Hunger Action Day 2024

May 16, 2024

On April 30, our Policy and Advocacy team gathered in-person with the California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC) in Sacramento to raise their voices for Hunger Action Day! Hunger Action Day is the single largest anti-hunger advocacy day in California, bringing advocates from across the state to the State Capitol to speak face-to-face with our policymakers. 

Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy Marchon, Community Organizer Alex, and Community Builder Jesus all traveled to Sacramento to represent the Food Bank. After an energetic pep rally outside of the Capitol, where we saw neighbors from partner organizations like Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) representing their communities, advocates got down to business.  

Key Demands 

This year, we lobbied in coalition for some key funding requests:

  • Increased CalFresh benefits for Californians 
  • Continued funding for Market Match, which gives CalFresh recipients $10-$15 extra dollars at farmer’s markets 
  • $60 million for food banks to purchase California-grown produce and pantry staples 
  • Increasing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to keep pace with the cost of living 
  • …and many others! 

Together other CHAC members, Marchon, Alex and Jesus shared directly with our elected officials how dwindling government support is affecting our neighbors already struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area and stretching food bank resources thin – emphasizing the need to double down on and invest in proven anti-hunger solutions like CalFresh.  

Staff Takeaways  

Reflecting on a jam-packed day of collaboration, Food Bank staff came away feeling energized to continue pushing for impactful, equitable policy. 

On being able to build community with other advocates, Jesus shared: “We’re able to see how interconnected all our efforts are and advocate for CalFresh, Food for All and increased funding for food banks. All of our collective efforts have an impact on our communities.” 

“It was amazing to hear everyone’s stories, and the way that they are affected and connected to the policies,” Alex added, speaking to neighbors who showed up to drive home the personal aspect of these policy and funding asks. “I hope that people feel empowered to vote positively for these measures, and that legislators are empowered by our stories.” 

One such neighbor was Ms. Liu, who showed up to advocate for fully funding Market Match – a program that helps match CalFresh shoppers’ dollars at farmer’s markets, giving an extra $10-$15 to spend on farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Personal Stories, Passionate Advocates 

Ms. Liu is a San Francisco resident, Home-Delivered Groceries participant, and an active member of TNDC’s Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association.  

She spoke passionately about Market Match’s impact on her family, telling staff of our elected officials: “My husband and I are both chronically ill, and it’s vital that we have access to fresh produce. With the closures of many Tenderloin corner stores, we highly depend on the benefits of the Market Match for fresh food within our means.” 

Since the end of CalFresh emergency allotments, Ms. Liu’s health has declined – but even that couldn’t stop her from traveling to the Capitol to advocate for better CalFresh benefits.

“I showed up today because it is imperative that they see that we are the people who are struggling,” Ms. Liu told us, gesturing to her friends and neighbors who also came to advocate. “We are elders, and many of us are chronically ill with mobility issues. We need more sustainable resources that work for us.” 

Moving the Needle on Hunger 

Thank you to all the advocates, including Ms. Liu, who spoke truth to power about the resources and support our communities need. Everyone has a right to nourishment and the ability to thrive – and our Policy and Advocacy team will continue pushing for equitable policies that uplift and support our neighbors while addressing the root causes of hunger. 

In Marchon’s words: “Can’t wait to see what we continue to do to move the needle forward!” 

 

Gone Green: It’s Not Just Our Logo

April 22, 2024

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt!” 

Those were the words of Benny Pausanos, Senior Fresh Rescue Driver at the Food Bank – and he meant it quite literally. On a sunny Wednesday morning in April, Benny was busy digging through banana boxes in a Trader Joe’s parking lot, searching for stray cartons of eggs while repackaging a caseload of donated groceries. 

Benny’s quest might not immediately seem like a climate-related activity. But when it comes to fighting the climate crisis, food banking might be a bigger part of the solution than many realize. This Earth Day, let’s take a tour of Food Bank programs – and learn how many of them double as climate solutions.  

Farm to Family

Worsening food insecurity and inequitable food access are closely linked to the climate crisis.  As farmers struggle to adapt to changing climate conditions, crop shortages can cause prices to skyrocket. When the buck gets passed to the consumer, these rising prices hit our low-income neighbors the hardest and exacerbate hunger in our community. 

One way we’re fighting this food access barrier is through the Farm to Family program, founded by former Food Bank Board member Gary Maxworthy and run by the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB). 

Farm to Family connects food banks with California growers. When farmers can’t send produce to stores because of size or ‘beauty’ requirements, we can purchase that for pennies on the dollar. This allows us to supply beautiful, farm-fresh produce that our participants can choose from year-round.

Last fiscal year, we diverted 40 million pounds of food through the Farm to Family program, bringing more than 40 types of delicious fruits and vegetables into our neighbors’ homes. But we’re not only fighting the ongoing effects of the climate crisis – we’re also taking preventative measures to avoid warming our climate further.  

Fresh Rescue

As food spoils, it emits methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and a major factor in the worsening climate crisis.  But what if, before it spoils, that food could make it onto the tables and into the stomachs of our neighbors across San Francisco and Marin? 

Enter the Food Bank’s Fresh Rescue program. Every day, Benny and our Fresh Rescue team make the rounds at stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Safeway to sort through boxes of donated bulk produce, dairy products, proteins and baked goods that otherwise would go to landfill. 

“I’m the link to help transport and qualify these donations,” Benny explained. Stores may donate items for a variety of reasons – whether they’re approaching expiration or have slight imperfections – and

We can’t accept severely dented or crushed cans they may harbor botulism!

Benny goes through every item individually. “We’re just trying to make the right decisions to feed people good quality food.” 

For donations that aren’t up to quality standards for our neighbors? We send unusable bread and produce to our partners at Marin Resource Recovery Center and Silva’s Ranch, where it becomes feed for pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats and even peacocks. Marin Resource Recovery Center, along with Recology SF, also helps sort, compost and recycle our remaining cardboard and other inedible grocery items.  

More Choice, Fewer Emissions

After inspection, high-quality donations come back to the warehouse. Some donations will go out to our pantry network, providing neighbors with additional grocery options on top of farm-fresh produce, whole grains and proteins.  

Other donations are funneled through our Shop Floor program. Our shop partners – community organizations who provide non-pantry services like hot meal sites and after-school snacks – can stop by our warehouse for free produce, bread for 8 cents/pound, and all other items for 18 cents/pound. “It’s all beneficial,” said Benny. “They can pick and choose what they can take for their programs. I think it’s impactful in that way – they have that extra variety to source from.” 

Giving our neighbors more variety and choice is always a win in our book. Plus, our Fresh Rescue program helps permanently avoid the production of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Food Bank Fresh Rescue staff diverted four million pounds of food from rotting in landfill last fiscal year – that’s the equivalent of protecting 4,000 acres of forestland.  

Energy Efficient Improvements

Our programs aren’t the only thing keeping us green! With the generous support of Capital Campaign donors, we expanded and redesigned our San Francisco warehouse to store more fresh produce, serve more people, and save more energy. Now, we’re building on that momentum by installing solar panels at our San Rafael warehouse! 

“Solar energy is a renewable resource that produces clean electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or other pollutants. By harnessing solar power, we’ll be reducing the carbon footprint of our San Rafael warehouse and contribute to environmental sustainability,” shared Carmelo Riyel Santo-Tomas, Senior Associate Director of Facilities at the Food Bank. 

Alongside sustainability-focused building improvements, our drivers are optimizing their routes to eliminate back-tracking and save on fuel costs. And in the next year, we’re looking forward to welcoming new electric vehicles into our fleet of trucks – another move towards energy efficient transportation.  

Climate Impact in Community

We’re proud of our work to become a more climate-conscious organization, but we recognize we have a long way to go. Looking to the future, we’re continuing to explore how to reduce food waste, implement energy efficient storage and transportation, and partner alongside farmers and community organizations who share our desire for a positive climate impact.  

Just as food banks can’t end hunger alone, we can’t fight the climate crisis alone. Together with our participants, partners, staff and community, we are committed to doing our part to support the well-being of our neighbors and the planet. Happy Earth Day! 

Finding Joy with Ms. Chang

February 28, 2024

As rain drizzled down on an early Saturday morning at Florence Fang Community Garden (FFCF), Ms. Chang finished loading up her cart with groceries and beckoned us over to view her most recent crop: a bountiful patch of cauliflower! Each plant boasted a still-growing cauliflower head, already larger than an outstretched hand.  

Ms. Chang is an eight-year volunteer and five-year food pantry participant at FFCF, a Food Bank partner and beautiful one-acre community center located in Bayview-Hunters Point. “It’s a really diverse space, with all kinds of people,” Ms. Chang told us. “I live in Hunters Point, so I walk here. My motivation to come out was that I’m retired, and now I have free time! This is an opportunity to find some joy, and it’s just really fun to socialize.”  

Return of the Food Pantry 

It’s not only social hour at the farm: Ms. Chang, along with around 15-20% of other farm volunteers, stops by FFCF’s Saturday morning food pantry before beginning her farm workday. Though it was forced to close because of pandemic precautions, the pantry reopened with the support of the Food Bank back in February of 2023.  

Now, FFCF provides pantry essentials and fresh produce each week to mainly Chinese elders. It’s a much-needed service, especially as high prices persist and safety net programs are rolled back – because neighbors like Ms. Chang and her eldest daughter, whom she lives with, are already feeling the impacts. 

Ms. Chang shared her experience: “I have CalFresh, it helps me with getting groceries. It was definitely easier during the pandemic with their extra funding [emergency allotments]. But it barely holds me over now. I cope by just not buying as much – I have retirement (SSI) too, so I’m not completely depleted. It does feel like not enough sometimes, though.” 

Saturday (Farm)er’s Market 

Neighborhood pantries like FFCF help fill the gap with fresh, healthy food for thousands of neighbors across San Francisco and Marin who are facing similar difficulties. On the Saturday we visited, volunteers laid out items like rice, bok choy, beets, carrots and celery farmer’s market-style, so each participant could take or decline items as they wished. 

“It’s great to see all of the offerings and get to choose what I want to bring home. I tend to like everything, though,” Ms. Chang told us. “With today’s offerings, I’d throw together the carrots, celery, bok choy, throw some sort of meat in and make a lovely soup. It is great for bringing down inflammation in the body!” 

A Joyful Space 

Upon immigrating to San Francisco from Guangzhou, China in the 80s, Ms. Chang worked as a sewist in San Francisco Chinatown’s garment factories. Now retired, the farm offers a different, more enjoyable kind of work: “I get to do some work on the farm, grow green vegetables and romaine lettuce. I grow really big winter melons. It isn’t too strenuous, and we get to pick whatever jobs we want. Plus, I like the exercise!”  

As we talk, she helps another volunteer carry a basket of recent harvests up the hill, where they’ll be divided among the volunteers – “we all get to share our harvests with one another,” explained Ms. Chang. That’s not all they share, because food and fun go hand in hand at FFCF. Typically, Ms. Chang will volunteer with her two younger sisters, but her daughter and grandchildren also stop by occasionally: “There’s a lot of events and activities at the farm, and my family enjoys coming to these events. We throw parties, sing, dance, everything. You’ll have to come visit us when we put on talent shows!” 

After marveling at the beauty and vibrancy of the farm and learning what Ms. Chang is planting for spring (tong ho and yao choy!), we finally wave goodbye. The rain has stopped, the sun is beginning to peek out, and Ms. Chang heads back to her fellow volunteers. From the smile on her face, it’s safe to say that FFCF has built not only a flourishing farm or food pantry, but a true community on this plot of land.  

As Ms. Chang put it so succinctly: “I have a lot of friends here. Being here makes me happy.”  

“Help Repair the World”

February 28, 2024

Volunteering with the Food Bank in May 2020 was really a no-brainer for Mitchell. As a retired government worker for various public health agencies, he already had a deep knowledge of epidemics and health outbreaks. Combined with the driving force of his faith, Mitchell knew he wanted to help his community out during a difficult and pivotal time. 

“I come from a Jewish culture that mandates we help repair the world. I heard that the Food Bank needed volunteers, so I went down, I signed up and that’s where I’ve been,” Mitchell told us. 

Community: An Antidote to Isolation

Today, Mitchell is a regular fixture at four pantries a week, with more than 1300 volunteer hours under

Mitchell stops to chat with Mike, Senior Pop-up Supervisor at the Food Bank

his belt. Though he has some ambitious ideas for getting more folks involved with volunteering – “get influencer people, the ones with the hot names to plug the Food Bank. Maybe Taylor Swift, I understand she’s an influencer” – we think his own testimony is pretty convincing. 

“A lot of seniors isolated themselves during the pandemic. Being at the Food Bank allows you to be with real-life people. So it’s very good for the psyche, the mental health,” Mitchell shared. And aside from the social component, “going to the Food Bank is like going to the gym. I can lift a 60-pound bag of rice from a pallet and put it on the table. And I will be 80 years old in July!” 

Outside of his busy Food Bank shift schedule, Mitchell is active in Lao and Burmese communities in the Bay, a longtime affinity and connection that stems back to his college days. He also became interested in Legos during the pandemic, dedicating his entire living room to elaborate Lego sets: “my living room is a museum!”

Join Mitchell

In addition to his extensive volunteering, Mitchell also donates to the Food Bank each month – a crucial way to ensure we can continue meeting the immediate needs of our neighbors while strategically planning for more long-term, holistic solutions in the future. Thank you, Mitchell, for your dedication to ending hunger in San Francisco and Marin! We can’t do this work without supporters like you.

Becoming a monthly donor or a regular volunteer are two of the best ways you can support neighbors facing hunger. Make a gift or sign up for a shift to make a difference today! 

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

January 4, 2024

Ask a regular volunteer at our Pop-up Pantries, or any Food Bank Pop-up staffer, and they’ll smile at the mention of Stephanie Chin and her dad, George. Stephanie and George started volunteering in the early days of the pandemic, and their friendly and fun presence has been a fixture at multiple weekly pantry sites ever since.  

But it’s not only other volunteers and staffers who look forward to seeing them. Through their consistent dedication to volunteering, Stephanie and George also get to know many participants – and on top of social connection, these friendships can help build a stronger safety net, too. Case in point: Stephanie shared the story of how she became friends with “Grandpa,”* a participant she first met at Roosevelt Pop-up Pantry over a year and a half ago.  

Tell us a little about how you first met Grandpa and his family.  

Stephanie and George volunteering at a Pop-up Pantry

Grandpa stood out because he was accompanied by a young girl, who I later came to find out was his granddaughter. I struck up a conversation with them both his granddaughter is one of the sweetest, most polite, and mature kids you’d ever meet. I watched as she helped Grandpa push his cart and get his food. Grandpa, who’s quite independent himself, just seemed very kind and had a gentle demeanor. Seeing the two together reminded me a lot of the times when I would help and spend time with my Grandpa when he was alive. 

How did volunteering help you get to know them better? 

 In subsequent weeks, I kept seeing the duo. I would greet them, and then check in with Grandpa to make sure he was doing okay, and with his granddaughter to see how school was going. His granddaughter and I bonded over “girly things” and our love for stickers (something I used to collect when I was her age), so one day I brought her a few to share.  

She was so gracious, and the following week, she brought me a lovely handmade and handwritten card. It was also at this point that I met the rest of the family (Grandpa’s son and daughter-in-law, aka the granddaughter’s parents). We chatted and from then on, we saw each other on the regular and became friends. 

In late 2022, you stopped seeing Grandpa and his family for several weeks. What happened? 

There was one week when his daughter-in-law and granddaughter showed up at the pantry just to come see me. That’s when I found out that Grandpa had an accident at home he had fallen in the kitchen and broken his leg. He underwent surgery, and was in the hospital with quite a long recovery road ahead.  

Dealing with a family health issue like that isn’t easy – and often comes with medical bills that can put a strain on budgeting for other necessities like food. How did your relationship with the family support them through this difficult time? 

About two months went by, and I still hadn’t seen Grandpa return to the Pop-up Pantry. I was worried about his health and also wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose access to the pantry’s services if he was still in need of the food. That’s when I remembered that included in the handwritten card that his granddaughter had given me, was her mom’s contact info.  

So, I reached out to see how Grandpa was progressing and to support them in finding ways to help Grandpa get back on his feet (including maintaining his access to food from the pantries). That’s where the whole community pitched in his kind neighbors picked up his groceries for him, while his daughter-in-law became the primary caretaker to look after him at home.

Have you been able to speak with Grandpa since his accident? 

After about nine months, I finally saw Grandpa return to the pantry with his daughter-in-law. It brought my dad and I so much joy to see Grandpa up and about, walking, and looking healthy and strong. We chatted for a bit, and both thanked us for just always sending good thoughts and checking in on them. For me personally, this was honestly one of the most rewarding days at the pantry. Not to mention, it was the first time that Grandpa got to see for himself the farmer’s market-style in action!

Double cause for celebration there! That’s amazing. We’re glad that Grandpa made a strong recovery, and that he got to see the switch from pre-bagging groceries to a farmer’s market-style pantry! Thank you for sharing this story with us  and thanks to you and your dad for being such superstar volunteers, neighbors and advocates.  

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.  

 

 

Using His “Why”: Q&A with Jalal Alabsi

September 19, 2023

 

Jalal Alabsi is many things: he’s a formerly-practicing doctor, he’s an immigrant from Yemen, he’s a resident of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. All these identities and more come together to inform his comprehensive work to end food insecurity in his community. From securing funding for halal food vouchers to lowering stigma around accessing assistance, Jalal has collaborated with organizations like our partner Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) to help end hunger.

Jalal’s years of successful activism are exactly why our partners at TNDC suggested him when the Food Bank asked for nominees for the first-ever Elevating Voices: Power Summit. Hosted by Feeding America in Washington, D.C., the Summit brought together activists who have lived experience with food insecurity and connected them with key decision makers to discuss effective solutions to hunger.

We caught up with Jalal to hear more about the Summit and his work in the Tenderloin.

 

Food Bank (FB): Before we dig into the Elevating Voices: Power Summit, let’s hear a little more about your work in the Tenderloin.

Jalal: I’ve been working to end food insecurity in my neighborhood for over five years. I started out volunteering at different places, working as a translator for folks who speak Arabic and explaining how people can use food that they weren’t culturally familiar with – I gave people recipes for mushrooms, for example.

[But I realized] that just giving out food isn’t enough – there are bigger problems than that. So, I decided to take classes at City College [of San Francisco] to be a community health worker, where I did my research project on hunger in the Tenderloin.

Now, I’ve worked with City Hall to get $500,000 in funding for halal food vouchers so Muslims can eat their preferred foods. I’ve worked with a few organizations to start the Food Policy Council to discuss hunger in the Tenderloin. [On the ground], I work every day to decrease the stigma around accessing food assistance. And I still give food directly to my neighbors.

 

FB: What inspired you to do this work?

Jalal: I live with this every day. When I first came to the US, I had problems with hunger. I feel what people are feeling when they say they are hungry. You get sick when you don’t have enough food, you can’t live even on the street without food. And now, I’ve gotten the education to be able to do something about food insecurity.

 

FB: What are the biggest barriers to ending hunger?

Jalal: One of the biggest challenges is the stigma around getting food assistance. Many people live with this, and it means they may eat only twice a day so they can afford to live on their salaries. But I explain to people, “[food assistance] is yours, you deserve this, it’s your right”.

Another challenge is CalFresh (food stamps). People need CalFresh. But it’s such a long and confusing process to apply, especially for people that don’t speak English, that for some people it just isn’t worth it.

 

FB: Tell us about the Elevating Voices: Power Summit.

Jalal: The Summit happened on July 12 and 13, and it brought together a group of activists from across the country who have lived experience with hunger.

The first day, we met with Feeding America’s CEO, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot. She wanted to hear from us: who are we, what do we do, what is the next step to end hunger? The objective was to reach a shared understanding of what the power landscape looked like – they wanted to center actual experience with hunger in finding solutions.

Overall, I would call it a long conversation. We had small breakout sessions discussing our advocacy, everything from why we do the work we do, to how we advocate for our community.

 

FB: What were your takeaways from the Summit?

Jalal: We learned how to use our “why” to create change – instead of complaining about a problem, we can turn that complaint into a policy ask. If you use your story and real examples of how you lived with hunger, if you connect feelings and emotions to suggestions for change, then you’ll be able to convince more people that your issue is important and needs to be addressed.

I met with a lot of different people with their own experience. I can see a way where we bring these learnings to San Francisco, so more people can learn how to use their experience to make change. Hunger is a huge problem. It’s different in different places, but the effects are the same.

 

FB: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Jalal: I’m grateful to the Food Bank for supporting me in going to the Summit – it was a great opportunity to make connections with people in other states so we can share information, knowledge, and strategies.

Hunger is solvable. We have the resources. We just need to figure out how to do it.

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