Employment Plus: More than Job Opportunities

November 15, 2022

Samedi and Annette tying bags together

On the stage of Stern Grove, a historic natural amphitheater in the Sunset District, iconic R&B/funk band Tower of Power opened the 2022 concert series to a crowd of thousands this past June. The hills were blanketed in eucalyptus trees and nasturtium, and the vibe was electric. Dancing and grooving along in the crowd were three unlikely acquaintances: Samedi, an artist; Annette, a retired fundraiser for KALW radio; and Tiffany, a job coach. What brought this group together, you might ask? 

Employment Plus: Emphasis on the “Plus” 

Employment Plus (E+) connects adults with developmental disabilities with career and job training, as well as community engagement opportunities. Clients can opt-in to volunteer at Pop-up Pantries, where many of the activities – customer service, community interaction, bagging groceries, and breaking down boxes – offer just that.  

Javon poses while breaking down cardboard

E+ client Javon, a longtime Bayview resident and Food Bank volunteer since 2015, uses his volunteer experience while “mopping, sweeping, and double bagging” at Whole Foods Market. 

Samedi is another familiar face at Pop-up Pantry shifts: “Sometime I’m here so early, it’s even before the staff are here. I come and help them unload the truck.” E+ connected him to the Food Bank, and he’s since built several close relationships including his fellow concertgoers: Annette, who volunteers at pantries six days a week, and Tiffany, a job coach at E+. 

Pop-up Pantries Create Connection 

Lupita, Javon, Robin and Tiffany pose in front of a Food Bank truck after a Pop-up shift

Isolation and loneliness marked much of the past three years for many of us. But even in times of unprecedented separation, people will always discover ways to find companionship and to help others around them.

That’s certainly the case with the E+ volunteers. For three years, they’ve shared groceries with neighbors every week at our Pop-up Pantries, making connections along the way – but many were volunteering even before the pandemic. As a group they’ve dedicated more than 1852 hours of volunteer time since 2021 alone.  

Packing Bags in Partnership 

Robin heard about E+ through friends and has been a consistent Food Bank volunteer for a few years. Pre-pandemic, she was bagging rice in the warehouse, but now her “favorite part is tying the bags. And talking with people…I’ve met a lot of people through this,” she told us. 

Dana fills up grocery bags with fresh produce

It’s clear that beyond transferable skills, hundreds of hours of volunteerism, and the physical workout, the biggest benefit for all is the chance to connect.  

Marcel, a Community Support Coordinator who has worked closely with volunteers from E+ for more than a year, said “we often share laughs while working very hard. They’re very flexible when it comes to an assignment shift, always ready to help out with any task. Having the Employment Plus team onsite equates to a happy day at our Pop-up Pantries.” 

Straight-faced, Samedi told us: “They love me here,” as if to underscore Marcel’s point. Then he broke into a bout of laughter and headed back to continue sharing groceries and a smile with his neighbors.  

 

Farmer’s Market Style…Is Always In Style

November 15, 2022

On a warm Tuesday morning in August, hundreds of our neighbors in the Canal District of San Rafael shopped for groceries. To an outsider, it might look like a farmer’s market, teeming with activity and brimming with bright produce. Birds chirped, kids shouted and laughed at the nearby Pickleweed Park play structure, and people stood around chatting.

This Marin food pantry looked much different than Tuesdays past. In late August, Bahía Vista was the first to switch from pre-bagged groceries back to farmer’s market style pantries – the way our pantries operated for years, prior to COVID.

COVID Pantry Pivots

Farmer’s market style means people choose what they want (and leave what they don’t), rather than taking home grocery bags packed by volunteers. Pre-COVID, all food pantries run by our neighborhood partners operated this way. But due to social distancing guidance, pre-packed bags became the norm.

Now, nearly three years later, we are slowly working our way towards re-opening farmer’s market style at all food pantries.

“What you’ll eat, you take”

At Bahía Vista, community members voiced their support for the transition.

“I thought this was kind of cool. There were times [before] where you might get something that you don’t necessarily need,” said Aaron, a dad of three and private security worker. “For us, six onions is a lot – I don’t know what to do with so much onion.”

Other neighbors like Mirsa agreed. “I love this. What you’ll eat, you take; and what you won’t, you can just leave, so it doesn’t go to waste.”

Picking what you like, what you know how to cook, taking as many ingredients as your family can use and leaving the rest are all meaningful decisions. And an essential part of offering services in a dignified way means ensuring our neighbors can say no to items they don’t want, or can’t use. As Community Support Coordinator Angela notes, “participants are more relaxed as they shop.”

Farmer’s Market Style Forecast

“For me, this pantry style is perfect.” – María, mom, volunteer and participant at Bahía Vista

The Food Bank is hoping to pivot all Pop-up Pantries back to this model in the future. Our second Pop-up Pantry, Golden Gate, just made another successful transition to farmer’s market in late October. And though it will take time and careful planning to pivot the remaining pantries, given that some see thousands of neighbors in a day, the positive reception and seamless transition at Bahía Vista and Golden Gate bodes well for farmer’s market style at other Pop-ups.

“Participants love the fact that they don’t have to take all the food items, and the children like helping the adults shop. And one of our favorite things, as staff, is seeing our participants interact with volunteers, as they now meet face to face while shopping for their desired options,” shared Mikey, Site Supervisor at Bahía Vista. “It’s been a great success.”

 

Farm Bill FAQs: Q&A with Meg Davidson

September 15, 2022

What’s the Farm Bill? How does it impact my neighbors and I? Why should I care? 

Well, as our Policy and Advocacy Director Meg Davidson puts it: “Do you eat? Then you should care.” 

Let’s dive into how the Farm Bill shapes our nationwide food systems, funds essential federal nutrition programs, and how you can get involved in advocating for continued support for the hunger-fighting programs our community relies on. 

Food Bank (FB): So, what exactly is the Farm Bill? 

Meg Davidson: The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that serves as the federal government’s main tool for making sure the nation’s food system keeps running. It sets the priorities for both farming and the primary nutrition safety net programs for the next five years. The 2024 Farm Bill is being negotiated right now. 

Think about the Farm Bill as a building with three pillars: 

  • The first pillar provides farmers with a safety net against the inherent ups and downs of agriculture. 
  • The second pillar is the nutrition safety net, helping Americans in need put food on the table. 
  • And the third focuses on the environment – protection of the water, air, and earth to ensure that farming isn’t doing more harm than good. 

FB: As the Food Bank, how does the Farm Bill impact our work? 

Meg: The Farm Bill funds federal nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), and CSFP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), all of which are integral to the work we do. SNAP, aka CalFresh in CA, is a nutrition benefit program that helps one in nine Californians put food on the table. TEFAP is the USDA-supported method through which the Food Bank distributes food to 201k households monthly. And CSFP is a program that helps 10,000 seniors in San Francisco and Marin stretch their budgets and nourish themselves. 

FB: How are we pushing to make SNAP, and other benefits, stronger? 

Meg: We’re looking to improve the adequacy of SNAP benefits by increasing allotment amounts and eliminating barriers for populations who need nutrition support – for example, college students and immigrants. We’re working to expand access to SNAP by removing administrative hurdles, like 3-month limits for working adults and restrictions on how SNAP benefits are spent.  

We’re also pushing to reauthorize CSFP and increase funding for TEFAP, as we continue to see heightened levels of need in our community. For both CSFP and TEFAP, we want the minimum eligibility incomes raised to reflect the high cost of living in the Bay Area. And we’re pushing for continued TEFAP investment in BIPOC farmers and local economies.  

FB: What would happen if SNAP benefits were cut? 

Meg: SNAP benefits are incredible but inadequate. The amount of money that people get is not enough to meet all their needs. Four in 10 people who receive SNAP also go to food banks to supplement their food. So, it’s important that we don’t make SNAP even weaker, because food banks are already completely tapped out. We simply cannot take on more if we were to eliminate certain populations from being deemed eligible for SNAP. There would be millions of Americans who would be excluded from this critical safety net that helps them put food on the table. 

We saw how reducing barriers during the pandemic made it easier for people in need of support to enroll in the program. We know what works, so let’s not go backwards. 

FB: What is the pushback that these programs receive at the federal level? 

Meg: There are a lot of stereotypes that affect lawmaker’s perceptions of programs like SNAP, CSFP, and TEFAP. For instance, there’s always pushback that we need to cut back on the eligibility for SNAP recipients in order to cut costs. But the reality is, SNAP is good for the economy, not just recipients: a recent USDA study estimated that every dollar in new SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment elevated would increase the gross domestic product by $1.54. And 80% of SNAP benefits are spent within the first two weeks of receipt, pumping money quickly back into the economy and generating more jobs. 

FB: How can community members take action? 

Meg: Start out by signing our petition and tell Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP. Adequate safety nets are the most effective way that we can prevent hunger and food insecurity in our community and ensure that our neighbors have a network of support when they fall on hard times. Then, make sure to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so you can stay up to date on timely ways to get involved.  

 

It’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger in our community, so stay tuned for more ways to engage with the 2024 Farm Bill. 

Pass the EATS Act

June 29, 2022

You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Yet, as many as 1 in 4 college students who struggle with food insecurity can’t receive CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Our Policy and Advocacy team is working to change this by lobbying Congress to pass the Federal EATS Act.  

CalFresh is one of the most important tools for addressing food insecurity and hunger. Recipients can shop for the groceries they want, when they want, by spending their monthly benefits at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Unfortunately, students from low-income backgrounds are largely unable to access CalFresh because of barriers like a 20 hour/week work requirement. “The work requirement is an archaic rule that requires students to be working hours that they don’t have,” explained Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.  

Eased Restrictions, Increased Participation

The current “work-for-food” rules are based on assumptions of a “typical” college student – upper middle class, with endless free time and family support. In reality, there is no typical student. Between required labs, rotations, and residencies, working to pay their bills, and even supporting families, many students simply don’t have 20 free hours in their week. School is work. Extra barriers to healthy groceries can spell the difference between obtaining a degree and halting their education. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 got rid of this “work-for-food” rule – temporarily – and the results were immediate. “During the pandemic, restrictions like the work requirement were lifted, and more college students were able to access CalFresh. So, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be so hard to get more students in the program,” said Meg.  

School is Work

However, expanded CalFresh eligibility for students is set to expire just one month after the federal Public Health Emergency is declared over. That’s where the Federal EATS Act – and you – come into the picture. The Federal EATS Act would permanently expand CalFresh access to low-income students by making attendance at an “institution of higher education” count as their work requirement. “The EATS Act recognizes that school is work,” said Marchon Tatmon, Government Affairs Manager at the Food Bank. “This bill will allow students to access the nutrition they need.” We need your help to make sure all students have access to healthy groceries that fuel their learning. You can sign up for Action Alerts and get involved through our email list: sfmfoodbank.org/advocacy. Let’s urge Congress to pass this permanent legislative fix for college hunger, together.  

“Not Part-time Employees”

June 28, 2022

CalFresh is supposed to be the first line of defense against hunger, but that’s often not the case for college students. For Dustin and Anthony, two among thousands of college students facing food insecurity, the Federal EATS Act would make a huge difference. Dustin is an LGBT Studies major and first-generation college student at City College of SF. Like many other students, Dustin turns to the Food Bank to stock his fridge and pantry. CalFresh isn’t an accessible option for him because of the work requirements and red tape in the application process. “I do not have the support of parents sending me through college, so I utilize the Food Bank when I don’t have funds,” Dustin told us at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry in March.  

School Comes First 

Anthony is a graduate student at UCSF, currently in his second year of the dentistry program. He’s been a recipient of CalFresh on and off since 2018. When we spoke on the phone, he laid out his simple problem with the work requirement for students. “When you’re in a rigorous academic program, you don’t really have much time to study if you’re working to make ends meet. It puts a lot of stress on students who are now focusing more on working instead of studying. We are full-time students, not part-time employees.”  

Not Enough Time in the Day 

For students who come from low-income backgrounds, a college degree holds the promise of less financial struggle in the future. Getting that degree, however, is not easy. And dedicating 20 hours of precious study time a week to a job, just so that you can buy groceries, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a vicious cycle that forces students to choose between their studies and their survival. That’s why students like Anthony are such strong supporters of passing the Federal EATS Act. “I know countless friends and family members who are college students and could greatly benefit from CalFresh. With the EATS Act, if we remove these barriers then people will have much easier access to food.” 

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.  

 

Why She Keeps Coming Back: Volunteering in the Marin Warehouse

April 19, 2022

In January 2021, longtime Marin resident Michelle Griffin learned that many of her neighbors were still struggling to put food on the table—and the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank was running low on volunteers. It was the perfect fit for the hands-on opportunity she had been looking for. 

One year later, Michelle is still a regular volunteer with the Food Bank. It’s one of many ways she likes to be involved with her community, along with serving on local and state boards. The two things that keep her coming back to her local Marin warehouse are clear: the staff, and the mission.  

“I just love working with Randy at the Marin warehouse. He makes the shifts fun, and he always reports back on the impact of our volunteer work. He makes us feel like we are truly making a difference,” said Michelle.   

A Hidden Community Issue 

Randy Rollman is the Volunteer Coordinator at the Marin Warehouse, and as Michelle typically picks up two or three shifts per week, they see each other often. Randy relies on a committed group of volunteers like Michelle who show up week after week to pack and sort food for distribution. With food costs on the rise, many of our neighbors are at an even greater risk of going hungry. The work of community partners, warehouse staff, and volunteers is essential to keep up with the increased need. 

Food insecurity is such a hidden issue in Marin, and the Food Bank is really tackling that head-on. I see how efficiently [the warehouse] is run. I also enjoy seeing so many local partners and companies giving back, like Mollie Stones,” Michelle shared.   

Making Connections One Shift At A Time  

Michelle looks forward to Fridays at the warehouse when she will pack grocery bags for home delivery to seniors using the conveyor belt. And when she gets a spot for the popular Saturday morning shift, Michelle enjoys building boxes of groceries for the drive-through pantry and working alongside fellow volunteers.  

“We get a chance to meet and connect with our neighbors and let them know we are all in this together,” said Michelle. “We are all working together to provide food for all.”  

More Than a Food Pantry

April 19, 2022

Sharon Murphy looks forward to her weekly visit to the North Marin Community Services in Novato (NMCS). She knows that’s where she and her son, Rob, can get healthy, nutritious food, feel part of a welcoming community, and see friends.  

The North Marin Community Services in Novato is one of the Food Bank’s partners that exemplifies a holistic approach to caring for their community. They realize that many issues in our lives are interconnected, and that when we need help, it can be for several reasons. That’s why they offer assistance for food, financial aid, health and childcare. Every Tuesday they offer nutritious food through their Food Pantry and Childcare Healthy Food Program. They’ve been a life-saver for Sharon. 

Redefining Independence  

Sharon had lived an independent life and worked at a brokerage firm until she was 71. She also struggled with vascular difficulties. Sharon has had numerous surgeries for her medical condition, one of which required that her leg be amputated. Her life changed drastically, and tasks like shopping for groceries became very difficult. “I can’t do much with the loss of my leg, but I’m learning,” said Sharon. 

One of Sharon’s friends who volunteers at NCMS, recommended the pantry for food assistance for herself and Rob, who is now her caregiver. They had never gone to a food pantry before, yet from their very first visit, they felt welcomed by everyone there. “I think this place has really helped me in so many ways. The volunteers have made my experience enjoyable because they’ve all been friendly. I’ve made friends over the last six months–good friends. My son has made friends there too. 

When life brings unaccustomed changes, Sharon and Rob know that they can count on NMCS for food, friendship, and a bright spot in their week. As Sharon expressed, “The pantry has enhanced my life. Tuesdays are my pick-me-up days.” 

Building a Participant Volunteer Community One Bag at a Time

April 19, 2022

Mei has been picking up weekly groceries at our Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up pantry in the Portola neighborhood of San Francisco every week. After she retired as a seamstress, she took care of her grandchildren after they were born until they grew up. 

One day, Food Bank staffers passed out flyers asking participants if they’d be interested in volunteering. When Mei was approached, she immediately offered to volunteer and was eager to jump right in. 

“I enjoy coming here and wanted to help out,” said Mei, who smiled behind her mask while packing some carrots and winter squash into a food bag at the Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up pantry. “I always took my grandchildren to this park to play,” says Mei, “so this is my neighborhood.” 

Since then, Mei has been coming every week to pack food bags. Every Monday morning, the closed-off street next to Palega Playground and Recreation Center in the Portola neighborhood and just over a mile away from John McLaren Park turns into a food pantry. It’s a well-orchestrated symphony that participants have seen every week but are now helping to conduct. 

From Participant to Volunteer 

Louisa Cantwell, who supervises the pop-up, was looking for an opportunity to engage more with the community and decided to ask if the participants wanted to volunteer at this pantry with the Food Bank.  

“Even though the participants all speak different languages, there’s a genuine sense of community here. A participant volunteer said to me that she’s not able to donate food or money to the Food Bank. But she’s able to give her time, and she didn’t know she was able to do it before. She feels very empowered by that.” 

It’s also been easier for Louisa to fill up volunteer shifts. 

“What we found was by removing the barrier of having to sign up for a shift through our website, we were easily able to get people to come down and volunteer two to three hours of their time every Monday morning.” 

Annette, who’s a longtime volunteer, enjoyed seeing the change of pace since she started. “This is already a community-building experience,” she said. “To have participants volunteer with us too is incredible.” 

Preparing for 2022 and Beyond 

Louisa is planning to invite participants to volunteer at several other pantries. Because the community stepped up at the Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up, she’s hopeful that other pantries will see similar results 

“It’s really important to put equity at the center of what we do. These opportunities will give participants agency, choice, and power in the food distribution.” 

For Mei, volunteering while also receiving food made an impact on her. 

“I’m grateful to be able to get this food while volunteering because it helps so many people.” 

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.