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.”

Partner Spotlight: Q&A With The Richmond Neighborhood Center

June 18, 2020

With three neighborhood food pantries serving more than 800 Richmond District residents each week, a home delivered grocery program that reaches 150 seniors, and a CalFresh application assistance program, The Richmond Neighborhood Center is one of our largest Community Partners.

Before COVID-19, The Richmond Neighborhood Center created a thriving community around its food programs. Pantry volunteer shifts created an atmosphere similar to a family gathering. Even among the participants, weekly pantries were a place to gather and catch up with one another. And with Home Delivered Groceries, the volunteers and seniors were paired individually to have a chance to get to know each other and build a long-term relationship.

COVID-19 changed all of that. While The Richmond Neighborhood Center remained open and continues to serve their community, they had to shift the way they operate. We caught up with Program Manager Yves Xavier, to hear more about how things are going now.

(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)

Food Bank: How have the last few months been for The Richmond Neighborhood Center?

Yves Xavier: They’ve been going well. The first three weeks of the shelter in place ordinance were pretty zany for lots of reasons. I think we were all a little nervous for our own health. We had to quickly redesign our programs to meet these constantly changing guidelines. Every day it seemed like there was either a new guideline or fear of what this pandemic could bring. So, those first three weeks were tough, but we adjusted and reshaped all our programs.

Specifically, for the pantry, we made quick changes that we wish we didn’t have to make but certainly were better for health. For example, one of the coolest pantry experiences, or at least what we really love about our pantry, is that people from the neighborhood gather together. You make friends or you come over with your friends to sit and talk and wait for your group to line up. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we had to get rid of all of that.

FB: How is volunteer recruitment?

YX: It was a really cool, unexpected shift – for both home delivered groceries and the pantry, we lost probably half of our regular volunteers. But within a day or two, we had a huge influx of new people from the neighborhood. So, our volunteer corps has been strong since the pandemic began. There just seems to be an outpouring of people who want to help, even though there was a large loss at the same time.

FB: One of your pantries was at George Peabody Elementary. Do you still have access to the school?

YX: Unfortunately, no. We don’t have access to the school, so we moved our pantry operations to The Neighborhood Center. We still run three pantries, but we saw a decrease in participation from participants who lived in the Inner Richmond for lots of reasons – including the fear of getting on a bus, buses not running etc. – who couldn’t make it out to our 30th Avenue Outer Richmond headquarters to get their food. But the Food Bank has helped us deliver to many of them through Pantry at Home.

We’ve also been slowly recruiting volunteers to take over those deliveries. We’re up to making 105 deliveries on our own and we’re hoping to take over all the deliveries to free your staff up to serve more people in the city who need it.

FB: Are you serving more people now?  

YX: We’ve definitely seen an increase in participants, but it was similar to the way that the volunteer corps worked. There were some folks in our pantries who stopped attending. And then we also saw an influx of new people. We didn’t talk to everyone about the reasons for coming, but we took a general poll of those in line and heard from many new people who lost jobs their recently.

FB: Aside from the pantries, how has the rest of your programming been going?

YX: Our grocery delivery programs that we do in partnership with the Food Bank and the Richmond Senior Center have carried on. We took about 25 people off our waitlist and served them. It stretches us a bit thin, but it is doable. So that program hasn’t been impacted in a negative way.

But changes had to be made. One of the things that made our home delivery so unique is we did a one to one volunteer match – one volunteer goes to one senior and it’s the same senior and the same volunteer each week. We have seen really cool relationships grow out of that where people get connected and just go over for other things like helping their senior change light bulbs, shop for them, or take them to a doctor’s appointment. There are endless stories like that. But COVID-19 has made people get creative in the way they connect. We stopped asking volunteers to connect in person. Instead, we’re asking people leave bags in front of doors, ring the doorbell, stand six feet away, and wave.

That hasn’t felt great because that social connection is such an important piece of the program. But the bottom line is people are continuing to get their groceries every week. And that’s what we really wanted to make sure is continuing to happen. We’ve encouraged our volunteers to make calls to their seniors, or teach them how to use Zoom, or write emails and pen pal letters. So, folks have been creative, but it’s definitely been a change.

We also saw a huge increase in CalFresh application assistance – more than any other time in my five years working with the food programs at The Neighborhood Center. Now we are taking as many as six appointments a day, which is pretty significant.

FB: How are you planning to adapt programming as the city reopens? Do you anticipate new challenges?

YX: It’s a really good question. I can’t say we’ve thought about it as much as would probably be helpful, but that’s partly because we’re pretty much set on keeping things the way they are for the foreseeable future. Even as things start to reopen throughout the city, we’re not expecting to change much. We’re going to keep people lining up, disallowing congregating, ensuring that everyone is wearing masks, pre-packing bags for participants, etc., until phase four, when mass gatherings are allowed again by the city.

FB: That makes a lot of sense. Was there anything else that you wanted to share about how you’ve adapted to COVID-19?

YX: I’m just really impressed by everybody who helps make these partnerships happen. Our staff and volunteers have been incredible with all their flexibility and dedication. Same goes for the Food Bank staff. Gary, our point person for the pantry, is always professional and friendly. During a difficult time, he was great – always keeping us up to date, helping make sure that we had what we needed, and just overall supportive; as was Jillian who supported us with Home Delivered Groceries.

I’m also impressed with how everything shifted for everyone across the city who does these programs and how people can keep a positive attitude, keep the collaboration going, and work really hard to serve more people and get creative. It’s been really cool to see all that happen.

Partner Spotlight: Visitacion Valley Strong Families

June 12, 2020

Expanding in the Face of COVID-19

Day in and day out – rain or shine – the Food Bank’s network of neighborhood food pantries helps us provide food to the community. They are the cornerstone of our outreach. While nearly a third of our pantries had to close due to a variety of COVID-19 related challenges, many remain open and are also serving more people than ever before.

One of them is the pantry at Sunnydale Housing. Here, a committed group of long-time volunteers made extended service to their community possible. The pantry is run by Visitacion Valley Strong Families (VVSF), a collaborative lead by APA Family Support Services with three other community-based organizations: Edgewood Center for Children and Family, Samoan Community Development Center (SCDC), and the Asian Pacific American Community Center (APACC).

COVID-19 Brings Added Challenges

Before COVID-19, the pantry served approximately 200 households, mostly locals from the neighborhood. Now, according to Program Director Jack Siu they are serving more than 300 people from all over San Francisco. They work hard to ensure no one gets turned away.

“We always try to have extra bags if people come late, or if they didn’t know about the pantry,” said Mary Ann Pikes, who is one of the volunteer leaders who has come since 2012. “It’s amazing how many people who live here never knew about the pantry. But I can understand, it’s because they were working every day.”

As she points down the street to show where the line used to end compared to where it ends now, she predicts that they will soon need to start ordering more food to meet the growing need.

Sunnydale is a historically neglected public housing area with a particularly high rate of poverty – the average annual household income is only $13,487. Prior to COVID-19, VVSF was running several programs for families in the neighborhood. But now those can’t operate. “Right now, we are focused on basic needs: food, diapers, and clothing,” said Jack.

For local residents who were already struggling, COVID-19 is making things that much harder. Mindy, who has come to this pantry since 2014, explained that with a husband and two teenage sons at home, she goes through food quickly. “They eat a lot as they are getting older.” The pantry always helped her save money and made sure the family got enough to eat.

Now, with the virus, members of Mindy’s family are unemployed, so the fact that her neighborhood pantry could remain open is a huge help. “Beyond just the unemployment, we don’t want to go out to expose ourselves, so coming here is close and easy.” Only half-joking she adds, “but if we could do it twice a week that would be the best.”

Meeting People Where They Are

Long before COVID-19 brought the vulnerability of seniors into our collective consciousness, this pantry started a grassroots effort to deliver food to disabled seniors in their neighborhood.

“About seven or eight years ago, I said ‘if we are going to do this food pantry, let’s get food to the people who need it most,’” said Tim Gras, who works for Edgewood Center and spearheaded the delivery project. He explains, “there was a need and we had a vehicle.”

They now deliver to about 70 people a week and have a long waiting list. “It’s a challenge in this neighborhood because many people qualify for disability and we can’t take this to the hundreds and hundreds of people who we’d like to,” said Tim. “You’ll see at the end of the day our truck will be teetering.”

While the team does have concerns about their health and safety, they are committed to serving their community despite the pandemic. Reflecting,

Tim acknowledges, “in these neighborhoods, just day to day living can be really challenging. Folks are trying to follow guidelines, but it is kind of a different reality in a lot of these public housing neighborhoods.”

For him, if there is an opportunity to help, he is ready to do it. “We are going to keep trying. It is a really critical and necessary service, so we keep trying”

Helping Neighbors

Prior to the pandemic, the pantry was a chance to socialize and catch up with neighbors. Local organizations used to bring coffee and do small cooking demos for volunteers and participants.  Now, it’s a different story. While everyone misses that, it isn’t going to keep them home.

Jack sees this commitment with all the volunteers. “They are more motivated than ever. They are still here, and they come so early. They want to help others,” said Jack.

Pop-up Pantry Co-Leads Find Community

May 28, 2020

On a warm, borderline hot, Wednesday morning, Sara Cruz stands on the blacktop of Rosa Parks Elementary School directing volunteers. Everyone is hard at work. It’s nearly 9 a.m., and it’s almost time for the Pop-up Food Pantry to open.

However, Sara wants to check in on the line before the Pop-up Pantry opens. While the school is tucked away in a shady enclave, it sits at the nexus of Western Addition, the Filmore District and

Japantown – meaning even with shelter-in-place traffic levels, the majority of the line snakes along some busy streets.

As she moves at a fast clip, she reminds participants to maintain a six-foot distance from one another and to keep the sidewalk clear for passersby. Sara is also using this opportunity to touch base with volunteers and disaster service workers stationed to manage the line. She makes sure they have enough water and an understanding of their role for the day.

Sara and her husband Edison are co-leads of the Pop-up Pantry at Rose Parks Elementary School. Every Wednesday, they welcome the Food Bank delivery truck, instruct the volunteers, pack food bags, greet participants, and hand out food. Sara is part of the Food Bank’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), where she first heard about the opportunity to co-lead a pantry. Since Rosa Parks is walking distance from Sara and Edison’s apartment, it was a convenient way to engage with their community during this time.

10 Weeks in and the Growing Need

Rosa Parks was one of the first emergency Pop-up Pantries the Food Bank opened after shelter-in-place went into effect. With the help of countless community volunteers, it now serves around 1,200 households every week.

At the end of what turned out to be a half-mile long line, Sara told one patient participant who lined up early, “we start around nine, things will start moving soon.”

Rosa Parks is just one of 25 pop-ups and 217 neighborhood pantries that remained open after shelter-in-place. Overall, the Food Bank is serving nearly twice as many households as it was before the pandemic.

Stepping Up with Their Community

This is only possible because community members like Sara and Edison saw a need and stepped in. “I am so surprised by how proactive and supportive the community has been,” said Sara. “The volunteers we’ve seen on-site are extremely willing and able; they just want to help out and support as best as they can.”

For the couple, doing this work feels personal – both Sara and Edison were laid off at the end of last year. “Neither of us is working right now, so we understand that the pandemic is affecting a lot of people in adverse ways,” explained Edison. “This was an easy opportunity to give back to the community.”

Sara echoed that sentiment. “When we look back and ask ourselves: ‘What was I doing to help during this time?’ I can say we were doing this,” she said. “We’ve met some really interesting people through this experience – many of them have become our friends.”

Delivering Food to Seniors: Q&A with Esther Honda

May 21, 2020

Food insecurity hits seniors particularly hard, especially when they are trying to balance a fixed income with the rising cost of living. Even before the pandemic, one in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were already food insecure. Those who had recently experienced food insecurity were twice as likely to say their diet was fair or poor.

For many low-income seniors, COVID-19 only exacerbates these challenges by layering on the health risks now associated with meeting their basic needs like going out to get food.

Our temporary Pantry at Home program supports the health of seniors by ensuring they are getting a bag of fresh groceries – including fruit, vegetables, grains, and high-quality protein – delivered to them every week. Because of the generous support of our volunteers and partners, close to 12,000 seniors do not need to risk their health to pick up groceries each week.

We spoke with volunteer Esther Honda about her family’s experience delivering groceries to some of our community’s most vulnerable.

Food Bank: When did you start volunteering with us and why?

Esther Honda: We started volunteering once shelter-in-place started. I knew I wanted our family to volunteer at the Food Bank, and it just worked out well for us to deliver groceries. I have to confess that it seemed like a good excuse to get out of the house but also felt really necessary to help others who could not safely leave home.

FB: Can you describe the experience?

EH: We drive over to the Food Bank warehouse on Pennsylvania Street, back in, and are greeted by friendly volunteers who check us in and offer to help us load up our bags of groceries. There are 3 of us in the family so we manage fine, though. Then we turn on the delivery app and head out to a well-organized list of clients.

FB: You are volunteering with your family?

EH: We volunteer as a family, and we all agree that it’s a great thing to do together! As soon as I signed us up, the family was totally on board.

FB: Are you at all concerned about your health and safety while volunteering?

EH: We wear gloves that the Food Bank hands out, plus our own masks, and we try our best to make as little physical contact as we can.

There has not been one time when we felt unsafe, though, in any neighborhood. I will say that people in all the neighborhoods we have delivered to have been really kind and helpful. It seems like folks can tell you are out there to help others and often offer to hold a door open for you, show you where an elevator or particular house or apartment number is, and to help you get food to the recipients.

FB: Have you learned anything new or surprising during your volunteer experience?

EH: My husband and I have lived in San Francisco for over 30 years, and until we started delivering, there were some neighborhoods in our city we had never been to. It’s expanded our own sense of our city.

FB: How has the volunteer experience impacted you?

EH: Volunteering has made us feel more useful and less like we’re spinning our wheels during this time. We feel like we’re doing something positive and worthwhile. We’ve done lots of things as a family that were community-oriented, but usually, these things have been about the public schools our kids have gone to. This is the first time we’ve gone out to volunteer our support to others as a family. Our teenage daughter has done this on her own, though, so this is actually a bigger step for us, the parents.

FB: What would you say to other people who may be considering volunteering but are on the fence?

EH: Do it! Especially if you are bilingual or have even a tiny bit of language ability in Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, or Mandarin! You are needed, and you will feel appreciated. I have personally been so grateful for the opportunity to get out and volunteer, and the Food Bank makes it easy to sign up for shifts that fit our schedules.

We strongly recommend volunteering with a family member or roommate. It makes dropping off easier and more fun.

FB: What is your favorite part of volunteering?

volunteers in masks

EH: Our daughter says her favorite part is the cute old people and how appreciative they are when we drop off. They smile and often thank you repeatedly, even when they speak little or no English. It’s very rewarding.

FB: Is there anything else you want to share about your experience?

EH: Some people might feel hesitant driving and dropping off in neighborhoods they are not familiar with or in housing projects that they might have thought to avoid for safety reasons in the past. I have had to confront my own privilege and biases while delivering somewhere unfamiliar for me and have learned the simple truth that it’s ok… These are people, just living their lives! And they’re very appreciative. If nothing else, I hope that the public health reality has shown that we are all, as San Franciscans and as humans, facing this challenge together. We need to support one another, and food is a very basic need that brings joy and togetherness, even when we have to be apart.

Doaldo’s Story | Living in Very Hard Days

May 19, 2020

With two young sons to support, the pandemic has created a lot of stress for Doaldo. On top of navigating remote learning with one son and wondering if his other son – four-years-old – will be able to start school this fall; he worries about how he will continue to put food on the table.

“I haven’t worked in a month,” said Doaldo, who worked in restaurants before the pandemic. “We don’t have money for food or anything.”

Like thousands of service industry workers, Doaldo is struggling with the impact of regional shelter-in-place orders that have brought a once-thriving industry to a screeching halt in an effort to protect public health.

According to a survey by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, 80 percent of local restaurant owners report laying off more than half their employees. Nationwide, restaurant and bar employees made up 60 percent of jobs lost in March.

Discovering a Helping Hand

For Doaldo, who learned about the Bayview Opera House Pop-up Pantry from a friend, relying on the Food Bank is new. But with little time for their family to prepare for the sudden job loss, and no other help, it has been a big relief.

“I got potatoes, eggs, and cabbage,” said Doaldo. “Those are the most important things we use to cook, and the kids love the bananas and other fruit.”

Nodding to his four-year-old son, who held his dad’s hand through the whole line, Doaldo smiles and adds, “last time they had juice and he liked that.”

Weathering the Challenge

A family with two full-time minimum wage jobs earns $58,240 a year – in notoriously expensive San Francisco, it takes $110,984 (according to the California Budget & Policy Center) to cover their basic needs. A sudden job loss can be catastrophic for a family already struggling to get by.

The Food Bank is a stop-gap to ensure parents like Doaldo, who are unexpectedly facing hard times, can continue putting food on the table for their children.

“We are living in very hard days; we’ve haven’t worked in a very long time,” explained Doaldo. “We don’t have any money and we have to pay for everything – bills, rent, food – it’s very difficult.”

Pop-up Pantries: a Lifeline to Those Newly Out of Work

May 6, 2020

To meet the exploding need for food during the pandemic, the Food Bank opened 20 Pop-up pantries across San Francisco and Marin, each serving roughly ten times more people each week than our regular pantries. In the south-east corner of San Francisco, the Bayview Opera House was one of the first Pop-ups we opened after shelter in place went into effect.  

Set up in the parking lot between the Opera House and Joseph Lee Recreation Center, the pantry is staffed by volunteers outfitted with masks and gloves always maintaining a safe distance. They say there are many “this is why we are out here” moments – whether it’s participants’ relief that they’ll be able to put food on the table for the week or folks new to the Food Bank who are surprised to open their bag and find that about 70% of what the volunteers bagged for them is fresh produce. 

Finding A Way During the Shutdown  

The Bayview Opera House is now serving more than 1,000 households every Monday. The line often stretches down Newcomb Ave, around on 3rd Street, and back up the hill on Oakdale, but it moves quickly – social distancing can be deceiving.  

Once at the front of the line, participants are greeted by a friendly volunteer with a clipboard who asks them how many people are in their household, before they are handed a bag of groceries.  

For Maria, who lost her job in the crisis as a childcare worker, standing in line is worth it, “I know there are a lot of families who are thinking: rent or food?” She has been trying to figure out what to cut from her budget so she can support her family as the shelter in place continues. “This really helps because I have two teenagers at home who eat a lot. Before I was spending $150 per week for just one meal a day. Now, they are eating three meals.” 

James, a tour bus driver, said: “I came to work, and it was just shut down.” Without the tours he has had trouble making money, “my savings are gone so the Food Bank helps.” He loves that he can still get a variety of proteins. “Last week I got eggs. I killed those eggs! Once, there was pork loin. I killed that too!”

For Jasmine’s familythe pop-up pantry is a lifeline. Jasmine lost her hotel job and lives with her mom, who has a health condition that makes her vulnerable to COVID-19, and with her brother, whose hours were cut as his airline job. “Honestly, I don’t even know how we are getting by. By the grace of God, we are living day by day,” she said. “It’s a little stressful figuring out the craziness of how you are going to pay rent and buy food.” But the pop-up pantry helps, “because two out of three of us are not working, it helps 

us save money and not waste the last of our savings.”  

The Pop-ups are a welcome sight, with passing cars often giving us a friendly honk. The Food Bank and our volunteers make sure the community knows we’re here for them in this crisis, and we are all in this together. 

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Partner Spotlight: Q&A with United Playaz

April 21, 2020

In the weeks since we first learned of the region-wide shelter in place order, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has rapidly adjusted the way we operate to meet the ever-increasing need in our community. Last week, we served 18K more households than we did four weeks ago, and this number is only growing. 

None of this would be possible without the support of countless Food Bank partners, donors, and community volunteers. 

We recently had the opportunity to see one of these dedicated partners, United Playaz, in action. Every week, United Playaz, a youth-led violence prevention organization, helps staff the pop-up food pantry at Bessie Carmichael Elementary school. Members of the group not only help pack up and distribute food at the pantry, but they proactively stepped up to deliver groceries to 100+ seniors in their community. These are all seniors 65 and over who used to pick up groceries at our weekly pantries. 

We spoke with United Playaz Executive Director, Rudy Corpuz Jr about the group’s support of the Food Bank. 

Food Bank: What is your role at this food pantry?  

Rudy Corpuz Jr.: We are here because this is our community, we were doing this before the crisis started. We want to make sure we play our part and help out in the community for the most vulnerable population and just provide some support and help to make sure everybody is eating. 

FB: Has it been hard to recruit your members during these times?  

RC: Absolutely not. You know we want to give back. Our motto is: It takes the hood to save the hood. It’s our way of giving back. We’ve got different community-based organizations that have come together in solidarity under one umbrella, with no pride, no ego, just to make sure we take care of the community and the people. 

And all walks of life, you know what I mean. We’ve got ex-convicts, we’ve got college students, we’ve got developers, we’ve got tech people, people who went to school, who didn’t go to school – everybody who wants to help out and put their life on the line for others. 

FB: Are you concerned about your health being out here during COVID-19?  

RC: Absolutely, of course, I am. I have kids. I want to make sure I’m safe, and my kids are safe, and my community is safe. But I know there is a bigger need. Somebody’s got to do it. And so, what better way…I don’t want to die, or even get sick…but what better way to put your life on the line for others in this way. 

FB; Can you tell me a little about how you’ve been helping get food delivered to those who can’t come to the pantry?  

RC: During this crisis, everybody knows that the most vulnerable population is the senior citizens. You have a lot of seniors in this neighborhood – South of Market District 6 – who live in their apartments and live in the hotels, the SROs, and they are scared to come out. So, what we do as service providers for the community is to find out what their need is and what they want. We go out there and ask them if they need groceries, which they do, and boom, we deliver it to them. 

FB: How are you in touch with these individuals?  

RC: In our community, there are already organizations that are working with seniors. We are youth-led and there are senior groups. So what I did, I brought us all together and said, “hey look here, we’re in this crisis together. You know, service providers that serve seniors, we serve kids, some people serve reentries, the Food Bank gives food, let’s all work together in solidarity to make sure we are hitting the most vulnerable population.” 

So, the senior organizations will tell us who needs what. We provide the muscle and the leg power and energy, and we go out and do it. 

It’s like a basketball team, everybody has to play their part on the basketball court. You have the center who is in the middle and gets the rebounds, you have the guards who bring the basketball up. And so, if everybody plays their part, we’re successful, we win. 

During this crisis, these are the times that you have to stand for something that is greater than you. What a greater way to work with the food bank who provides those services. We don’t do it, they do it. 

FB: But you are out here making it possible – being the arms and the legs.  

RC: But I think that’s what I’m saying. You guys are like bringing up the ball. We get the ball, we put it in the hoop. 

Food Bank partners and volunteers like United Playaz are making it possible for us to continue our mission. Sign up to volunteer here.  

Pop-Up Food Pantries Keep Food Flowing

March 25, 2020

On a chilly Thursday morning, a San Francisco-Marin Food Bank truck pulled off the unusually quiet Dolores Street into the parking lot at Mission High School. Sergio Salguera, Sr. Lead Driver at the Food Bank parked and started to unload pallets of fresh produce, rice, milk and eggs 

Salguera, who has delivered to several popupssaid this delivery gives him a whole new appreciation of our mission, “I experienced a newfound strength to be able to set-up and deliver to face the crisis and help our community.”  

Soon after he arrived, volunteers trickled in with coffee in hand and ready to hear their marching orders.  

Tina Gonzales, director of community partnerships at the Food Bank called everyone’s attention and gave a firm reminder of social distancing. Then she asked line managers to greet participants, and volunteers to pack grocery bags with specific amounts of each item – six carrots, four potatoes, three apples, one bunch of celery, etc. Anyone without a task was to make sure boxes of food were open and accessible.  

Food is Essential 

COVID-19 precautions have caused around 100 food pantries in San Francisco and Marin to close. To fill the gap and ensure our neighbors can still have access to healthy food, the Food Bank team is working around the clock to open interim pop-up pantries.  

“We had a lot of pantries close in the community and a lot of people in need of food without accessSo, we decided that we needed to reach out to community partners and set up pop-up pantries with the help of volunteers,” said Gonzales.  

The pop-up pantries have been a huge success. The pantry at Mission High School was just one of six pop-up food pantries the Food Bank set up that served over 1,800 people last week. And we will continue to bring more online to serve different neighborhoods.  

These pantries are here to serve anyone whose regular pantry has closed or who is struggling to afford food because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Practicing Social Distancing 

The Food Bank is an essential service, and still allowed to operate, but we are adapting to new realities. “We are trying to do the best we can,” said Gonzales. “We are finding new ways to spread out but still get the work done.” 

Instead of having participants walk through the pantry in the typical “farmer’s market style, they were handed a bag of pre-packed groceries to minimize waiting in line and food handlingLine managers reminded participants to keep six feet between one another, and staff reminded volunteers that spacing out was more important than efficiency 

Volunteers and participants alike understood the need for these new measures 

Neighbors Helping Neighbors 

“It warms my heart being able to hear how much the community appreciates our mission and the sense of relief they receive from us,” said Salguera. 

The outpouring of support and eagerness to volunteer has come from everywhere in the community – participants, local churches, staff, and individuals. It has deeply inspired both Salguera and Gonzales.  

“One of the greatest things is our website is blowing up with volunteers. We have seen a lot of people who want to come help” said Gonzales 

And it’s not just volunteers who are pitching in. Friends, family, and neighbors are pitching in to pick up free groceries for vulnerable family and neighbors who could not leave their homes.  

People see it and tell us they have a neighbor, or they are taking care of their mom and need to take another bag. So not only are we helping the people in line,” said Gonzales. We are helping people who should not come out and cannot come out, so it’s been really great to be able to do that.” 

Each pop-up pantry is led by a Food Bank staffer or volunteer, and we currently recruiting more volunteers to help us expand. Sign up to learn about opportunities as the arise here