food. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is forcing many of us to rethink what those things mean this year.

For one family, the global pandemic is a time to establish new Thanksgiving traditions and cook familiar dishes, even if they can’t gather everyone around the same table.

“I kind of have a large family and my mother – she is 85 now – was the cook,” said Irie, a Food Bank participant. “We would go over to her house for dinner. So that won’t be happening this year.”

Irie lives with his wife in San Francisco’s Bayview District. A few years ago, he and his wife were in a motorcycle accident – she broke her spine. After the accident, neither of them were able to work their construction jobs, so they rely on disability and they are regularly coming to the Pop-up Food Pantry at Cornerstone Church. Since Irie was a little kid, Thanksgiving has always involved turkey and dressing, plenty of cakes and pies, cans of cranberry sauce, and greens. This year is no different. He has a special baster that will inject the marinade right into the turkey he is planning to fry. For dessert, he is making a couple of sour cream pound cakes plus, “my mother and my wife want me to make a German chocolate cake, and I want to make some banana pudding blend.”

It’s an ambitious menu for a small Thanksgiving, but Irie inherited his mom’s love of cooking, and whatever they don’t eat they are planning to share.

Keeping Traditions Going

Last year, with more leftover food at the end of their Thanksgiving dinner than they knew what to do with, Irie and his family said, “Let’s just go and just make a bunch of plates and just take it out to the hungry while the food is still warm.”

They ended up giving away 10 plates of food to unhoused folks in their neighborhood.

“It just felt so good. We thought, ‘let’s try to feed 20 people this year’. So that’s what we’re gonna do,” said Irie. Even though they’ll have fewer family members around the Thanksgiving table this year, “we’re going to cook the food up, make 20 plates, and go feed 20 people.”

One of those plates will go to his mom so he’ll at least be able to see her from a distance. By the sound of it, Irie’s mom and anyone else getting a Thanksgiving meal from him this year are in for a treat.

A Food Bank Thanksgiving

Food and community are at the heart of what we do here at the Food Bank, making this is an extra special time of year for us. Despite family gatherings being scaled back or canceled altogether this year, we are still planning to distribute extra food this month to help our community make Thanksgiving as special as possible.

In fact, we will give away enough food for 1.4 million Thanksgiving meals, up from 880,000 last year. That includes more than 232,000 pounds of chicken and 1 million pounds of produce.

Finding Gratitude in 2020

Even if this will be a holiday like no other, we want to ensure our community can still enjoy a celebratory family meal next week, no matter what form it takes.

“I’m just really thankful to have this Food Bank because I’m sure it helps a lot of people, including me,” said Irie. “At the same time, it helps me to help others, and that’s what I really want.”

Students Volunteer During COVID | Leo’s Story

October 19, 2020

Volunteer after volunteer has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, it took 1,200 volunteers each week to run our operations. Now, with new COVID-19 programming, it takes 2,000. That is an unprecedented number of new volunteers.

One of the volunteers is Leo, who is 11 years old and starting middle school this year. Leo’s mom, Amber, works at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, and at the beginning of the pandemic, he started tagging along with her every week to volunteer at the Center’s Thursday Pop-up Food Pantry.

“I’ve just been coming along because I know that they need volunteers,” he said, adding jokingly: “and because she makes me.”

Leo and his mom have a good laugh over that. But despite any extra encouragement from Amber, Leo always has a good time when he volunteers.

“It’s pretty fun. I mean, it can get kind of exhausting because it’s really hot outside sometimes. But yeah, it’s pretty fun.”

A Strange School Year

For Leo, the Pop-up food pantry is not the only thing new in his life, he is starting middle school this year. And if middle school was not hard enough, he is doing it amid the pandemic.

“I’m excited, but I’m also not excited,” explained Leo. “I wish that I could actually start in the classroom in Middle School, but I’m going to have to be at home.”

Like many of his peers, Leo is navigating remote learning while trying to stay in touch with friends – a challenge many teenagers are currently facing.

At least he is not the only teen who volunteers at the pantry; there are several other students who regularly joined him on Thursdays in the summer. Though they aren’t his school friends, Leo says he likes meeting new people while helping out.

A Family Affair

The Food Bank has always encouraged young volunteers to join us, and we often see families volunteering together to give back while spending time together. This includes families delivering to seniors, families in our warehouses, and families like Leo and his mom, who volunteer at Pop-ups.

For other youths who are up for the hard work, it takes to pack bags and load trunks for several hours, “It helps a lot of people for the food pantry to have extra volunteers,” said Leo. “And even if you don’t like it, you can bring extra food home.”

Church Remains Open as Physical Doors Close

August 27, 2020

While COVID-19 put limits on gatherings and in-person church services, Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview district has found new opportunities for service through its Pop-up Food Pantry during this crisis.

Minister Damonn White at Cornerstone Church Pop-up Food Pantry“Although our church can’t fellowship in person and the doors for the church are closed, we like to say that the church is still open and we’re still doing the work,” explained Minister Damonn White, who spends his Thursdays at the Pop-up Pantry Cornerstone now hosts in partnership with the Food Bank.

The Pop-up at Cornerstone opened in May, making it the second Pop-up Pantry the Food Bank opened in the Bayview District after the Bayview Opera House. Each week it serves bags of fresh produce, protein, and shelf-stable items to 600 households from all over San Francisco.

The pantry may be new, but food has always been part of the ministry at Cornerstone Church. Not only do they feed about 250 families each year through their holiday food baskets, but they are also always prepared “if somebody comes to us hungry,” said Minister White. “We have families sometimes say, ‘I’ve been displaced, we need food to eat.’ We always have some food on hand.”

Challenges of COVID-19

Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church has experienced the grief of this tragedy firsthand. When we spoke with Minister White in July, eight of his parishioners had gotten the virus, and one person had died.

Minister White explained, “the sad part of this is that when transitioning of life happens, that we’re not really able to love on people the way we would like to. But we just have to take the safety precautions, you know. We’re learning on a day to day basis, with gloves, masks, social distancing, and it’s tough. It’s tough.”

Their experience is not unique. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities is particularly evident in Bayview, where 31% of residents identify as Black compared to just 6% of San Francisco’s population overall. As of July, there were 192.91 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents in the neighborhood – the highest infection rate of any San Francisco neighborhood.

Immediate Food Needs

The risk of the virus itself is not the only challenge for the Bayview community. In July, the Human Services Agency (HSA) conducted a survey of low-income San Francisco residents who receive its services. It found that Bayview had one of the highest percentages of people Cornerstone Church Pop-up Food Pantryreporting that they did not have enough food in the last two weeks.

HSA also found that while 34 percent of Black respondents reported food as their most immediate post-shelter in place need, only 26 percent reported visiting a food pantry.

The Food Bank is trying to address this by working with community partners like Cornerstone Baptist Church and the Bayview Opera House to ensure there are food pantries in the neighborhood. But we know simply opening a pantry is not enough. After hearing from local residents that lines were too long, we implemented an improved line management system where individuals registered for timeslots to reduce wait times. And we will continue working with community leaders to improve our outreach to the local community.

In the meantime, Cornerstone is happy to be of service to San Francisco residents far beyond its immediate community. “We want to make sure we meet the masses. We don’t want to be considered a Black church. We’d like to be considered a community church for all.”

And if you visit the pantry Thursdays, you’ll see they’ve achieved this. The Pop-up Pantry at Cornerstone serves a diverse cross-section of people. Thanks to the welcoming environment the Cornerstone community provides, we continue to see strong interest from neighborhood residents in wanting to join.

“For me, this is what it’s really all about. It’s nice to wear a suit and get up and say an elegant speech in front of a room full of people and inspire them to live a greater, a better life,” said Minister White. “But this right here is where the rubber hits the road. For me, I’m a people person. I’m a community person. I like to do whatever I can do to help people. So today and every Thursday, when I’m here, it’s so gratifying, you know, to walk away and know, okay, we actually helped some people today.”

Sandy’s Story | Grocery Delivery Makes the Difference

July 30, 2020

Before the pandemic, Sandy performed as a fiddler at festivals. And before that, as a young woman, she was an activist. She’s a mother and a grandmother with a zest for life.

She also knows what it’s like to experience hunger.

When she was a child living in Northern Ireland, there were times she and her brother would have to split what little food they had.

“I remember a time we split one scrambled egg,” she recalls. “Hunger has always been something. Not ‘I missed lunch,’ but true hunger.”

And now after 48 years in San Francisco, living through so much of this city’s rich and vibrant history, she is experiencing the challenges of living on a fixed income amidst the rising cost of living in the Richmond District.

“I’m living on my savings and I also get retirement. The rent here is $840 a month. I thank God it is only that. And my check is about 800 and…,” she pauses to think. “It’s close, I mean they are right next to each other.”

COVID-19: A Challenge for Seniors

Even before the pandemicone in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were food insecure. For many low-income seniors, the Food Bank was a lifeline, helping ensure they weren’t choosing between affording food and paying rent.

COVID-19 suddenly threw a new impossible choice into the mix: choosing between risking your health to pick up much-needed food or go without it. To guarantee they wouldn’t have to make that choice, we started grocery delivery to 12,000 low-income seniors in our community every week.

To aid in these efforts, the USDA also granted a waiver that allowed Amazon to deliver senior boxes from the Supplemental Food Program (SFP), which provides a monthly box of mostly shelf-stable food to seniors living at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

While we look forward to bringing seniors back to the community centers, churches, and other weekly pantries locations, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases makes it clear: seniors like Sandy are still vulnerable.

Grocery Delivery Makes All the Difference

When Sandy’s husband was still alive, the couple relied on the monthly SFP food boxes. But her health challenges made picking up the SFP box difficult, and after her husband was killed, she stopped coming.

Even after she stopped picking up her SFP box, she kept in touch with Shirley Chen, senior program manager at the Food Bank. And in March, Shirley was able to connect her with our CalFresh team who signed her up for benefits, enroll in our Pantry at Home program, and even help her get her SFP box delivered straight to her door.

Unfortunately, the USDA ended the waiver allowing us to deliver SFP boxes for seniors shelter at home in June, making her Pantry at Home deliveries and CalFresh benefits even more crucial.

Thanks to the Food Bank, and the help of its caring staff members and volunteers, Sandy said she hasn’t been so well fed in a long time. “Do you know how long it has been since I could buy a rolled pork roast? My family came over and shared it with me. It fed 5 of us.”

In a time when we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the generosity of the Food Bank staff and her neighbors who make these deliveries means a lot. “I’m terribly grateful.”