Providing Hope and Joy with Food

December 22, 2021

Soup. Soap. And Salvation. Since 1865, The Salvation Army has taken a holistic approach to serve those with the greatest need in our community. According to Diane Shatto, a Lieutenant and ordained minister at San Rafael’s branch of The Salvation Army, you can’t nourish people’s spirits until you nourish them with food. “That’s why our food pantry and home-delivered groceries are key activities for us.” 

The Salvation Army, the Food Bank’s partner agency, serves about 300 people every week at its San Rafael facility. Most are either families from the neighborhood or seniors from the 55+ apartment complexes nearby. The weekly pantry is centrally located, next to the Canal Area and other food bank partners – Marin Community Clinics and Canal Alliance making it accessible for many in the community. The surrounding area is home to many new immigrants and young families – 22% of the Canal population is under the age of 18. 

“The partnership with the Food Bank is, well, magical,” said David Shatto, who manages the site along with his wife Diane. “The weekly deliveries of fresh food from the Fresh Rescue program, that comes from your warehouse just down the street on Kerner, keep the pantry well-stocked.” The community-centric approach is the key to our partnerships with organizations throughout San Francisco and Marin. Diane added, “we have the physical space, but we didn’t have the material resources to serve the community, but the Food Bank’s weekly deliveries help. It’s one big piece of the puzzle.”  

Carol Gotti has been volunteering with the Salvation Army’s food program for over ten years, and the participants are a lot more to her than names and numbers. “I’ve gotten to know about people’s lives, and you get a feeling about the things that bring people joy,” she said.  

“One of the senior participants I deliver to has a lot of health issues and allergies, and since I have the time, I give her items that she requests like fruits that won’t interact with her medication or upset her stomach. People feel bad to waste, so it makes her happy that someone is looking out for her.” 

When Covid hit and people lost their jobs or hours, many joined Carol as volunteers. “A few are teachers, a few are retirees, and others worked in restaurants,” she said, “It’s important to be doing something so that you feel like you’re thriving, and these volunteers have stayed with us beyond the initial panic of the pandemic.”  

“Our model is servant leadership, and though it’s a good feeling to help people, it’s frustrating we can’t do more,” said Diane. “We wish people didn’t have to get creative about feeding their families. What really gets me are the children who walk around hungry, and no one knows or asks them. I was one of those kids. 

“I was the second youngest of five children with three older brothers who were always more aggressive than me about grabbing the food at dinnertime. I had hunger pains all the time, and other kids at school would make fun of me because I was skinny. It makes you feel inferior, you lose motivation, and you lose hope. And that’s how the cycle of poverty continues.”

“Ending hunger is about more than just giving food, it’s about providing hope. That’s why our volunteers create such strong relationships with the participants. When you give people food, you build trust, and you can help them in deeper ways. Ultimately, it’s about hope, and when you have that, you can improve lives.” 

Carol agreed, “Food is a wonderful way to bring people together, and once you’ve done that, you share life, and you have the sheer joy of being in community with others. For our participants, it’s then an opportunity to pass that on to their families and spread more joy. It’s a perfect 360-degree relationship.” 

A Historic Landmark Helps Nonprofit Group Deliver Groceries for Local Seniors

November 15, 2021

On the corner of Grant Ave and California St and just two blocks away from the famous San Francisco Chinatown’s Dragon Gate, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral is known for being the oldest church in the city, dating back to 1854, having survived the 1906 earthquake. 

Today, along with their ministering services, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral houses Groceries for Seniors, a weekly delivery program (now 20 years strong) staffed with senior volunteers and part-time employees that have fostered a hard-working community while giving back. 

“We’re all one big family,” said Clarissa, one of the volunteers.  

Taking Care of Each Other 

Groceries for Seniors operates out of the church basement where “each week, we create over 1,100 bags that we distribute to low-income seniors throughout the San Francisco area,” said Tim Thompson, who coordinates the deliveries. “We’re delivering about 240 to 250 bags per day.” 

The grocery bags are pre-packed with fresh produce, grains, and protein, which is partially provided in partnership by the Food Bank and supplemented with donations from local grocery retailers. On this Monday, the volunteers were packing the bags with eggs, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, cauliflower, and various fruits. 

“I worked with John Meehan, the founder of the Haight Ashbury Food Program, and Jesuit Brother Jack Graham to launch Groceries for Seniors back in 1998 and have been a board member ever since,” said Chief Programs Officer Sean Brooks, who oversees all the Food Bank’s services. “I am proud of our long and close partnership and the many people who can rely on Groceries for Seniors every week for a delivery of fresh, healthy food.” 

For the volunteers, it’s more than just assembling bags to serve their community. It’s what they enjoy doing, and it shows. 

“Whatever they need, we do our best to help the seniors, which makes me very happy,” said Mimi, another volunteer. 

Food Brings Us Together 

By around 10:30 in the morning, with the back of his van fully loaded, the delivery driver heads out to deliver the grocery bags. On Mondays, they deliver to Mei Lun Yuen, an apartment building in Chinatown that houses mostly low-income seniors and families of Chinese descent. 

Once the driver unloads the bags into the building lobby, one of the property managers of the building uses the intercom and notifies the residents that they can come down to pick up their bags. Before the COVID vaccine was widely distributed some buildings, like Mei Lun Yuen, had to do contactless delivery due to social distancing guidelines. Now the residents are happy to catch up with each other and the volunteers as they grab their bags and the conversation often turns to meals they are looking forward to.

“I’m happy to get the food,” said Liyi, a resident. “I sometimes make noodles, boiled eggs and potatoes—some simple meals I love.” 

Cindy, another resident, enjoys making dishes like spaghetti. “I use spaghetti sauce, onions, and meatballs to make it,” she said. 

Because all the senior residents are retired, they rely on food delivery to supplement their weekly food budget. That is why the Groceries for Seniors program is essential for low-income seniors, and the Food Bank is working with them to ensure that food is distributed on a weekly basis so that residents can make their favorite dishes. 

Volunteering with a Purpose 

Most of the volunteers at the Groceries for Seniors programs are also seniors and retired. They understand how important this program is and have the urge to help their own. This is true for Yip. 

“We’re still able to move around, so I’m here to help out my community,” she said. “I’ll only stop helping if I can’t move anymore.” 

Many of the volunteers only speak Chinese but can still connect with one another through the act of volunteering. 

“It’s important to take care of seniors and families, and we are a family here,” said Yip. 

Home-Delivered Groceries a Lifeline for Former Chef | Dru’s Story

November 15, 2021

Fourteen years ago, Dru Devoe got on his Harley Davidson motorcycle and left his home in Florida with only clothes and whatever he could fit in his saddlebags. He landed in the Bay Area and eventually settled in Marin County.

In Florida, Dru owned a restaurant serving typical American fare. In his early days, he was the chef and wore all the hats. But as the business took off, he hired other people to help him. He always loved food. In Marin, he served food to the unhoused as a volunteer at the Ritter Center, which provides wraparound services, including providing food from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.  Dru worked odd jobs around the county in between his volunteering.

In 2016, tragedy hit when Dru suffered a stroke. He lost his independence, yet getting help was incredibly challenging. “I used to be very social,” he said. “But the changes in my brain from the stroke gave me extreme social anxiety.” 

Dru had savings from the restaurant, but he tore through them during his recovery. Like so many people with large medical bills, he was left virtually penniless. “I had to get on disability,” he said. “But even with that, I could barely pay the rent.” 

One day, a friend introduced Dru to Rebecca. She saw the state of his empty fridge, and she gently asked him if he could go shopping, knowing he was having trouble being around people. Rebecca asked if she could help. As luck would have it, she was a volunteer at a food pantry in Marin that also provided home-delivered groceries, in partnership with the Food Bank. 

Since then, every week Rebecca brings Dru a bag of healthy food which has been a lifesaver to him. “Those were some lean times before the Food Bank,” he said. “I was losing weight and couldn’t afford to go to the market. 

“The food really helps me, and I love all the fruits and vegetables. I change my menu every week, depending on what’s in the bag. My favorites are eggplant for eggplant parmesan or chicken for every kind of recipe: chicken piccata, chicken marsala, or chicken parmesan. Sometimes there’s even fruits and vegetables that I’ve never tried before, so I google them and find new recipes.”  

At 62, with the food he gets from the Food Bank, Dru is doing better. He still has significant health problems, but having dependable food makes him feel healthier and helps him keep more of his independence. He feels incredible gratitude.

“A lot of good food goes to waste in this country, so the people who are giving those donations deserve kudos,” said Dru. “A big thank you goes out to everyone at the Food Bank.”

Raising a Glass to Pandemic Volunteers

October 25, 2021

With the closings and shutdowns starting in the early spring of 2020, everyone’s lives changed, some dramatically. This was especially true for people working in service industries, many of whom found themselves suddenly out of work and isolated at home. For people who like socializing and being with other people, being cooped up at home was especially challenging. 

Vince Toscano is a San Francisco-based Whiskey Guardian at Angel’s Envy so, naturally, he knows a lot of Bay Area bartenders. Even before the start of the pandemic, Vince periodically organized small groups of 5 or 6 bartenders to volunteer on various projects, such as beach cleaning, as a way of socializing and giving back to the community. Once shelter-in-place began, many more of his bartender friends suddenly had time on their hands. 

After talking with a friend who volunteers at the Food Bank on Thanksgiving, Vince put the word out to his bartender friends. Instead of the usual crew of 6 who would sign up for other volunteer gigs, 30 signed up, and they’ve been volunteering at the Food Bank ever since. 

For the last 15 months, Vince and his crew have continued regularly packing food at our warehouses on Pennsylvania and Illinois Streets, as well as distributing groceries at a Pop-Up in the Mission in San Francisco. They’ve enjoyed being together again and doing something meaningful for the community at the same time. 

A Sense of Belonging and a Drive to Help Others

For Vince and his bartenders, volunteering for the Food Bank has helped dispel some myths and misconceptions about San Francisco. “There’s this general belief about San Francisco that it’s all tech and homeless people and there’s really no middle class of any sort. I think what the Food Bank reintroduced me to was that there’s a lot of people that you don’t see.” Vince found himself working side by side with people from all kinds of backgrounds, ordinary people drawn together by a sense of belonging to this community and the desire to help their neighbors in need. 

“It was refreshing to see other people take the time and effort to help someone they didn’t even know.” 

He was impressed that so many came to volunteer even at the height of the pandemic. The Food Bank maintained very strict social distancing safety protocols, and Vince says, “everybody who volunteered knew the risk, but they did it anyway. You know the risk and you know what you’re doing, but at the end of the day people need to eat.” 

For these bartenders, helping at the Food Bank has felt immediate, tangible, and important. “There’s an instant impact. You know that the food we bagged at 10 this morning will be on somebody’s table tonight.” 

What’s Next?

Now that the Bay Area and the country is slowly coming back to normal, these bartenders are back at their jobs, but they plan to keep on volunteering. They’re already confirmed for next week! 

We count on volunteers and organizers like Vince to make a difference by volunteering in our warehouse or in the community. It only takes a few hours of your day to make a big difference. Sign up for your shift today at sfmfoodbank.org/volunteer, and if you aren’t able, please consider making a donation to support our efforts. 

Honor Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month

October 15, 2021

We honor #LatinxHeritageMonth and #HispanicHeritageMonth and celebrate the members of the Latinx and Hispanic community. We have immense gratitude for our partners who work so hard to #endhunger in these communities in SF & Marin every day. Knowing that food insecurity rose to 19% in the U.S. amongst Latinx and Hispanic people last year, according to Feeding America, please consider showing support for our many partners who serve the Latinx and Hispanic community.

Honramos el #MesdeHerenciaLatinx y #MesdeHerenciaHispana y celebramos a los miembros de la comunidad latina y hispana. Tenemos una inmensa gratitud por nuestros socios que trabajan tan duro para acabar con el hambre en estas comunidades en SF y Marin todos los días. Reconociendo que la inseguridad alimentaria aumentó al 19% en los EE. UU. dentro de la comunidad latina /hispana el año pasado según Feeding America, considere mostrar su apoyo a estos socios.

The Breakfast Club: Tommy, William and Clifford

October 12, 2021

On a cold, damp San Francisco morning in late June, Clifford, William and Tommy sat together eating breakfast and sipping coffee in the parking lot of Glide Memorial Church, a long-time Food Bank partner. Their posture landed somewhere between socially distancing and huddling to keep warm and hear each other.  

The foldout table was placed there by Glide’s staff and volunteers in preparation for Glide’s daily free breakfast – a staple for many in San Francisco.  

A couple years ago William, Clifford and Tommy may have gathered for a quick breakfast in Glide’s basement dining hall. But when the pandemic hit, Glide immediately moved its meal program outdoors and started serving seniors and disabled individuals first.  

That’s how these three men met – joining the first group to line up, they found a seat together and quickly formed a sort of pandemic breakfast club.  

For William the mornings are a nice time to enjoy “some coffee, yogurt, pastries or a good boiled egg when they’re cooked right.” The cold, damp San Francisco weather is a little less to his liking. “I’d rather be downstairs in the basement at the dining table. Just to get out of the wind. I have lung problems, so the dampness and coolness set me off real easy.” 

Tommy who has been coming to Glide for 13 years says, “I like it anywhere I can have breakfast, but it’s pretty good inside.” 

Food Is Central  

Food is central to creating community. When we can come together around a shared meal, we build connections, we foster understanding, and we grow together. And this isn’t true just of a family dinner or a special holiday celebration—meal programs like Glide’s are part of the fabric of our community.  

George Gundry, who grew up in the Bay Area and is now Director of Glide’s Free Daily Meal Program put it simply: “I always knew about the meals line, I think everybody does. The meal line is the gateway to Glide.”  

Long before the pandemic the breakfast, lunch and dinner Glide prepared daily for people living in single room occupancies (or SROs) without cooking facilities, staying in shelters, or living on the streets served as a de facto family meal.  

For the breakfast club, the morning breakfast has become a ritual. Each day William, Clifford and Tommy pull up a chair in the parking lot and check in, swap stories and joke with the staff and volunteers.  

On this particular morning, William makes sure his friends are doing alright – Tommy recently got out of the hospital and Clifford has a bit of a cold. But like any good meal the checkups quickly turn to how is the food – William thinks it’s good, Tommy jokingly says, “its edible.” And then it’s on to stories of the old days. Each of these men has spent decades in San Francisco, and in a city where the only constant thing seems to be change and rising prices, they were part of some of its most iconic moments. Huddled over breakfast, William starts talking about his days protesting and Clifford shares stories of working at the shipyard building boats that went to Vietnam. 

Food does more than fill a hungry belly—it is essential to our humanity. A simple meal can nourish our whole being while turning strangers into friends and friends into family.

The Food Bank and Glide Memorial Church: A Partnership of Caring

October 12, 2021

Since its beginning, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has partnered with hundreds of grassroots organizations, from Chinatown to Bayview and San Geronimo Valley to the Marin Canal Area. We pool our expertise and resources to provide dependable food and give people options that make sense for them and their families. 

One of our oldest partnerships is with Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Since the 1960’s, Glide has welcomed and served a diverse community of poor and marginalized people in the Tenderloin. Through the years it has helped thousands of people find support, stability, and new beginnings through a variety of innovative programs. 

The nourishing food provided by the Food Bank each year helps Glide prepare over 2,200 meals daily for people living in SROs without cooking facilities, staying in shelters, or living on the streets.  

Food as a Gateway to New Beginnings

“People come to Glide where they receive breakfast, lunch and dinner, with much of the food coming from the Food Bank,” Glide’s Director of Free Daily Meals, George, tells us. “Food is central to what we do here at Glide, so our partnership with the Food Bank is really at the heart of our work. The meals program is a gateway for folks to access our other services. They come for the meals, and while they’re here they learn about the other services we offer. That way they’re able to get help with other needs like hygiene kits, clothing, help in recovering from domestic violence or addiction, childcare, legal assistance, and health services. For most, it all starts with a healthy meal in our dining rooms.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, Glide made a pivot and moved the meals program outside as it was no longer safe to congregate together in the basement dining rooms. Tables and chairs were set up in the open air in good weather, and tents in bad.  

What began as a necessary and temporary solution turned out to have a positive outcome. In addition to keeping folks as safe as possible, moving the program outside made the atmosphere less cramped, more relaxed and less rushed, with more time for staff to interact with diners. Glide staff hope to apply that lesson as the program moves back inside, and shift operations to street level within the building, with more space and light and air. 

A Healthy Meal and a Bag of Groceries

Another COVID innovation is the Monday Pop-Up pantry on Ellis Street. Every Monday, the Food Bank and Glide work in close collaboration to thoroughly clean Ellis Street and set up a pantry where people can safely come and choose healthy food for themselves and their families. Since many in the neighborhood don’t have cooking facilities, the Food Bank provides foods that require little or no cooking. 

As George says, “Some of our clients come here for breakfast, but then stay for the pantry. So they leave with a full breakfast and a nice bag of groceries.” 

The symbiotic partnership between the Food Bank and Glide is emblematic of the kind of equitable, accessible, community-driven services we know work best in San Francisco and Marin. “So many in the community take advantage of both the meals and the groceries. The product varies so there’s always something new and people love that. There’s so much need. We’re always asking for something and the Food Bank is always stepping up. So, thank you.” 

A Neighborhood Pantry Finds Its New Rhythm

August 19, 2021

Behind the masks on everyone’s face, you can tell it’s all smiles as a couple of dozen people make their way up the stairs at Covenant Presbyterian Church and onto the dance floor. After a year and a half practicing either in a parking lot, where the pavement makes it hard to dance, or on Zoom, where it is hard to follow the instructor, they are ready to tear up the dance floor of this unassuming church.

“It’s about fellowship for the Church,” said the class instructor, Darlene Masamori (everyone calls her Dar) as her students warm up by dancing in perfect synchrony.

The class has been going on for years and usually draws a consistent group of 25 to 40 people – both parishioners and other community members – every Saturday. But it isn’t just about coming together to break a sweat and have fun. “Every dollar goes back to the food pantry,” explained Dar referring to the food pantry Covenant Presbyterian has been running downstairs for the past 15 years.

People Shouldn’t be Struggling

Covenant Presbyterian sits at the corner of 14th Avenue and Taraval Street and is deeply embedded in San Francisco’s Sunset District.

“We decided to do a food pantry because the food bank asked for a pantry in this area,” shared pantry coordinator Dave Lew, reflecting on when the pantry first opened 15 years ago. “We started very small and we learned on the job.”

It shows. Even after just three weeks since the Church reopened its pantry due to a lack of space to safely operate during COVID-19, the pantry is a well-oiled machine. Participants – who come from all over the neighborhood, not just the pews of this church – only wait a few minutes before entering the pantry, receiving a bag of groceries and heading out. While the pantry is still pre-bagging groceries, knowing people may not want everything in their bag, they set up a swap table outside, for participants to leave behind items they may not want for others who can use them.

“This is all about feeding the community and helping people who are hungry and shouldn’t be struggling just because it’s expensive to live in the city,” shared Harvey Louie, another pantry coordinator.

A Gradual Reopening

By 10:15 – just as dancers are making their way upstairs – volunteers are downstairs cleaning up the food pantry. Week three after a more than year-long hiatus everyone is excited to be back.

“We have a good time doing this and miss each other. So, we were excited,” said Dave. But right now, “we have to keep the number of volunteers down because we don’t have that many recipients.”

The rhythm of life shifted significantly during the time of COVID. While the volunteers (and dancers) have come back to Covenant Presbyterian in full force, many former participants have since found other avenues to get food, like Home Delivered Groceries or other pantries. With just 30 of the 100 people they served a year ago, reopening has been slow.

But pantry coordinators aren’t discouraged. They are working with the Food Bank to determine who is receiving delivery, who is going to other pantries, and how they can conduct outreach to others in the community who may need support. Each week they see a few more people.

A Good Retirement Gig

Just like the dance class, the pantry draws a loyal following of volunteers. Ranging in age from teenagers to over 90-year-olds, many have been coming since the pantry first opened its doors 15 years ago.

One such volunteer, Warren Lew, started while working at a local grocery store. At that time, he’d drop off donated or extra food from the store during his lunch hour. When he retired, he started volunteering weekly. He has since become a one-man welcome crew, standing outside in the thick fog to greet participants as they enter.

While he’s glad to be back, he misses the old participants. “It was a very wonderful group of people, the clients before, we had a little chitchat with them.”

For Warren, who is not a member of the church, this has also been a great way to give back to the community. “I grew up in Chinatown, but we moved out here a few years back,” shared Warren. “I’m giving back to the neighbors in San Francisco.”

With that, it’s time for dance class and Warren has no intention of missing it. Just like he recruited his friends to volunteer, he tries to rope in anyone who will listen to come upstairs and join in the fun.

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Support Covenant Presbyterian Church’s food pantry by signing up for line dancing: http://www.covenantpcsf.org/Ministries/linedancing.php.

Back At the Office? Come Volunteer

July 20, 2021

Recently the staff at KRON4 came out to take over the volunteer shift at our warehouse. Anchor Darya Folsom shares why this was the perfect way for their team to reconnect after a year of working remotely and learn how your office can sign up for a team building volunteer shift. 

Join Us to Break Bread and Share a Meal

June 21, 2021

For centuries, bread has been the fabled metaphor for sustenance, nourishment, and life. No matter what your background is, when we come together to break bread and share a meal, there’s a feeling of goodwill and friendship. At the Food Bank, we invite you to symbolically break bread and be a permanent fixture in our community by donating to our “bread wall.”

As you may know, the Food Bank has broken ground on a major $40 million expansion to better serve our neighbors in need. For every donor who gives between $2,500 and $25,000 toward this project, a bread tag with your name will be placed on a giant wall in our new lobby.

A bread “tag” is one of those pieces of plastic to tie a bread bag closed and keep it fresh. This is our twist, and each tag will have your name on it. But unlike actual bread tags that have an expiration date printed on them, your gift will never expire. It is a legacy of your generosity to help provide ongoing sustenance to thousands of hungry neighbors in need of food.

The Food Bank’s expansion is long overdue to serve the growing need in our community as income inequality grows and rents skyrocket. Before the pandemic hit, we were bursting at the seams in our current facility and distributing 48 million pounds of food in a warehouse designed for only 30 million.

COVID-19 put a magnifying glass on hunger, with so many people turning to the Food Bank with job loss and reduced hours. In the crisis, the Food Bank has made do with makeshift tents and numerous rented warehouse spaces around town. It’s been costly and inefficient.

With our $40 million expansion, we’ll have the space to house all of our San Francisco operations under one roof, distribute 75 million pounds of food annually, and expand the number of people we serve from 140,000 to 200,000 weekly.

Construction is underway! We’ve closed the parking lot, started excavating the hill in the back, and have moved our entrance lobby to the other side of the building. With your financial support, we can make our goal of a grand opening in the spring of 2022.

We invite you to symbolically break bread with our larger Food Bank community and ensure that our neighbors always have something to eat.