CROps: Community Feedback on the Menu

June 14, 2022

Tomatillos. Collard greens. Tilapia. Black-eyed peas. What do all these items have in common? Well, for one, they’re all pretty darn tasty when cooked. They’re also all part of the new Culturally Responsive Food Options pilot at the Food Bank – CROps for short. Every week, participants at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry and Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, in the Mission and Western Addition respectively, are presented with two additional food items that they can choose to take home, or decline. 

Creating a More Welcoming Pantry 

Tomatillos - part of CROps add onsCROps is an effort to provide more culturally responsive foods and more choice for our Black and Latinx participants, By supplying culturally relevant items people like and know how to use in the kitchen, this pilot hopes to increase satisfaction with the food choices offered, help us learn more about what people like and want to see, and create a more welcoming pantry environment.  

 

Some community members like Cliffton at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry are also eager at the prospect of influencing what foods may appear next: “it’s a wonderful thing, to have a survey to see what the community wants. I got the email, and I will be filling it out.” Surveys among participants helped decide what foods went into the first few weeks of the pilot, and now participant feedback will help decide what items are offered going forward. 

Community Response 

So far, the items seem to be striking a chord with participants. Victoria, a participant at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, cooks for herself and the older gentleman she cares for. On the day we spoke, she had picked up both add-ons: green onions and white mushrooms.  Mushrooms and green onions are two add-on items offered through CROps

“Sometimes I don’t know the vegetables that they give out here, so the new items have been great for me, because they’re things I’m familiar with and already know how to cook. I know what I can do with them,” said Victoria. And what does she do with them? “I cook about as much Mexican food as I do food from my country – El Salvador. So, the green onions are great to make a carne asada, or a carne entomatada.”  

Maria holding up tomatillosWe also caught up with Maria at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry, who is recovering from an operation on her stomach to remove a tumor: “I can’t eat out – my stomach is really fragile from the operation. Street food makes me sick. So, I need to cook at home, for my health.” New food and spice choices, like tomatillos and oregano, allow Maria to make comforting foods that aid her recovery.  

“The oregano that we had today – I use it to make salsa with tomatillo, oregano and a little onion. Then I top off my bean taquitos, and it’s really tasty.” 

“Just What I Need” 

Friends Sharon and Cliffton walk together to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry on Wednesdays, and they’ve both been enjoying the new CROps offerings. Once they get their groceries, they’ll go back to the kitchen together to whip up a menu for the week – but they cook separately. Their collard green recipes brought up a friendly rivalry. Cliffton says he has to make his “Southern style, with the bacon, salt pork or hog bone,” and Sharon opts for “more of a Brazilian green. I love the flavor of garlic in my greens.”  

Despite how their cooking may differ, they agree that the new options are a welcome addition. As Sharon, who is disabled and lives in a senior community in the Western Addition, told us, “People in our age group tend to go through dietary restrictions, so this was most accommodating for me.”  Cliffton and Sharon with their groceries

She also shared that food from the pantry is helping her stay fit “just by changing my diet, and the way that I prepare food for myself. I love mushrooms and fresh vegetables – they’re actually things that I can use at home. The add-on items are just what I need.” 

Looking Forward 

What’s next for the CROps pilot? Food Bank staff will be evaluating the feedback from participants to learn more about participants’ preferences, and how best to continue providing more choice and culturally responsive foods that folks want and enjoy cooking. Through this feedback loop, we hope to continue an ongoing dialogue with participants about how we can offer more options they want and are looking for through our pantry network.  

 

Parenting in the Pandemic

April 25, 2022

For many in our community, March 2020 is when “the village collapsed.” Over two years later, this is still the reality for countless parents across our counties. Financial hardship and food insecurity, among other things, have made it hard to get back on their feet – much less return to the “normal” others may be experiencing.  

Sarah is a single mom of two, who lost her job as a civil engineer shortly after shelter-in-place went into effect. She soon began coming to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry for groceries to feed her then 4- and 6-year-olds. When we met with her a few weeks ago, she carefully loaded groceries into a stroller before stopping to talk about her experiences parenting during the last two years. “It’s very difficult to juggle a career, especially when there’s instability. You’re just on your own. My own family was too afraid to help.” 

Challenges of Pandemic-era Schooling  

A lack of support characterized the last year and a half of online school for both kids and parents. Caretakers across the globe can empathize with the constant balancing act Sarah describes: “It was very challenging to have two very young kids at home. I spent all my time figuring out remote schooling and food and taking the kids out to grassy fields to play.”  

Luckily, the recently passed Universal School Meals (USM) Program, which targets school children K-12, is already making a difference for Sarah’s children since they returned to in-person school in late 2021.  “It’s very helpful. It can cover breakfast and lunch for the kids, so it’s huge.” 

However, preschoolers are not covered by USM, so parents like Arlesia are left to pick up the slack and pack lunches. Arlesia and her 3-year-old daughter Juliana have been coming to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry for about 3 months, following a rough 2021 for the entire family. Arlesia, her husband, and Juliana all dealt with serious health scares last year, and Arlesia has been unable to find work since losing her job as a restaurant server and event planner in 2020. Preschool tuition is a financial strain while the family relies on her husband’s income, but for Arlesia, the impact school has had on Juliana is priceless. Her face glows with pride when describing Juliana’s progress in the last 10 months. 

“Tuition is rough, but it’s for my daughter. Especially in the past few years when kids haven’t had that much interaction with other kids, it’s really affecting their development. Just from August to now, I can’t believe how much she grew and developed.” 

Father and son pose with toy car and groceries on playground.Other parents are more hesitant to let go of remote or homeschooling. Farzad is the single dad of 3-year-old Mehdi, as well as a musician, small business-owner, and participant at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry. Farzad watches his son drive a toy car around the playground and sighs, shaking his head when asked about in-person preschool. He doesn’t “want Mehdi to go until COVID is over,” citing health concerns like maskless and unvaccinated children.  

Self-Care and Systemic Change 

Despite the struggles and uncertainty of the past two years, parents seem generally hopeful about the future – and a chance to tend to their own needs and wants, as well as their children’s.  

Arlesia pauses when asked what she would do with some free time. “I haven’t focused on my health because I’m making sure the rest of the family is taken care of. I love doing crafts and photography, things with my hands. It drowns out all the concerns because you’re focused on making something beautiful.” She smiles. “I try to keep it positive because at the end of the day, we’re going to make it.”  

Farzad is similarly optimistic, and excited for the revival of live music. “I play guitar, and I’m known for Persian flamenco — I pioneered it. I’ve been playing in the Bay Area since ‘85. I’ll be starting to gig again soon, hopefully. Things are changing. I’m seeing it already.”  

For Sarah, hope lies in systemic change and providing safety nets for caretakers.  

“COVID took more mothers out of the workforce than has ever happened since World War II. It really opened my eyes as to how the US doesn’t support caretakers. And if we can’t feed our kids, what kind of society are we, right?” 

Meals on Wheels, Supply Chain Challenges, and Home-Delivered Groceries

February 9, 2022

It was 6am on a chilly Wednesday morning. Most people are still asleep in their beds at this hour, but in the parking lot of Meals on Wheels’ San Francisco headquarters in Bayview, the day had already begun. We came to tell the story of one of their main programs, a weekly sendoff of home-delivered groceries to participants across the city. Not only did we learn a lot about Meals on Wheels and the incredible work they do in San Francisco, but we also came away with an understanding of how the supply chain challenges that affected the Food Bank also impacted our partners.

As the black of morning slowly lightened to gray, about a dozen volunteers trickled in and gathered around a table to grab coffee and donuts before their shift. A Food Bank refrigerated truck slowly backed into the parking lot, and with a little direction from a woman in a Meals on Wheels fleece, the volunteers started dragging a few tables out of the warehouse and into the parking lot to form two assembly lines. Soon, pallets of carrots, onions, asparagus, and rice made their way to the assembly lines.

The last pallet unloaded off the truck had a surprise delivery of frozen high-grade fish. When we approached the woman directing the volunteers, she introduced herself as Stephanie Galinson, Volunteer Programs Manager at Meals on Wheels SF. “We pretty much know there’s going to be onions, apples, and carrots all winter long and we’re used to that,” she told me. But in the last two years, there’s been a lot of changes to what type of food we receive for our clients. “At the beginning of COVID, I guess the Food Bank had a sudden spurt of donations from restaurants that had to close down. So, we received some crazy wonderful stuff – the Food Bank called us one day and said, ‘Guess what you’re getting? Wagyu steaks.’ We said, ‘You’re joking, right?’ That Wednesday we carefully bagged up the gourmet steaks,” she laughed.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes for Home Delivered-Groceries and More

The pandemic threw Food Banking into chaos as we scrambled to find innovative solutions to unusual problems. But nearly two years in, we’re able to get enough context on how COVID impacts programs like home-delivered groceries that we can make some generalizations about how our work will be affected in the short-term future. The same goes for our partners like Meals on Wheels, who are starting to expect the unexpected. “We get unusual stuff – we’re getting more non-animal proteins, which is great. For example, we’ll get plant-based tuna substitute, or a lentil and rice package meal. We even had Impossible Burgers a couple weeks ago. The volunteers are excited about the increased variety, and it’s always interesting to get feedback from clients and learn whether they enjoy the new items. Some folks are excited to see something that’s not chicken or eggs, because it’s something different.”

Partners like Meals on Wheels, as well as our own food pantries, have seen such a change in the type of food they distribute for a few reasons. During the early days of COVID-19, we saw a spike in the number and type of donations we received. Our community has been incredibly generous during these hard times, whether it be through monetary donations that let us turn $1 into two meals or through the giving of food. In the first few months of the pandemic, we even saw some donated caviar pass through our warehouse on its way to participants.

But as the months of COVID have turned to years, we’re starting to see the effects of long-term disruption to industry, especially the global supply chain. “We’ve worked hard to overcome the barriers caused by supply chain challenges to meet the increased need for food assistance since the pandemic, but it puts tremendous strain on our financial resources,” Barbara Abbott, our Food Bank’s Vice President of Supply Chain, told me. Writ large, this means that we have to pay a lot more money for the food our neighbors need.

Not only are the Food Bank and our participants spending more money on food, but much of the available product is being bought out first by retailers. We’ve had to buy food from unusual places to replace what we lost due to cancelled or delayed shipments, like the frozen fish and Impossible Meat that partners like Meals on Wheels receive from us instead of the more typical seasonal food. The same goes for fruits and vegetables. Stephanie at Meals on Wheels, as well as many other partners, are seeing less-common produce like asparagus and pears replace the now harder-to-find regulars of onions, apples, carrots, and more for their home-delivered groceries.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Just as we’ve had to change the way we work at the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels had to transform their program to adjust to the realities of COVID-19. But the impact our food pantry programs have on the community is still as important as ever.

Volunteer Meals on Wheels driver Michael picks up some bags of home-delivered groceries for his rounds.

“I have a fixed route in the Tenderloin,” a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver named Michael told us while loading packed grocery bags into his car. “I bring the groceries to my clients, and we look forward to seeing each other. It’s much more than just the food delivery – it’s talking with my clients, and respecting them, and empathizing with them.”

It takes a community to meet the challenges posed by food insecurity, COVID-19, and supply chain uncertainty. The Food Bank is committed to supporting Meals on Wheels and other partners by supplying fresh, nutritious food for home-delivered groceries, and volunteers like Michael are with us every step of the way. “My clients can always depend on me on a Wednesday morning, to come with a bag of groceries and a good word,” he said.

School Pantries Make a Difference in a Family’s Life

February 12, 2020

Walking into any elementary school at the end of the day is filled with lots of hustle and bustle as kids run to the playground to greet friends and their parents or guardians. That’s certainly the case at Paul Revere Elementary San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. Although, there is a difference with this school’s day end and that’s the long tables in the entrance filled with brimming baskets of colorful fresh produce and stables like lentils and rice. That is our Healthy Children’s Pantry.

Since 2004, we started the Healthy Children Pantry Program to make it easier for parents to get healthy food by having pantries at their children’s schools. It was a simple but powerful innovation: By bringing food to busy families in a location they already visit daily, we’ve been able to serve more families than ever before. Now with 58 pantries, parents and guardians throughout San Francisco and Marin can take home healthy groceries once a week when they pick up or drop off their children without having to make any extra stops.

Lilian is one mom who greatly appreciates the Paul Revere pantry. She works full-time cleaning houses and her husband works full-time in construction. With two young children, they struggle to keep up with the rising costs of the city. Finding time to get food is an additional challenge. Some of these time and budget constraints are reduced by having the pantry located at their children’s school. “It’s so convenient. I am so thankful to the Food Bank and their supporters for helping to keep our family healthy,” said Lillian.

Food for Brain Power

Although the Healthy Children’s Pantry has been very successful in helping fight hunger, we don’t stop there. Time after time, principals and teachers tell us the same thing: kids can’t learn when they’re hungry. That’s why we started the Morning Snack Program back in the early 2000s. Through this first-of-its-kind program, 21 high-need public schools throughout San Francisco and Marin receive daily deliveries of healthy snack items such as fresh fruits, whole grain crackers, and string cheese.

Many low-income children don’t eat enough food outside of school to support their growing bodies and minds. Snacks give students a healthy boost mid-morning when they need it most. Teachers report morning snacks give students additional energy to learn and to stay focused during the school day. Over 4,800 kids a day can start school with nutritious food that helps keep hunger at bay and learning in the forefront.

Cousins Estrellia and Luz, students at Paul Revere, are budding math geniuses powered by morning snack. Addition and subtraction are no challenge for this dynamic duo. Every day, between breakfast and lunch, the girls look forward to enjoying a healthy snack. Estrellia loves apples the most while Luz prefers kiwi. They are grateful to the Foodbank for these snacks, “Thank you for the good food. It helps us learn.”

Linda’s Story | The Food Pharmacy Offered a Healthier Life

November 4, 2019

Having healthy food to share with our community doesn’t mean much if people can’t get to it. That’s the idea behind one of our many recent innovations. We work hard to find the best ways to safely transport nutritious foods to people in convenient locations where they don’t have to go out of their way. One of the ways we do that is through our Food Pharmacies. 

FOOD IS MEDICINE

Since 2016, we’ve been working with local physicians and health clinics to run our Food Pharmacies. This program helps connect patients — who already see their doctor at these clinics — with free groceries, nutrition education, and CalFresh enrollment (food stamps), as well as classes on healthy food preparation.  

Alicia Hobbs organizes the program at our Silver Avenue site; she emphasizes that food can be medicine, especially for patients with health challenges, such as diabetes and hypertension. “We’re not just introducing patients to healthy food, we’re teaching them how to cook this food in the healthiest way possible. Perhaps most importantly, we’re trying to create a community where these patients feel supported every step of the way.”  

A HEALTHIER LIFE FOR LINDA 

Linda’s health improved significantly since she linked up with a San Francisco-Marin Food Pharmacy. Fifteen years ago, a car crash changed her life forever when both of her ankles were shattered, and her wrist fractured. The damage to her ankles meant she could no longer walk long distances or even stand on her feet for a few minutes at a timeEven after months of physical therapy, she had to retire early from her job at a local bank. Without income from her job, Linda has to live on only a few hundred dollars in SSI funds every month.  

Linda’s doctor suggested she get involved in the Food Bank’s Food Pharmacy program at SouthEast Health Clinic in the Bayview neighborhood. Ever since, she’s had free access to healthy fruits and vegetables as well as health education. Through the program, she learned new ways to prepare certain foods — such as steaming carrots and broccoli to keep more of vitamins intact.  

As a result of her program participation, Linda has lost weight and dropped her blood pressure, “My health hasn’t been this good in years,” she says, and I owe it to those at SouthEast, and the good people at the Food Bank.” 

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.

Nutrition Education | Tips To Create Easy, Healthy Meals

August 27, 2019

The kids are back in school, schedules are getting hectic, and chances are your busy weeknights are quickly becoming one of the biggest barriers to healthy eating.  If you find it’s a challenge to whip up a quick weeknight meal, check out these 5 tips great tips, shared by our fabulous Nutrition Education Team!

  • Cook grains in large batches and store for later use. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta, add healthy bulk to our meals and they are a great source of fiber! 
  • Stock your pantry with canned proteins such as canned fish, canned chicken, canned beans, etc. and add them to meals for a good source of protein. Check out this Whole Wheat Pasta with Diced Tomatoes and Salmon for a healthy meal option. 
  • Roast veggies in batches and store for later use. These add a variety of nutrients to meals in addition to fiber from the vegetables’ skin. Remember, the richer the color of a fruit or veggie, the more nutrients we get from them. Try choosing root veggies such as beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc. for nutrient-packed options. 
  • Chop fruits and veggies in advance of dinner time and store them in your freezer. This way you will have choices ready to go when it comes to selecting ingredients to mix into those one-pot dishes, such as omelets, soups, or pastas.

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

July 26, 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 offerings we are still distributing this summer, we asked members of our Nutrition Education team to help us out with a few refreshing Summer Squash recipes. They pulled up a few delicious ideas from our friends at EatFresh.org.  Enjoy!

Slow Cooked Summer Squash

INGREDIENTS
6 medium summer squash – cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 teaspoon salt – divided into two 1/2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion – chopped
1 medium red bell pepper – seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove – minced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese – freshly grated
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter – cut into small cubes

PREPARATION

*In a large colander, combine the zucchini slices with 1/2 tsp of the salt. Let stand until the zucchini gives off its juices, about 30 minutes. Rinse well under cold running water to remove the salt, drain and pat dry with paper towels.
*In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Removed from the heat, add the zucchini, and mix well.
*In a medium bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper.
*Place half of the zucchini mixture in a buttered 3.5-qt slow cooker. Sprinkle with half of the crumb mixture. Top with the remaining zucchini mixture, the sprinkle with the remaining crumbs. dot the top of the crumbs with melted butter.
*Cover and slow cook until the zucchini is tender, about 4 to 5 hours on low.

Squash and Corn Pasta Soup

INGREDIENTS

3 cups Low-sodium chicken broth
4 Small zucchini (or any summer squash) diced
½ Small onion chopped
1 Large clove of garlic minced
2 cups Canned corn (16 oz.) drained
10 ounces Whole grain angel hair pasta (thin spaghetti) broken into 2” or 3” pieces
1 cup Tomato sauce (8 oz.)
Olive oil

PREPARATION

*Coat bottom on large skillet with a little bit of olive oil. Add broken pasta and mix well to coat. *Toast pasta over medium heat, stirring and turning constantly until golden. Pasta will burn easily.
*In a 2-quart saucepan, heat chicken broth to boiling. Add zucchini, onion, and garlic. Cook, covered, until zucchini is soft.
*Stir in corn and remove from heat.
*Carefully stir toasted spaghetti into saucepan with zucchini; add tomato sauce. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes until spaghetti is tender.
*To serve, ladle into shallow bowls.

Nutrition Education | Tips for a Tasty and Healthy Summer BBQ

July 1, 2019

The weather is heating up and chances are folks are planning a few summer barbecues.  With that in mind, we asked our Nutrition Education team to provide a few helpful tips and here is what the came up with.  Enjoy!

  • Consider grilling veggies – Burgers and hot dogs are tasty, but they don’t provide us with lots of nutrients. Consider grilling veggie burgers or kabobs instead of, or in addition to, barbecuing main dish staples that often feature processed meat.Choose hearty sides instead of chips to round out your meal! – Regardless of what you serve as a main dish, choose veggie filled side dishes to feel full and satisfied throughout your day. We recommend this sweet summer corn salad or this zesty bean and corn salsa.
  • Quench your thirst – Refresh your thirst by choosing unsweetened sparkling water instead of soda or juice. If you crave something sweet, try mixing seltzer water and juice like in this raspberry-lime fizz or in a fruit-forward smoothie such as this summer breeze treat.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth – If it feels like no meal is complete without a sweet ‘something’ then skip the brownies and cookies and choose icy fruit pops or grill some tropical fruit. These delicious treats taste wonderful and provide you with vitamins, minerals and fiber as opposed to empty calories.
  • Get moving – Play some lawn games, jump in the pool or put on some music and dance at your next barbecue. Movement helps us digest our food and keeps our body strong and healthy.