Irene’s Story | We’re All In This Together

August 4, 2020

Growing up in San Francisco, my grandmother was everything to me. She had migrated from Nicaragua, re-married into a food family, and helped run a restaurant. So, she knew how to cook, and prepared meals for us regularly. Her kitchen was the epicenter of our family.

Today, I work at the Food Bank, supporting many of our Marin pantries. I see the space we created with our partners, and just like my grandmother’s kitchen, it’s at the center of our community, with food hitting the bullseye.

Pre-pandemic, it was a real family atmosphere—with music, food samples, and information about services. The pantry coordinator and volunteers knew every participant by name and often gave hugs. You’d hear them ask, “How are you feeling?” “How’s your daughter?” or “Are you coming to the event tonight?”

You’d feel the warmth and see that participants were comfortable with not only getting help but helping each other.

Since COVID-19 struck, the music and hugs have taken a pause, but the welcoming atmosphere has not. In Marin, we’ve changed many of our operations to drive-thru pantries. Folks drive up, open up their trunks, and a volunteer puts their groceries in. It’s a “no-touch” experience, but you can still see everyone smiling beneath their masks.

At a San Rafael drive-thru pantry, a woman got out of the car to open the trunk, and you could just see the appreciation in her eyes. She said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.” A group of us standing there all gave her an “air hug” from six feet away.

In Marin, there’s more space to have a line of cars, but it requires a lot more coordination. Our partner organizations, volunteers, and county worker support has turned everything upside down to make the food distribution work. For some pantries, we need anywhere from 30-50 volunteers. Folks get there early and set up assembly lines to prepare up to 600 bags of food.

Working six feet apart but alongside each other, we all feel a sense of unity: unity with volunteers and participants. We’re all in this together. When all is said and done, the new normal can be distressing. But I’m certain between the Food Bank, our partners, volunteers, and community supporters, we will get through this together.

CalFresh Responds to Unprecedented Need

April 8, 2020

Nutrition Program Reduces Barriers to Access 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as CalFresh here in California, helps people get the food they need to weather economically challenging times. With unemployment reaching staggering new heights, more people are turning to CalFresh than ever before.  

The Food Bank is deeply invested in helping eligible people access this program. Our CalFresh Outreach team provides application assistance year-round, walking first-time applicants through what can be a confusing and frustrating process. Our Policy & Advocacy team regularly works with lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the administration of the program.  

During this pandemic, Congress has included investments in this program in all three COVID-19 economic stimulus bills. Additionally, both the State of California and the Federal government have heeded the demands of advocates to increase flexibility in the CalFresh program to help people more easily access and maintain the benefits they need to survive this crisis. 

Federal Changes – Learn more from the USDA 

  • Pandemic EBT – families with children who receive free or reduced-price lunch whose schools are closed due to the pandemic will receive a pre-loaded EBT (credit-like) card in the mail to spend on food. No application is necessary. 
  • Emergency SNAP – states are able to provide a “boost” for all CalFresh recipients, bumping their benefit amount up to the maximum allowed for their household size.  If you live alone and were receiving $50 pre-COVID, your allotment would be increased to $194/month for the months of March and April. 

State Changes – Learn more here 

  • Waived Interview Requirement – Applicants no longer need to have an interview with a county eligibility worker to be approved for benefits. They only need to apply and submit necessary documents to receive a determination of their eligibility. 
  • Waived Periodic Reports – CalFresh recipients are temporarily exempt from having to submit documentation to re-verify their need for benefits. This will help people continue to receive money for food without interruption during this period. 
  • Allowance of Telephonic Signature – For now, applicants can complete the entire application, including their verbal signature, over the phone. 
  • Request for Online Purchasing – California requested the ability to allow CalFresh recipients to use their benefits at online retailers including Walmart and Amazon.  The USDA approved this request 4.8.2020, and CA plans to implement it in May.

These temporary changes will help the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have found themselves in need in the past few weeks get access to the food they need to survive this crisis and the Food Bank applauds them. However, there is still more to be done. 

Action Needed: Contact your Members of Congress (House and Senate) and urge them to support Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Leader Schumer in putting SNAP among the priority programs for any COVID-19 package. Ask for:

  •  15% increase in food stamps benefits 
  • An increase in the minimum benefit from $16 to $30

Need help finding your Members of Congress? Use this tool, which provides the phone numbers and social media accounts for Senators and Representatives by state and zip code.

A First of Its Kind: Drive-through Pantry

April 1, 2020

“It was a logistics miracle,” said Barbara Abbott, Vice President of Supply Chain at the Food Bank, beaming as she walked out of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s San Rafael warehouse on Saturday afternoon.

Abbott and her team had just finished the Food Bank’s first-ever drive-through food pantry. And somehow, besides the rainy weather, the event went off without a hitch.

From the moment the pantry opened at 9:45 a.m. until it closed a little after 2 p.m., staff and volunteers loaded 30-pound boxes into cars. The length of the line waxed and waned – at some points even wrapping around the building – but the flow of cars remained steady throughout the day. By the end, we had served more than 600 households – 100 more than expected.

Necessity: The Mother of Invention

The setup was designed to promote social distancing – something none of us considered before COVID-19. Participants drove up and opened and closed their trunks, so the Food Bank could continue the essential service of distributing food while minimizing person-to-person contact.

Despite how seamless the operation appeared, it wasn’t as simple as it looked. A lot of thought went into the day.

For example, how do you efficiently pack 500-600 boxes while maintaining social distancing? “It’s not easy to keep 20 people away from each other at six feet distancing,” said warehouse manager Steve Coover. “The way we set up was pretty difficult at first. But we finally figured it out and it went smoothly.”

After a trial run on Friday, Saturday looked like a well-oiled machine. A carefully organized assembly line of volunteers slid boxes across a conveyor belt as they loaded in fresh produce, meat, and healthy non-perishables. The process was streamlined and efficient and even the social distancing was a success.

A Team Effort

Katy McKnight, Director of Community Engagement, provided a practical explanation for the team’s success:  “We applied best practices we’ve learned over our 30 years delivering food and have been able to bring that here to our San Rafael facility.”

Everyone agreed the logistical success of the drive-through was only possible because of the community support.

“The community is really rallying around us now,” said McKnight. “People have turned up to volunteer, allowing us to run a project like this, and allowing us to pre-box all of these groceries to make it as safe for our volunteers and participants as possible and as efficient for our participants as possible.”

Coover, who spent much of Saturday managing the line of cars and directing traffic heard many participants saying, “thank you, we appreciate you guys being here.”

He was also out there reminding them we’ll be back again next Saturday from 10-2. The San Rafael drive-through, at 2550 Kerner Blvd, will be a weekly operation for the foreseeable future.

For those who want to volunteer, please sign up here. We especially need the support of those who are bilingual.

 

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

A Letter From Paul | Solutions in Place to Continue to Serve the Community

March 10, 2020

The Food Bank continues to do the day-in and day-out job of making sure vulnerable neighbors get the food they need. Now, we are putting solutions in place, one by one, to be able to continue providing food and helping our community prepare for whatever challenges the Coronavirus (COVID-19) presents.

Sending out extra food

We know there may be disruptions that keep us from delivering food or keep clients from getting to pantries. So we’ve begun purchasing and sending out a few additional pounds of shelf-stable food each week. We are asking clients to set that food aside so they will build up a small surplus in their kitchens to get them through in case they can’t attend a pantry for any reason. Unfortunately, we can’t wait for donations of shelf-stable food, we have to make sure that seniors, families, and homebound neighbors will have what they need now.

Nutritious food is critical to maintaining good health, so in many ways, it is more important than ever to reach people in need. We rely on our 275 pantries to distribute the food, and we know at some point they might have to close. Therefore, we are working on a plan with city officials to identify backup distribution sites. As long as there is no threat to the safety of our staff, we’ll continue to carry out our mission.

Buying cased and prepacked food

We have had a lot of volunteer cancellations lately. It’s understandable. Almost 50% of our volunteers for March have canceled — that is a huge impact on our ability to sort and pack food. To counter that we are spending more to buy our produce cased instead of in bulk and looking to buy some prepackaged rice. The cost is higher, but we need to make sure our distribution is uninterrupted. We need help! To protect the health of our volunteers we are very mindful about spacing between volunteers, we have increased cleaning, and made hand sanitizer available throughout the facility. If you are able, please sign up for a volunteer shift here.

If you or someone you know needs food assistance, we are here to help. Please visit our Food Locator or call 211 for access to our pantry network. If you want to support our mission, please donate here.

With gratitude,
Paul Ash
Executive Director

New Pantries Open to Serve Even More Neighborhoods

February 5, 2020

In the last couple of months, we’ve opened two pantries expanding our San Francisco Neighborhood Grocery Network.

Finding a new pantry partner is not always an easy task. Ask Ashley Wong, one of our Pantry coordinators, “A potential pantry partner needs to have a lead volunteer coordinator and a consistent volunteer team that can dedicate hours of their schedule every week to support the pantry–and that’s a lot to ask.” It’s not only a time investment and physical commitment (those bags of potatoes are heavy!), but also an emotional one because creating a supportive pantry with excellent welcoming service, although rewarding, can also be heartbreaking. Ashley added, “We also need a pantry that is inclusive to people of all abilities. To meet that critical need, we require locations that have sizable storage space and, importantly, easy, safe access for all the pantry participants and volunteers.”

The Father’s House Pantry

We typically find pantry partners through outreach to community organizations, some of which are introduced to us by one of our existing partners. That’s how Ashley connected with one of our latest partner, The Father’s House in the Outer Sunset/Lake Merced area. The organization’s team was looking for ways to further serve their community and was reaching out to its partners. We connected and three months later, last December, they opened the doors to a new pantry.

“This pantry has steadily grown due to the continuing outreach in the community and the Father’s House team’s commitment to providing great customer service to everyone who comes by. Their endless dedication and energy continue to awe me. I look forward to the many years of partnership ahead of us,” said Ashley.

The Father’s House pantry is open Thursdays from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm and is located at 269 Herbst Road at the Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center. All San Francisco residents in need of food assistance are welcome to enroll in this pantry. We ask only that they bring a photo ID with a current residential address, or photo ID and a piece of mail with a current residential address.

Serving the Richmond Neighborhood

In early January, we also opened a pantry in San Francisco’s Richmond neighborhood. With more than 19,500 Richmond District residents at high risk of food insecurity—nearly 25% of the entire population of the neighborhood—we’re trying hard to close this hunger gap by looking for potential pantry partners. This time a long-time ally stepped up and is now in charge of three pantries in the neighborhood. “With the help of our dedicated community partners, Richmond Neighborhood Center, and our host, George Peabody Elementary School, we’re excited that we can expand our services in the Richmond neighborhood,” said Gary Lau, Program coordinator.

 

 

All Hands On Deck Needed to Fight Hunger

October 12, 2019

Early October is always a thrilling time in the Bay Area, with the Blue Angels flying in perfect formation in clear skies and balmy winds. For us, it’s an exciting time because of the Fleet Week Sailors and Marines taking civic action at our San Francisco warehouse. We greatly appreciate the military members who helped us deploy thousands of lbs. of rice as part of our weekly service to 32,000 San Francisco and Marin households, including many military families.

One of our Fleet Week helpers, Marine Corps Chaplain Andrea Gilkey said her family depended on food assistance when she was a child.

“What inspires me, and what’s exciting to me about this food bank, is that they’re set up like a farmers market. To give people health choices, which we didn’t have. So, I’m thrilled about that,” she said.

KTVU came to visit us, this is their report.

Thank you to all the military member volunteers for joining our squad during Fleet Week.

Food Bank ‘Mini’ Team Favorites: Tomato Recipes for Your Enjoyment

August 27, 2019

The Food Bank ‘Mini’ team lives to figure out-of-the-box ways of delivering fresh, nutritious food to our neighbors in need.  To help celebrate the wonderful fruit offerings as we head into summer, we asked members of our Nutrition Education team to help us out with a few refreshing tomato recipes. They pulled up a few delicious ideas from our friends at EatFresh.org.  Enjoy!

Baby Tomato Bites

INGREDIENTS

12 (4-inch) slices of French bread
¼ cup low-fat mozzarella cheese shredded
5 Tomatoes diced
½ teaspoon Black pepper
8 Basil leaves chopped

PREPARATION

*Preheat oven to 300°F.
*Place thin layer of mozzarella cheese on each slice of bread.
*Toast French bread slices in oven until cheese melts, about 5-8 minutes.
*Mix diced tomatoes with black pepper.
*Place diced tomatoes on top of cheese and garnish with chopped basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Tomato and Garlic Omlette

INGREDIENTS

½ slice Whole wheat bread
½ teaspoon Olive oil
1 Clove of garlic finely chopped
Non-stick cooking spray
¾ cup Egg substitute
2 tablespoons Part-skim Mozzarella cheese grated
1 Large tomato chopped
1 teaspoon Dried basil

PREPARATION

*Preheat oven to 300°F.
*Cut the bread into cubes; toss with oil and garlic in a small bowl. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown, tossing once or twice. Transfer to a plate to cool.
*Spray a medium pan with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in egg substitute.
*When the egg begins to set, spread evenly across the bottom of the pan and reduce the heat to low.
*Once the top layer of egg is almost cooked, sprinkle the cheese and basil on top and scatter the tomatoes and bread over half of the omelet; fold the unfilled omelet half over the filling. Slide the omelet on a plate and serve.

Jacques Story | A Changing Economy Makes It Harder To Make Ends Meet

June 8, 2019

Each morning, Jacques rises early, gets ready for the day, and takes his 10-year-old daughter, Shaila, to school. As a single dad, Jacques cares for Shaila and his 80-year-old mother.  Mondays are especially busy, but in a good way.  When Jacques drops off Shaila at Dolores Huerta Elementary School, she heads for her classroom and her father heads for the Food Bank’s Health Children pantry near the campus play yard.

“If I open up the fridge on a Sunday and nothing is in there, then I have to make sure to put something in there,” he says.

It didn’t use to be like this.  Jacques was a mortgage broker until the 2008 recession made it hard to find work in real estate.  He now drives for a ridesharing company in addition to juggling several other jobs to make ends meet.  “I’ve been [in San Francisco] for a while, and I’ve never seen poverty like I’ve seen in the past couple of years,” says Jacques.

KEEPING FAMILY AT THE CENTER

Shaila is a bright girl, at the top of her class, and Jacques wants to ensure that she has no limits to her future ambitions — which currently range from being a pop star to a police officer to a vet. Once Shaila is at school, Jacques starts driving for the ridesharing company until it’s time to pick her up. He then takes her home to her grandmother while he heads out for more driving until dinner, a special time that Jacques never misses. It’s a central part of their family’s routine; a time to share about their day, a time to connect and enjoy a nutritious meal.  “I ask her about her day, and try to be present as a father because that’s so important,” he says. Often, he has to go back out for more driving after his daughter goes to bed.

STRUGGLING IN A HIGH-COST CITY

As he drives, Jacques thinks about how to provide for his family, and what they will have to eat for the next day and week. The weight of his role as the sole earner is heavy in a costly city like San Francisco.  Jacques and his mother plan out their meals for the week, usually starting on Monday when he comes home with a big box of groceries from the pantry. “This pantry has been great,” he says. “It’s been a life saver and eye opener. I needed it because food is so expensive.”  For Jacques and his family, the groceries they receive from the Food Bank help to fill the gap as he works hard to make ends meet. He says, “Thank you for taking care of me and so many people like me who are really trying to do the right thing but who are having a hard time making it.”

Food Bank Milestone | Paul Ash’s 30th Anniversary

April 10, 2019

In the land of food banking, you won’t find too many people with the institutional knowledge and experience of our executive director, Paul Ash.

Paul joined the then San Francisco Food Bank when it was just getting off the ground – April 1st, 1989 to be exact.  Fortunately for us, this was no April Fool’s Joke. And even more fortunate is the fact that Paul never left!

He’s been a guiding light for ending hunger for so many years, but don’t take our word for it.  Check out what others are saying about Paul and add your own message in the comments section below.

“For over 30 years, Paul has dedicated his career to serving hungry residents in San Francisco. We celebrate not only his commitment to supporting our underrepresented communities, but also his steadfast leadership of one of San Francisco’s most important institutions.”
-San Francisco Mayor London Breed

“We congratulate Paul Ash on his 30th anniversary with the Food Bank.  Paul Ash has been for these decades an essential partner with GLIDE in our mutual commitment to alleviate suffering, hunger and food insecurity.  Paul is a relentless warrior for the poor and those who are pushed to the margins of our society.  We extend our gratitude and admiration and love to Paul Ash.”
-Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, CoFounders, GLIDE

“Cheers to you, Paul!  When you joined the food bank it was just a small but mighty team in a dilapidated warehouse on 3rd street, distributing less than a million pounds of food a year and operating in the red. But you had a belief that access to food is a basic human right and a vision for how to grow the organization to the tremendous community leader it is today. You were always generous with your time, and a leader at the state and national level.  You are also a mentor to many current leaders in the food bank network (Paul is the only ED who can say three current food bank CEOs are former direct reports). Creative and disciplined, you have always kept the organization focused on how it can corral any available resources to have the biggest impact on ending hunger, and that is a very special talent.”
-Leslie Bacho, CEO of 2nd Harvest Food Bank of San Jose and San Mateo

“When I started working for the Food Bank we were distributing about 3 million pounds per year. Paul was just a couple of years into the job and already forming his vision for the organization.  The first thing I noticed was he had the ability to always pick the opportunity that fit with the Food Banks vision.  It made our growth possible with the limited funding available. His vision still endures today as we distribute close to 50 million pounds of food per year.
-Gary Maxworthy, Former Board Member, creator of the state’s Farm to Family program.

“Congratulations Paul…you have done an amazing job transforming the then San Francisco Food Bank from a very small, but needed, organization in the late 80s to a Bay Area powerhouse charity that now serves over 200,000 people in San Francisco and Marin each year. It would be impossible to quantify just how many lives you changed and saved in your tenure, but it’s a lot and you should be  commended for that.”
-Michael Terris, Food Bank Board President & partner at Terris, Barnes & Walters

Please take a moment to leave your own well wishes and recollections about Paul in our comments section below.