Volunteering: An Unexpected Gift

December 22, 2023

If you asked Nick his driving motivation to home-deliver groceries to neighbors during the pandemic, he simply felt it was the right thing to do: “I feel very strongly that people should not go hungry. I think that of all the things that humans confront, hunger is the worst. So, I just wanted to help make food available.” What he couldn’t have expected was to come away from his volunteering experience at the Food Bank with some new home décor — but more on that later. 

From New Neighborhoods to Familiar Faces 

After working in the warehouse and at different Food Bank pantries during the early pandemic, Nick signed up to home-deliver groceries to seniors, families with young children, folks with disabilities and other neighbors who weren’t able to make it to a traditional pantry but still needed food. His shift took him all throughout the city — including neighborhoods that he, after many years of living in San Francisco, had never been to before.  

Then, he got an email from the Food Bank, inviting volunteers to “adopt a building,” or deliver to the same building and neighbors each week. 

“That’s how I got into home-delivering groceries at an apartment complex in Japantown. And it’s been extremely fulfilling. I enjoy seeing the same people again and again. They have a true multinational force in that building, so it’s a huge variety of people,” Nick shared.  

Communicating Through Food 

“I’ve had all kinds of food given to me because people just want to acknowledge me bringing food to them,” Nick told us, highlighting how despite communication barriers, both volunteers and participants find a way to share their mutual care and respect. Though Nick is the one dropping off groceries, including 70% fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry staples like rice, and proteins like eggs and chicken, many neighbors reciprocate in their own way. 

“There’s one unit with an elderly couple, and the woman is a baker. She makes these palmiers that are so good! And then for example, this week, one person gave me a bag of raisins and date pieces.” Who knew volunteering could be such a sweet gig? 

A Heartfelt Gift 

But of all the moments he’s shared with other neighbors, one memory with John and Yihung, an older couple on his delivery route, sticks out for Nick above the rest. 

“John asked me one time how old I am [75]. I told him, and he just was blown away. He wound up making me a scroll, which is in English and in Chinese characters. It’s just incredible that he took this effort to prepare that scroll, as a way of saying thank you. I almost choke up thinking about it,” Nick shared.  

The hand calligraphy of the beautifully ornate scroll reads: Mr. Nick: Seeing you at this age, you still working hard to serve our elderly. I can’t help but say: the world would be more beautiful if there were more people like you! 

In Nick’s words: “It’s really a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” 

Just the Delivery Boy? 

Nick was immensely touched by John and Yihung’s gesture and hangs the scroll in his home to this day. But he was quick to point out that it takes a whole community of people to make delivering groceries possible, week in and week out. 

“I am humbled by all the effort behind me, by all the people at the Food Bank who make this happen. That’s the extraordinary part of this. The people who are out there on the curb in all kinds of weather, loading groceries into people’s cars, people who are working in the warehouse day after day, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I’m just the delivery boy.” 

Nick’s right: transformative change takes collective action. But that’s exactly why the hard work of volunteers or “delivery boys” like Nick is so critical to ensure that fresh groceries can reach neighbors across San Francisco and Marin. Thousands of families, including John and Yihung, depend on home-delivered groceries to put food on the table and keep up with the ever-high cost of groceries, rent, medical bills, gas and more.  

We can’t promise you a handmade scroll of appreciation. But here’s what volunteering WILL deliver: greater connection with your community, a critical service for our neighbors, and an opportunity to help provide Food For All. Join Nick and sign up to “adopt” a route – fill out this form of interest to get more details.   

Gathering Around the Table

December 14, 2023

It’s a simple question: what’s the dish you would make for a holiday gathering? But these answers reveal more than just food preferences. When we prepare a meal that means something to us and those we gather with, we bring a piece of ourselves and communal joy to the table.

Our community is cooking up some delicious dishes as the holiday season kicks into high gear. But before we dive into their holiday food traditions, we must recognize that steep food prices combined with a sky-high cost of living are forcing many to turn to the Food Bank to afford a holiday meal for their table. And with support from all levels of government going away, we’re struggling too. We’re serving thousands more neighbors than before the pandemic, and we need your support. Join us and reinvest in community by donating today.

Now – let’s get into those recipes!

 

“Fish and chicken are very important for us as Chinese people. Without fish and chicken, it wouldn’t be a holiday!” – Mimi (left) and Amy (right), Food Bank participants

 

It’s definitely menudo and pozole season – those big bowls of warm soups! And tamales with a big cup of atole. Tamales are what I’m most excited to eat – that’s really what lets me know the holidays are here.” – Omar, volunteer at Food Bank partner La Raza CRC

 

“My tradition is always making Christmas lasagna, using spinach in the ricotta so there’s green and red from the tomatoes. [It makes me think of] back in my younger days when I could entertain, and having friends and family overjust good times. – Deirdra, Food Bank participant

 

Calabaza en tacha is a type of sweet pumpkin dish. It’s delicious, and the texure is very smooth. You caramelize the pumpkin with piloncillo (pure cane sugar). It’s a sugar bomb, and a very special Mexican recipe for Semana Santa and Día de los Muertos! – Norma (left) and Gloria (right), Food Bank volunteers

“My candied yams are a family recipe that goes back many generations – it makes me think of my great-grandmother and my great-aunt. For the spices, you need brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla flavoring, a pinch of salt and lots of butter. It’s so good!” – Beverly, Food Bank participant

“I always make this for the holidays — it’s my tradition. Steam some brussels sprouts whole, then drop them in an ice bath and then quarter them. Chop up some thick bacon, cook that, then add half a cup of finely diced garlic. Toss in the brussels sprouts and some caraway seeds, get it nice and hot, and you’re done!” – Sean, Community Coordinator at the Food Bank

 

 

Thanks to our community for sharing out their favorite recipes – we hope you can garner some inspiration for your next holiday feast. Happy Holidays!

 

Ming’s Story: “We Make Enough for All”

December 1, 2023

Peering in through the windows of a Cantonese barbeque spot in the Richmond district, your gaze meets a line of roast duck, dripping fatty juices onto pans of stir-fried noodles, vegetables, and roast pork Rows of ducks hang above trays of stir fried noodles, meats, and more.below. Next door, another restaurant dishes up steaming, juicy xiao long bao. 

These two restaurants are where Food Bank pantry participant Ming has worked for the past 10 years – first as a cook, now as kitchen manager of both operations. Though her job has steady hours, and she’s able to eat shift meals at work, inflation is still taking a toll on her household budget: “Groceries are really expensive,” she shared. “But even though it’s hard, I still have to support my three daughters.” 

That’s why her local food pantry makes all the difference. 

Pantry Ingredients Save More than Money 

Ming first learned about the Roosevelt Pop-up Pantry from a friend in 2020, when the pandemic shutSu Ming taking her lunch break from work down restaurants all over the Bay Area and put her and thousands of others out of work. As a single parent raising a high schooler, putting another daughter through college, and helping support her eldest daughter at the time, Ming needed some support of her own. Ever since, these weekly groceries from the pantry near her work have remained a crucial time- and money-saver for this busy mom.

“What I get here is easily enough for a few days, sometimes a week it depends on what there is. I’m really grateful, but I have to be strategic,” Ming told us. Thousands of neighbors are performing this mental math each week, stretching their groceries out to cover as many meals as possible.  

Our survey of more than 9,000 Food Bank participants showed that single parent households like Ming’s are among those hit the hardest 69% could not afford a $400 emergency expense, and 88% were worried about running out of food. And with the holiday season and family gatherings in full swing, the pressure to afford special ingredients on top of the essentials can be daunting. 

Holidays Taste Like Mom’s Cooking 

Even though year over year inflation has slowed, the cost of a holiday meal is still 13% higher compared to 2021. It’s no wonder why more than 50,000 households rely on groceries from the Food Bank as the base for their celebratory meals.  

For Ming, the holidays are all about reconnecting with her three daughters — and for her family, much of that connection happens through food. She says her older daughters head home for the holidays with one thing in mind: a home-cooked meal. 

“‘What tastes best is Mom’s cooking!’” Ming laughed, mimicking her daughters. “I make whatever they feel like. I make a soup with carrots, tofu, bean curd sheets, shiitake mushrooms, porkit’s my daughters’ favorite.”  

Food Brings Joy Year-Round 

As the pantry is winding down for the day, Ming darts back into the restaurant and emerges with massive trays of stir-fried noodles and vegetables, braised pork, and fried rice. Food Bank staff and someFood Bank Community Coordinator Marcel and Su Ming are all smiles for lunch volunteers make their way over, dishing up portions buffet-style and gathering around the foldout table. Turns out, it’s not only Ming’s family that she’s bringing together over food. 

“I asked our chef to cook these dishes for the pantry staff – they like eating it,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “Our staff have to eat lunch too. We make enough for all of us, and then we can have lunch together.” 

As folks sit around laughing, chatting and eating in the sunshine, it’s clear this lunch tradition has morphed into something beyond a quick break from work. These meals are a weekly chance to slow down, connect, and be in community with others. And whether for a special occasion or a regular Tuesday afternoon, any day is a great day to share the joy of good food.  

 

 

Technology That Makes an Impact: Q&A With Cruise

September 19, 2023

Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG) is one of the flagship services our Food Bank offers, serving thousands of participants every week. HDG fills critical gaps in the food assistance landscape: it means that people who find it difficult or impossible to attend food pantries, like seniors or adults with disabilities, can still receive the fresh, nutritious groceries they need. “The produce is just wonderful,” shared Violet, a resident of the Richmond district and HDG participant. “It’s hard for me to lug vegetables home – they’re heavy, you know? And I don’t want to be a burden on my sons and their families.”

But HDG wasn’t always as robust as it is now. Thanks to partners like Cruise, we were able to quickly scale the service when shelter-in-place began in 2020. Their commitment to serving the community is moving us closer to providing food for all. We sat down with Cruise to hear more about our partnership.

Food Bank (FB): When and how did the partnership with the Food Bank come about?

Cruise: When the pandemic hit in early 2020, food insecurity skyrocketed across San Francisco. The number of people who needed support from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank nearly doubled.

At Cruise, we started by simply asking how we could help. After talking with the Food Bank’s leadership, we committed part of our all-electric fleet of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to quickly scale the HDG program and aid in delivering groceries to those in need. What initially started as a crisis response program in 2020 has grown into a long-term community partnership – to date, we’ve delivered millions of meals with our AVs – and more than three years later, we’re honored to continue delivering these meals six days a week.

 

FB: What benefit have you seen to giving back to the community in this way?

Cruise: Our Cruise for Good partnerships have provided benefits for our community and our company. We’ve delivered over 2.5 million meals to local residents in need, particularly in underserved areas. We’re proud to directly be partnering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in a robust way – our teams work together on a daily basis to ensure we’re utilizing the best of our technology to meet a community need in bringing nutritious food to people in a way that fosters equity and dignity.

We’ve also learned through this process. Community partnerships have allowed us to tangibly see how our technology can be harnessed to directly meet the needs of our neighbors – and as a result, these partnerships have been a significant source of employee pride as well as provided operational learnings for our business.

 

FB: Cruise took the 1% Pledge, did your partnership with the Food Bank influence that decision in any way?

Cruise: Absolutely! Serving our communities is core to our mission, but it was this partnership that started in the pandemic that was pivotal for us in realizing our potential to meet urgent challenges in our community even while we were pre-commercial.

While this began organically, it is now core to how we operate. Cruise for Good is a formal program anchored by our Pledge 1% commitment to dedicate at least 1% of our fleet to serving the needs of our local communities.

 

FB: Cruise isn’t just working with the Food Bank, are there other ways you are engaging with the community?

Cruise: The hunger crisis also sits at the intersection of a climate crisis, with over 30 million Americans facing food insecurity, while food waste reaches record highs. Recently, we partnered with food rescue nonprofit, Replate, to launch a first-of-its-kind driverless, all-electric food rescue initiative to combat food insecurity, food waste, and climate change. Cruise’s AVs now deliver recovered meals from local restaurants and business to nonprofits serving those experiencing food insecurity.

In addition, millions of Americans don’t have access to reliable transportation, which in turn creates barriers to economic mobility. That’s why we extended our partnership with nonprofit SF New Deal to provide free rides to late-shift service workers here in San Francisco. In the first few months of this ridehail partnership, Cruise has provided hospitality workers with thousands of rides to workers who often have limited safe or affordable ways to get to and from work.

 

FB: September is Hunger Action Month, a time for people to step up to take tangible action to end Hunger. How would you encourage other companies to take action?

Cruise: Hunger Action Month is an important reminder: it’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger.At Cruise, social impact is in our DNA and embedded in our mission to build more sustainable, equitable, and accessible communities – so it’s natural that our employees have shown genuine enthusiasm for this partnership and many teams across Cruise have volunteered and even led fundraising campaigns for the Food Bank. Volunteering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is a simple but effective way for individuals to take action to combat food insecurity. We’d also love to see other companies at One Big Table, where we’ll come together as a community to fundraise to end hunger.

We encourage companies of all sizes to leverage their resources (employee time and talent, in-kind and financial donations) to support critical organizations like San Francisco-Marin Food Bank – and consider joining Pledge 1% to institutionalize these commitments.

A Familiar Face

August 24, 2023

Ring twice. Leave it at the door if there’s a note. Knock once, but loudly, he’s hard of hearing. She’ll get the door; it just takes her a while to get up.

By now, Home-Delivered Groceries volunteer Gideon has these quirks down pat. A freelance journalist by trade, he had just started remote work when the pandemic hit. Three weeks into lockdown, his friend posted on Facebook about a volunteering opportunity with the Food Bank, delivering groceries to homebound neighbors. Gideon was in: “There are things you miss doing, being work from home the whole time. This kind of fills in some of those gaps,” he told us.

Volunteering: A Social Exercise

Gideon loads grocery bags into his car for delivery.

After trying different routes, Gideon eventually chose to “Adopt a Building” or make regular deliveries to the same apartment complex each week. For three years, Gideon’s Saturday mornings have looked very similar: roll up to the Food Bank warehouse, pack his sedan with 20 grocery bags, knock on his neighbors’ doors, and deliver fresh produce, proteins, and grains from the Food Bank wagon in tow.

It’s at this apartment complex where he first met Victoria, who we met in the previous story, along with 19 other neighbors he’s come to know in the years since. For Gideon, volunteering is equal parts exercise – “a trainer once told me the best workouts are the ones that are repeatable!” – and socializing. At one apartment, he goes in to chat with a 94-year-old woman and her daughter offers him a taste-test of the noodles they’re cooking. At another, he shares that they gifted him caramel popcorn after the Warriors were in the finals last year. Even in these passing interactions, it’s clear how food and care go hand in hand.

Showing Up, Every Week

Gideon waves hello to one of the participants along his route.

“It creates a sense of membership,” Gideon said of delivering groceries each week. “You know you’re part of a community, and seeing familiar faces, there’s a type of connection. It’s made [this time] a lot less grim and lonely, without a doubt.”

As we head to make the last delivery of the day – Victoria’s apartment – Gideon shares he’s excited to sit in on the interview and learn more about her life. With 20 deliveries to make, it’s not every day he gets to sit down for a conversation with one of his neighbors. “I look forward to this,” he told us. “I have a stressful job where I don’t interact with people, and volunteering is kind of the opposite. We don’t really have that much time to talk to any [neighbors] individually, but we want to be there for them. We want to show up.”

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

Be Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy Life

August 24, 2023

As a retired nurse and home health aide of 25 years, Victoria knows the importance of staying active and eating healthy. In early 2020, she “started going to the YMCA – they have a lot of activities for seniors. There’s bingo, exercise [classes], and every Tuesday they give us food,” she told us at her apartment in the Mission, where she’s lived alone for the past 10 years.

When the pandemic hit, everything at the YMCA shut down – along with the food pantry across the street where Victoria would pick up groceries each week. “I can stand for a couple of minutes, but if the food I get is too heavy, it’s hard for me to get to my apartment,” she shared. “So, when the program was changed, and they delivered it, I was very happy.”

Home-Delivery Makes a Difference

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

That new program was Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG), which was greatly expanded by the Food Bank during the pandemic when many neighbors like Victoria were homebound and hundreds of neighborhood food pantries were closed. Once a week, HDG participants get a knock at

their door, and a bag full of leafy greens, seasonal fruits, proteins, and grains are delivered to their doorstep with a smile.

“That’s why I’ve known Gideon for a long time. He always comes and delivers the food every Saturday, which I appreciate so much,” Victoria shared with us, gesturing to Gideon, her regular HDG volunteer of three years. “He’s working every weekend – we should give him some award, signed by the governor,” she proposed, earning a laugh and a “I’ll take it!” from Gideon.

Convenient, Consistent Food Access

Gideon lifts a bag of home-delivered groceries.

Victoria is very health conscious, especially since getting diagnosed with glaucoma. With ingredients from HDG, she can make the nutritious meals that help ward away what she calls the “three brothers and sisters” that visit you as you get older: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

“I have to watch my diet sometimes. [The Food Bank] gives mostly everything – bell pepper now, mushroom, ground beef, turkey, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges… so, mostly the food that [I] eat every day. I’ll use that in a stir fry, or sometimes I make sinigang, sisig, adobo, or lumpia shanghai. I enjoy it.”

Convenient, consistent access to healthy food helps take a huge stressor off Victoria’s plate, especially as a retiree on a fixed budget. Her income of $850 per month from Supplemental Security Income has to stretch to pay for her utilities, rent, and various medications and medical bills – a nearly impossible task in San Francisco. “Because of [my] age, I cannot go back to work. This is what I get. And the prices of commodities are going up. With the help of the Food Bank, at least I have something to eat.”

Until Next Saturday!

In the coming months, Victoria is focused on attending checkups for her glaucoma, and looking into attending a friend’s Episcopalian church community – she says the bingo is a big draw. And, of course, she’ll be looking forward to Saturdays, both for her grocery delivery and chatting with Gideon. After showing us the bounty in her bag and contemplating what she’ll make for dinner – “maybe some omelet” – she leaves us with a few parting words that Gideon’s already familiar with.

“When I see him, I say, ‘I cannot repay you for all these sacrifices that you are giving to us.’ So I say, ‘Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy life.’ That’s the thing I tell [him] every Saturday he comes and delivers my food.”

Victoria shows off her grocery haul.

Breaking the Cycle with Homeless Prenatal Program

June 29, 2023

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are life-changing challenges even at the best of times. But for pregnant people staring down the barrel of poverty and homelessness, paying for rent, food, medical care, and everything a growing baby needs to thrive is a near-insurmountable task. That’s where Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) comes in. Located in the Mission District, HPP offers a staggering breadth of services for low-income families. We spoke with Linda Huerta, the distribution coordinator for HPP’s weekly food pantries.

Food Bank (FB): How did you get involved with Homeless Prenatal Program?

Linda Huerta: I learned about HPP first through our Community Health Worker program, which is a 16-month, paid, accredited job training program that prepares clients and other women from the community for careers in community health. I make sure our 400 families can get nutritious food – this week, we had broccoli, tomatoes, bananas, eggs, and more. I’m always thinking about how we can make the distribution more equitable.

Pacifiers are just one of the host of family items that participants can pick up at HPP

FB: Does HPP provide any other services to the community?

Linda: Absolutely – folks don’t just get food when they visit us on Fridays. It’s also diapers, pacifiers, and teething crackers; housing assistance and CalFresh application help; legal services and other family support. These things are available all week, but it’s so accessible to be able to offer more help or sign people up at the same time as the food pantry. And if we can’t help them, then when they come to get food, we can let them know if there’s another organization that can work on their problem.

FB: How does HPP break the cycle of family poverty and homelessness?

Linda: There are so many ways we work towards ending poverty, and a big part of that is food – it allows families to budget their money; maybe dollars that they were gonna spend on food can go to something else that supports them, especially with how expensive food is getting. It makes me feel good inside, honestly, to know that I can do this for my neighbors. Food means nutrition. Food means energy, food means love. And then we can build off that to offer even more services.

Linda smiles after our conversation in HPP’s back garden

Linda closed our conversation by telling us, “It really does take a community. We can’t all do it alone, we need partnership.” Our Food Bank is proud to be a part of the solution by joining hands with organizations like HPP to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives.

Empowering Community with En2Action

June 29, 2023

“I’m always saying, pay attention to the quietest people. It doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say; it just means they’re not comfortable saying it yet,” observed Andrea Baker, the executive director of En2Action, a San Francisco nonprofit that works to promote equity and transformative social good. Elevating community perspectives to enable change is critical to her organization’s work. “Our job is to build comfort,” said Andrea. “That’s when they start finding their voice.”

A flyer for participants interested in enrolling in CalFresh, with the headline "Want to save money on food?"

En2Action is a vital community partner of the Food Bank and has extensive experience conducting robust community engagement that centers racial equity and gathers input from diverse communities to inform community and economic development planning. En2Action is collaborating with the Food Bank on several initiatives that address root causes of hunger in San Francisco and Marin, including the Root Cause Action Learning & Leading to achieve Food SecuritY in Marin Project, also known as RALLY Marin.

Led and facilitated by En2Action, the RALLY Marin Project is a one-year planning grant and engagement effort supported by Feeding America that centers the wisdom of people experiencing food insecurity, engages a task force of community-based organizations and multi-service providers with a goal toward removing systemic barriers to CalFresh benefits in Marin County, which disproportionately impacts people of color.

“Our work with RALLY Marin is, again, about elevating community voices. We are reaching out to food providers, pantries, and other organizations that go beyond just providing food. In particular, with this program, we’re looking at CalFresh and why more folks of color are not utilizing it, particularly in Latinx communities.”

A group meeting at En2Action.

Rooted in Community

When we spoke to Andrea, the nonprofit had just moved into the new Southeast Community Center in Bayview-Hunters Point. A Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-led organization, En2Action’s work includes a history of initiatives that intersect food, racial justice, and economic equity. Looking out of the office space windows, she observed that many of the challenges facing the neighborhood and other communities of color in the City are rooted in historic racist policies such as redlining and urban renewal that displaced thousands of Black Americans — erasing generational wealth in the process.

“How do most families build wealth in this area? You build it through real estate; you buy a home. It supports your kid going to college. You can help somebody open a business. That was taken from us,” she says. She notes that those antecedent inequities, compounded by the region’s high cost of living, contributed to San Francisco’s shrinking Black population — from around 13% in the 1980s to under 5% today. “I have seen this neighborhood go from 75% African American to where we are today; just about 30% of the Bayview population is Black.”

Andrea wants to help the remaining enclaves of color in the City thrive and believes food is a catalyst for community development.

“Food has been a way out for many people of color and immigrant communities. It’s been a way out for a business, a catering business, a food truck, a restaurant,” says Andrea. Four years ago, En2Action launched the Bayview Bistro food hub, transforming a vacant lot into a festive gathering space featuring a variety of savory cuisines from Bayview-based vendors. But when the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, life moved online almost overnight, forcing the nonprofit to pivot. The shift was challenging, as they had to acquire a commercial kitchen and develop Bayview Bistro boxes for online food ordering. Its reach was expanded further through pandemic resources to fight hunger. “And that kept our vendors going. Some vendors who’ve worked with us said, ‘I kept my lights on.’ And that was an amazing thing.”

Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social, wears a hoodie emblazoned with "Eat More Gumbo."
Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social

The learnings from Bayview Bistro and other neighborhood-focused economic development programs, including Sell Black — a digital marketing program to increase the online presence of Black businesses — contributed to the development of its Ujamaa Kitchen. Modeled on the fourth principle of Kwanzaa — cooperative economics — the initiative is an incubator for food entrepreneurs that features a six-month culinary boot camp, certification to operate a commercial kitchen, and a myriad of business mentorship services. Ujamaa Kitchen alum Chef Dontaye Ball, whose pop-up restaurant Gumbo Social specializes in gumbo and soul food, has high praise for Andrea.

“You just look at her impact on our business. Once we got access to that kitchen, that opened the door to be able to push Gumbo Social forward,” Ball said. “Over $35,000 in sales came directly from referrals or opportunities that came directly from En2Action,” he added. “For some people, that’s not a lot, but for us, it’s a game changer. That’s two months of payroll; that gives us an opportunity to build for the future.” That future included a brick-and-mortar Gumbo Social restaurant that opened in early June in the Bayview. And that is an outcome that En2Action enthusiastically applauds. “It’s really important to me, to us, that we are not simply giving fish. We are teaching folks how to fish,” said Andrea. “Food is an empowering thing.”

Getting Perspectives on Marin

A San Francisco-Marin Food Bank branded van drives through the Marin hills.
Our Mobile Food Pantry is part of food outreach in Marin County.

For several months En2Action’s community empowerment lens has been focused on a region rife with systemic inequities 50 miles north of the Bayview. RaceCounts.org ranks Marin County as the second most racially disparate county in California, finding the Latinx community the most impacted across all disparity indicators. Twenty-five percent of Latinx children in the county live below the federal poverty level. The RALLY Marin initiative, led by En2Action, features a unique partnership with a task force of community-based organizations seeking to identify and elevate food insecurity solutions that prioritize the lived experiences and perspectives of people most impacted by the issue. Key to finding those solutions is the targeted community outreach conducted through RALLY Marin, which includes listening with intentionality to the concerns of Latinx residents who may qualify for food assistance. The results have been more than revealing.

“The level of information from community members we were able to hear was authentic, and heart-centered,” said the Food Bank’s Senior Program Manager Alex Danino, reflecting on the focus groups led by En2Action in late April. “There were super-rich discussions that spoke to the challenges and the opportunities for growth,” she added. As part of the team developing recommendations and plans for implementing learnings from RALLY Marin, Alex was impressed by the participant feedback in the listening sessions. “I believe the feedback will tell us how and what we can do next on our outreach efforts,” she observed. “A new way of doing our work is emerging, including how we are working with community partners, the county and co-creating options for access, all based on community voices.”

Alex Danino (top) and Liliana Sandoval (bottom)

Liliana Sandoval, Associate Director of Programs, Outreach for CalFresh, looks forward to the outcomes revealed from the focus groups. “En2Action is going to gather all that feedback, analyze it and propose solutions that we could then take for more access and utilization of CalFresh,” Liliana said. And she adds that important questions will arise from these community engagement efforts. “How could we bring Marin County administrators into the fold and get them involved in co-creating solutions? What can the county do with this information that we’ve gotten directly from people who have not accessed the program because of barriers? Just what work needs to be done at all levels?” En2Action will continue its outreach, partnership, and analysis efforts through RALLY Marin, delivering a Community Plan in the early summer.

As for Andrea Baker, she firmly believes providing community members opportunities to be heard and ask authentic questions about their needs are catalysts for real change, whether in Marin or San Francisco’s Bayview. “If we can engage, empower, and then provide the resources for people to act, then I think we can get a whole lot of stuff done,” she said. Pointing to an En2Action team gathered in a meeting room, “You know, the 12 of us here can’t do it all, but if the 12 of us here, every year, can impact one person and those people can go out and impact one more person, I’m all for that. I can live with those numbers.”

A RALLY Marin focus group.

CalFresh Ripple Effects: Miguel’s Story

June 14, 2023

Miguel's artwork hangs in front of his window: 3 black and white cubes made from Venetian blinds.
Miguel’s recent artwork

At Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, Miguel lights up when he starts talking about his art. He sets down his grocery bags and whips out his phone to show us his latest creation, hanging in front of his second story window: a mobile made entirely of syringes (with the needles removed, of course), that blows and gently spins in the breeze, while explaining: “I used to work for the opera, until I retired five years ago. I also made costumes for theatre groups, foundations and drag queens. I have a program going after I retired, [making] mobiles and artwork with the recycled materials I [find] on the street, thrown away.”  

A Loss for the Community 

Miguel is a longtime member of the arts scene in San Francisco, a gay man who’s been HIV+ for nearlyMiguel is smiling, with his handlebar mustache, red scarf/necktie and maroon sweater. 40 years, an activist, and a pantry participant since 2020 in his neighborhood of the Western Addition. He’s also one of roughly 101,000 CalFresh (known as SNAP federally) recipients in San Francisco who saw their grocery budget decimated overnight. This is due to the federal government’s decision to cut emergency allotments, which boosted CalFresh benefits by an average of $160 for recipients in San Francisco during the pandemic. That’s a loss of nearly $12 million a month in food assistance for our neighbors. 

“I applied for the [CalFresh] benefits at the beginning of COVID. I was having a hard time with money. And it was very nice, especially when they started putting the extra funds in it,” Miguel told us. Miguel says he was receiving close to $200 during the pandemic, but after speaking with a CalFresh representative that same morning we met, he learned he’d be receiving just $23. That’s why the Food Bank Policy & Advocacy team is advocating to raise the minimum benefit to $50 in the state Senate this year – because for Miguel and many others, “it’s not worth going through all the [paperwork] trouble for $20.” 

Meals are Best Shared 

Miguel poses in front of his artFor Miguel, his CalFresh benefits were a supplemental support that helped him stretch his budget and extend a little kindness to other friends who were struggling during the throes of the pandemic. “I was able not only to get things for myself, but I was able to invite friends to get food with me so we can have dinner together. I did it with two friends, maybe every two weeks. Eating alone is not really the best thing. Having company and being able to provide something a little extra, that was very nice. It really made a difference for me and my friends.” 

In addition to dinners with friends, Miguel finds support through groups like the 50 Plus Network from the SF AIDS Foundation, which connects long-term HIV survivors through meetups and events. Miguel and his current housemate also stop by the Rosa Parks Senior Center most days for lunch, and utilize the Food Bank’s weekly pantries, where Miguel picks up groceries for them both: “The sweet potatoes are for my roommate, because he can’t come to the pantry – he’s disabled. So [the pantry] not only helps me, it helps someone else.” 

A Positive Ripple Effect

As federal lawmakers strip proven poverty-fighting programs and safety nets from our neighbors, andMiguel waves goodbye from his apartment window. leave food banks to pick up the slack, it’s essential that the Food Bank maintains access to the fresh produce, proteins, and grains that 53,000 neighbors rely on weekly to nourish themselves. “The benefit is greater than just food,” Miguel explained to us. “At my age, I don’t think there’s any stigma – I encourage other people to apply for these services. I have diabetes, so I have to be careful about what I’m eating. And besides the food, I can use the money [I save] on other things that are beneficial for my health or enjoyment. It’s a ripple effect; it magnifies your life in all these positive ways.” 

Growing Food Sovereignty in the Bayview

May 24, 2023

Earth Day at Florence Fang Community Farm (FFCF) was a feast for the senses: blue skies and verdant greens offset by blooming wildflowers, the smell of soil, and the conversation of food pantry participants and farm volunteers mixing with bird calls and Chinese folk songs. 

Nestled in the heart of the Bayview, FFCF is a “community center, outdoors,” in the words of Director Ted Fang. In addition to cultivating the land, FFCF runs a farmer’s market-style food pantry that opens at 9 a.m. each Saturday to serve the community with fresh fruits, leafy green vegetables, and proteins, provided by the Food Bank. The farm also provides the harvests of the season to pantry participants! 

“A Community Center”  

As one of the most productive urban farms in the Bay Area, we’re not surprised to see swaths of volunteers showing up throughout the morning in response to FFCF’s call for an Earth Day volunteer workday. Many of the longtime volunteers arrived earlier in the day, some stopping to pick up groceries at FFCF’s food pantry, and others heading directly over to the farm to begin tending to the land.  Woman in face mask standing in front of garden plots

Some regular volunteers like Ms. Chang, who we met after picking up her groceries, have a multifaceted relationship with the farm. As a retiree, she first came to the farm in search of socialization and something to do with her free time. Since then, she’s brought her sister, daughter, and grandchildren into the fold: “I enjoy volunteering at the farm because it is a community center, but for growing food! I get my exercise through this endeavor, bring home delicious harvests, and have a lot of fun along the way. You’ll have to come visit us when we put on talent shows. We love to sing and dance.” 

Another of FFCF’s longtime volunteers, Mrs. Li, offers to take us on a tour of the farm. As we draw closer to the community plots, scattered groups of elders are hard at work watering, thinning out crops to provide adequate space for growth, and weeding the beds. True to Ms. Chang’s word, several women working on the same plot join in singing Chinese folk songs, their harmonies joyfully carrying across the farm. One volunteer is nonchalantly placing some of FFCF’s bees on the flowering pea shoots with his bare hands, so they can pollinate the crop. 

Unifying Roots  

FFCF was originally founded as a gathering space for Chinese immigrants moving into the Bayview neighborhood – a historically Black neighborhood in San Francisco. Over the years, it morphed into a space to serve the broader Bayview community. In 2020, it was renamed from the “Asian Community Garden” to “Florence Fang Community Farm” to reflect that intention, while honoring Ted’s mother and her history of civic contribution.  

Additionally, FFCF houses a Black Organic Farmers program, started by Bayview born and raised Farmer in Charge Faheem Carter. Through this model of self-directed organizing and programming of different Bayview communities, volunteers at FFCF cultivate crops native to their culture and heritage. As Ted says, “It’s important for everyone to be comfortable with the food they want to eat and have control over their food. Food sovereignty gives people control of their food, and that’s what we’re doing.” 

Food sovereignty is a radical shift for this neighborhood, as the Bayview has historically been subject to food apartheid due to racism, redlining, city neglect and disinvestment. That’s why the farm is such a critical resource for neighbors – and why the Food Bank is honored to support FFCF’s mission of bringing in even more healthy, fresh foods to the neighborhood via their food pantry.  

The Farm, Beyond Food 

The impacts of the farm go well beyond fresh vegetables to take home at the end of a workday. For many at FFCF, including many of the Chinese elders present at the Earth Day workday, volunteering has led to fruitful friendships. Some volunteers were even inspired to buy smartphones for the first time and download WeChat [a Chinese messaging app] to stay in touch after leaving the farm.  

Farming is networking: you put green onions in one plot, napa cabbage in the other, and the byproducts make the soil richer for the other crops, building networks of nutrients. And this is also reflective of communities above the ground. At its heart, this is the definition of community building. You might come to volunteer or harvest vegetables and end up also reaping the rewards of a thriving network of relationships.  

Like Mrs. Li explained to us of the abundant plant tong ho [chrysanthemum greens], “you’ll see it everywhere in the plots, because it keeps volunteering itself,” or self-seeding. In this same way, the volunteers who continue showing up, tending to the land, and making connections are creating their own abundance.