The First 100 Days | Q&A With Executive Director Tanis Crosby

May 27, 2021

100 days into her tenure at the Food Bank, Executive Director Tanis Crosby reflects on her experience, her gratitude, and on the enormity of the imperative work ahead.

Tanis CrosbyWhat’s your overall pulse, 100 days in?

I feel incredibly grateful and humbled and… at home.

What’s one memory from your first 100 days that will stick with you?

One Wednesday evening, I volunteered packing boxes of food for seniors. Music was playing through the speakers—whoever curates our playlists is just magical—and next to me was this lovely man named John, who had been volunteering with us on Wednesdays for 21 years, wearing his food bank sweatshirt as a badge of pride. Next to John were a couple of women who were having a blast working together, just completely welcoming, and some families who came to volunteer as a unit. It was this beautiful community within a community that had sprung up.

At the end of the shift, the Food Bank project leader Robert announced how many pounds we had collectively packaged, and I looked around and felt such pride and celebration of taking action to fight hunger together. It was such a clear image of our vital service and the wholly unique way in which we bring the community together for a great cause. It was a moment.

Your second 100 days may look very different from your first as vaccines roll out. How is that changing the way you think about our priorities?

The pandemic is revealing that which we already knew to be true: Poverty and racism are inextricably linked to food insecurity. That is not going to go away when the masks go away. We’re going to focus on advancing our mission with the analysis and the framework that this team’s wisdom created, which is understanding that we are addressing not only the consequences of hunger, but also the causes. We will work on upstream and lasting solutions and are steadfast in our commitment to ensure we are making meals possible for our neighbors right now.

As we look forward, we also need to determine what it means to sustainably serve all of those who need us – those we are currently reaching and those we hope to reach. After more than a year spent responding to this crisis, how do we return to solutions we know work, but weren’t possible during the pandemic – like a farmer’s market style distribution to enable choice – and what innovations from our crisis response do we maintain – like the grocery delivery. This will be hard work, but it is essential work. The Food Bank is part of a critical safety net that is made up of grassroots, well-established, and new community-led organizations as well as government programs. Together we will find the solutions. Because we are all working collectively to fulfill our purpose of ending hunger.

This isn’t just a vision, it will be a future, with partners, donors and volunteers making it real.

Do you think there are ways in which the pandemic has changed our community for the better?

The pandemic was a stark reminder that you can work hard, get a job, and still find yourself at risk of homelessness or relying on the Food Bank to make sure that you’re not choosing between your PG&E bill and feeding your family. You can have good job and not be able to make ends meet in San Francisco or Marin.

That’s not going to go away anytime soon. And what it has created is empathy and a deep-seated understanding that food is a human right. The community wants to be part of taking care of each other. Whether they are a 10 year-old donating their small proceeds from a lemonade stand, or a Foundation giving millions, donors of all ages, of all means are recognizing that we’ve got to take care of each other. And that has been completely inspiring.

The Food Bank just announced its Capital Campaign to expand warehouse facilities. How do you envision that helping to chart our way forward?

In this coming year, we have a tall order. Delivering on these expansion plans is really about delivering on current community need; we started this project 5 years ago with the goal of building for the future, but it turns out we are building for right now.

We are renovating not to expand, but to sustain. Because it’s not about a building and it’s not about the number of pounds of food, it’s about having the space to feed our neighbors who are making real and practical choices every day about where they’re spending scarce dollars. Our community is hurting. People are making choices–choices that weigh on families, choices that are hard and hurt.

Our job is to relieve that hurt, to make it less stressful and more hopeful. It is not about a building. It’s about what happens as a result of having that capacity to deliver on this critical need, person, by person, by person, in all of the neighborhoods in which we serve.

What has surprised you most during your first 100 days?

What surprised me was what it means to see that sheer scope upfront, to see it come alive in the field. What surprised me was how excited I would feel to see the orders being built, knowing that they would be landing in a neighborhood pantry, a pop-up or a drive-thru and put into the hands of people in our community, our neighbors. Just the magnitude of what this scale feels like, to see it and to know what it means, not just hear about it or read about it, but to see it. And just the enormous sense of… I can’t think of another word other than pride. I feel so proud to be part of this team – staff, donors, and volunteers – that is delivering food and hope to every corner of our community.

Fighting Food Apartheid During the Pandemic

May 7, 2021

In the year since the start of the pandemic shutdown countless neighborhood food pantries have closed due to safety reasons and hundreds more shifted their distribution models or expanded grocery delivery to continue serving the community. 

Take St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church, which has operated a neighborhood pantry in the Bayview for over 28 years. Pre-pandemic the church was serving between 85 to 100 participants. When shelter-in-place went into effect, not only did the church have to stop indoor church services, with nowhere safe to host thembut they also had to close their doors for the weekly pantry. 

Mother Beverly Taylor, who ran the food pantry at St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church, was determined to keep serving her community. “We’re still involved and running,” said Mother Beverly. “Unfortunately, with this [pandemic] we have to keep going.” 

In order to do so they joined forces with the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition (SFAAFBC), alongside with 20 other churches, to deliver groceries to those who are homebound. 

Beverly knew finding a way to keep service going during the pandemic would help provide fresh, healthy food to those who couldn’t afford it and had nowhere else to turn.

Challenges in the Southeast 

Bayview–Hunters Point is a neighborhood with more convenience stores than grocery stores. In fact, there’s only currently one large-scale grocery store located on Williams Avenue–that is one grocery store for an 8.6 square mile neighborhood that is home to 106,731 people. 

At the same time, 37 percent of Bayview-Hunters Point residents, many of whom are Black/African American descent, live on less than 200 percent under the federal poverty level while 19 percent are at or below the federal poverty level. Over 40 percent of infants and youth live with families who earn below or at the federal poverty level. 

As Beverly explained, before their pantry opened there wasn’t a place anywhere for those in need of food assistance to turn to. “We saw that a lot of people really need the food but didn’t know where to go get it,” she said. “There wasn’t enough being distributed, so that’s how we got involved.” 

This problem is not unique to San Francisco and Bayview-Hunters Point. The USDA estimates 39 million people live in neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point without adequate access to fresh, healthy food within a reasonable proximity. 

“When COVID shut everything down, not only was there an already food insecure population, but residents were also further impacted due to job losses as a result of various industries having to shut down,” said Program Coordinator Claudia Wallen, who coordinates with community partners in Bayview-Hunters Point. “So, it double affected that area, I think, because the community was already so underserved.” 

Call It What It Is: Food Apartheid 

Areas that lack access to fresh, healthy food are often referred to as “food deserts.” However, that term fails to acknowledge that a lack of food access, and the negative health outcomes it causes, disproportionately impact BIPOC communities.

By using the term “food apartheid,” we clearly acknowledge that neighborhoods deemed food deserts are predominantly in BIPOC communities. We also acknowledge that redlining (including supermarket redlining), which is the racially discriminatory practice of denying vital services and/or avoiding investment in specific neighborhoods based on the race/ethnicity of the residentsplays a huge role in food access. As a result, 19.1 percent of Black households and 15.6 percent of Latinx households experienced food insecurity in 2019 alone. Indigenous peoples also experience the shortest lifespan from diabetes as a result of lack of access to fresh healthy food in their communities. 

Food apartheids are a result of persistent structural and racial inequalities that prevent communities of color from accessing better socio-economic opportunities and essential services like access to fresh and healthy food, public transportation, public safety services, and nutrition education programs in K-12 public schools. 

In our own community, we see that the Visitacion Valley, Bayview-Hunters Point, Treasure Island, and Marin City neighborhoods have the least access to food and are some of the most cut off from public transportation. Many residents in these neighborhoods would have to rely on driving a car or commuting for at least an hour to areas like downtown San Francisco. These same neighborhoods are home to some of the highest percentages of Black/African American residents: 33 percent of the Bayview-Hunters Point population13 percent of the Visitacion Valley population and 24 percent of the Treasure Island compared to just 5 percent of San Francisco as a whole. Marin City has the largest Black population (up to 42 percent of the city’s population) in Marin County.

Community Partners Tackle Food Apartheid 

For the Food Bank, food for all means working closely with trusted community partners like St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church to ensure the Food Bank is supporting positive health outcomes. We also work with neighborhood partners to open new pantries in areas that both lack food access and where we can better serve communities disproportionately impacted by structural racism. In some cases, this means new types of partnerships like the one with the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition (SFAAFBC) to deliver groceries to those who are unable to come out to pantries.

“Community organizations like SFAAFBC know the community well,” said Claudia“Grassroots, boots on the ground organizations are more trusted by community members and seen as a friend or fellow neighbor. This is why collaborating with them like the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is now doing is very important. 

What Food Means to the Community 

During each grocery delivery, Beverly personally calls the participants to let them know ahead of time when their groceries are arriving. “They’re so thankful because many of them are disabled, and we’re out there getting food to the people that need it,” she said.  

According to Claudia, the food means everything to the community. To Bayview-Hunters Point residents, it’s important to have access to the same healthy food that other, less marginalized communities get to enjoy and often take for granted. 

As long as there is a need Beverly plans to keep delivering, and the Food Bank plans to keep supporting her efforts to improve food access in areas that experience food apartheid throughout our community.

Adopting a Building Creates Relationships

March 29, 2021

Volunteer sign inIn September the Food Bank approached several regular Pantry at Home volunteers with an idea: adopt a building; commit to making all your deliveries to the same location and the same participants at the same time week after week for three months.

A few regular volunteers were all in.

Kelly Runyon and his wife Barbara decided to adopt a building as a way to show their love for a neighborhood they enjoyed visiting.

“I filled out an application and said I’d be interested in Chinatown,” said Kelly, who spent the next three months delivering to 44 participants every Monday and Tuesday.

Patricia Tuori, who had been volunteering twice a month for weeks, though it would be a great way to keep volunteering even after her work schedule changed. After adopting a building, Patricia always knew her Tuesday route would take about an hour and a half door to door.

She explained, “I was working while I was doing this, so, it was nice to take a little bit less time at it. But I still got to do it.”

A Whole New Experience

Both Kelly and Patricia felt that adopting a building (or in their cases a few buildings) enriched the Pantry at Home experience for both themselves and the participants.

Kelly and Barbara have lived in San Francisco since the seventies. Despite decades in the City, they still “went to a lot of neighborhoods that we had no idea even existed. So, it was interesting for that reason. We kind of got to know the city better.”

But the real joy came in adopting a few buildings. “We got to know individuals and they got to know us,” he said. “They knew when I knocked on the door, they knew my knock.”

They also discovered suppressing benefits on a pragmatic front. Coming back week after week helped them learn the ins and outs of each building. One apartment required a key fob to use the elevator – meeting the building manager and getting her cell phone number was their ticket in.

“Each week we could just text her as we were getting parked and then pick up a fob and do our thing,” explained Kelly. Delivering to that building “went from being an absolute, impenetrable ‘how do we do this’ problem to a whole procedure that was straightforward and always worked.”

Getting to Know the Neighbors

PatriciaFor Patricia, the greatest reward was getting to know people. “Rather than just going up to a house and you don’t ever see them again, you see the same people every week. It’s a really nice way to develop a relationship,” she said.

“When I was doing the same two buildings every week, I knew that the neighbor for this person takes both their bags,” she shared. “Or that the person in 202 would leave their door open and they want you to put the bag right inside on the stool.”

The support that came from getting to know each other went both ways. One woman saved all the jars she struggled to open during the week for Patricia to help her open them. Another participant checked in to make sure Patricia was okay after she took a couple of weeks off to quarantine.

“The benefit to [the participant] is just knowing that every Tuesday at 12:30, which is when I did it, there’d be a delivery and they didn’t have to hang around all afternoon or wonder when someone was coming,” said Patricia.

Adopting a building was “just a really nice way to develop a relationship. I don’t know why more people wouldn’t want to do it that way if they could,” she said. “It takes a lot of the unknowns out of it.”

 

Food Bankers Tell Their Stories

March 16, 2021

365 Days of Unprecedented Need

The time before COVID-19 fully entered our collective consciousness feels so far away, so unrecognizable it isn’t fair to say they feel like 10 years ago – it is of a different place and time entirely.

It’s almost as if we all celebrated the New Year prematurely, ignoring a much more consequential marker of time: March 17, the day the Bay Area shelter-in-place order officially went into effect. The eve of which was not spent watching fireworks or drinking something bubbly, but panic shopping and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

After a very long and very challenging year that has forever changed the fabric of our community, we do not celebrate but we acknowledge this occasion. Between March 2020 and March 2021 more than 529,300 (as of 3/15/21) people died of the coronavirus, tens of millions of people lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of businesses shut down, and in the process, 45 million people nationwide – including 15 million children – were thrust into food insecurity.

Food pantry line

“I was naïve.”

Food Bank staff packs bags

“I’m pretty sure I was at the office,” said Michael Braude, thinking back to when he first heard about the shelter-in-place order. “We already had been meeting to address our response efforts, but I don’t think anyone expected a complete shut-down to come from out of the blue as it did.”

Looking back none of us expected to be here a year later.

“I was naïve. I thought it would be over when the order was lifted – three weeks later,” remembers Gunilla Bergensten.

Food Bank staff and volunteers

“A devastating blow.”

As the months wore on, we all saw the images of food bank lines nationwide and the heart-breaking portraits of those in them. For the Food Bank staff, this need was not distant. Day in and day out we saw our community hurting, we saw our neighbors, our friends, and our family in need.

Cars wait for food pantry

“COVID has magnified the existing health and income disparities in the community I support,” said Lucia Ruiz. “This has been a devastating blow, which often causes me to feel both sadness and anger.”

Lucia Ruiz

Almost overnight we saw the need in our community double. In just 2 months we went from serving 32,000 households a week to 62,000 (we are now steadily seeing about 55,000 households weekly).

“Seeing the surge in people who needed food, oftentimes for the first time in their lives, kept me going,” said Joseph Hampton.

Food Bank warehouse

Keeping up with that level of demand was no small feat.

“The biggest challenge I think was getting food quickly while the retail market crashed. And operating at such a high UOS (Food Bank term for households) without increasing our physical working space,” said Angela Wirch. “With everyone panic shopping there was no getting rice…there were so many challenges. The money and infrastructure were gradual, but the need was immediate. We filled that second warehouse so fast.”

Angela Wirch

Two tractor-trailers, 10 bobtails, two new warehouses, and one giant tent to cover our parking lot later, we somehow found the space for 77 million pounds of food to meet the tremendous need.

Food Bank warehouse

Finding the People Power

“Never in my career have I experienced a more profound threat of not having a safe work environment for workers or enough workers available to run the operations,” said Nadia Chargualaf.

Nadia Chargualaf

“Half of our team was incapacitated because of COVID, so we were short-staffed for a long period,” said Johnny Lee, remembering how many staff members needed to stay home because of their health. “Many of our sites were closed at the beginning, and a few remain closed to this day. We used some PPE before COVID, but now we follow all the guidelines given to us by the CDC and strictly try to enforce distancing between participants.”

Johnny Lee

Cody Jang remembers, “I was at work when the news came in. Within hours we had lost close to 3,000 volunteer reservations. We were worried about how we would complete the work without volunteers.”

Cody Jang

But the community not only stepped up, they stepped up in droves. Within a matter of months, if not weeks, we were seeing twice as many volunteers as we welcomed pre-pandemic – that’ more than 157,000 volunteer hours since March 2020. Not to mention the support of Disaster Service Workers, corporate partners and community groups.

United Playaz

Challenges: Emotional and Physical

“The biggest challenge has been trying to stay safe during the days that I physically need to be at the office. Even after all this time, I still get a bit of anxiety when working in the office due to the extra layers of planning and endurance (mask-wearing, sanitation, etc.) that go into working within close proximity to others during the pandemic,” said Joseph Hampton.

Joseph Hampton

“The biggest challenge is really the emotional toll that COVID is taking,” said Ken Levin. “Both in people we may know that have been directly affected, or those affected tangentially. This past Saturday, I brought food to a friend who had just lost a family member. I left it at her doorstep. Then on Monday, I attended an online memorial for another friend’s husband. Not being able to see, hug, and be with these people in their time of need has been particularly difficult.”

Ken Levin

“There were multiple types of challenges to face. But one that I really wasn’t ready for was the isolation and loneliness of being separated from my loved ones,” reflects Lauren Cassell. “A lot of things in my life changed because of the pandemic, and I wish I had been more kind to myself. Having hard, unproductive days in the midst of a pandemic is okay.”

Lauren Cassell

Policy Makers Rise to the Occasion

As the need rose, so did the public consciousness around food insecurity. Even before the pandemic 1 in 5 San Francisco and Marin residents was at risk of hunger. Food Banks can’t meet the need alone.

“Before COVID, getting movement from elected officials on policies that impacted low-income people was much more of an uphill battle. By thrusting millions more Americans into hardship, COVID forced politicians to listen to anti-poverty and anti-hunger advocates much more seriously and take immediate action,” reflects Meg Davidson. “Things we’d been told were impossible for years we were able to make happen in a matter of weeks. Turns out, we were onto something when we’ve been repeating that making it easier for people to get the help they need when they fall on hard times is good for everyone.”

Meg Davidson

“We adjusted, pivoted and made the necessary changes to help more in our community to reduce food insecurity during the pandemic. I’m proud of some of our legislative victories, such as, improvements to CalFresh, like waivers, increases in benefits, the P-EBT rollout, online EBT purchase ability, etc.,” said Marchon Tatmon.

Mayor London Breed with Food Bank staff and volunteers

Perseverance Despite the Weight of the World

“I feel very lucky to work at the Food Bank. As challenging as this year has been, I am grateful for my colleagues. I’m heartened by the generosity of our supporters,” said Iris Fluellen.

Iris Fluellen

“There have been challenging moments, and breaking points, and everything in between, but we’ve kept the work going for our communities and for ourselves,” said Claudia Wallen. “My mom always says, ‘You must have a plan B, and if possible, a plan C.’  Never before has she been more right.”

Claudia Wallen

“Being able to help so many new people get CalFresh benefits – and getting to know my staff’s pets – has kept me going,” shared Liliana Sandoval.

Liliana Sandoval

“Although I haven’t sat in my pod or met everyone internally or externally, I’m humbled to be a part of the team,” shared Denise Chen. “The dedication and commitment we have in serving our community is truly amazing.”

Denise and Donna

“Growth is messy, even when you plan it. We definitely haven’t felt like the most organized bunch on some days, but we did the work that needed to get done clear-eyed and together. My heart is so full of respect and love for each and every team member,” said Kera Jewett. “We may have been tired, sore, in PJs, short-staffed, and completely overwhelmed, but I know for a fact everyone did their level best every single day. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to go into battle with.”

Kera Jewett

“Looking back I would tell myself, this looks really bad, but there are many, many good people doing amazing things to turn this situation and this world around, politically, scientifically, and morally, so keep your eye on the prize and don’t give up,” said Bob Brenneman.

Bob Brenneman

 

Partner Spotlight | Treasure Island Fosters a Strong Community

February 10, 2021

When you cross the Bay Bridge by car or bus, you’ve probably noticed an exit right before the I-80 freeway continues to the East Bay, one that heads toward Treasure IslandIf you took that exit, you’d find yourself on a human-made island that’s less than a mile wide and comprised of a few thousand residents.

What folks may not realize is that due to the island’s isolation, it has dealt with many issues, such as a lack of transportation, health issues from radiation exposure given the island was historically used as a dumpand limited food access.

“If you live here and you don’t have a car, you’re really restricted with taking a bus or paying for an Uber,” said Amanda Scharpf, a resident for seven years. “One of the biggest restrictions is if you can’t find something at the only market we have here, then you kind of have to haul it yourself all the way from downtown San Francisco.”

Limited Food Access 

Treasure Island didn’t even have a grocery store until 2012 when the Island Cove Market opened. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to purchase food there.

To address this lack of food access, the nonprofit One Treasure Island, with the help of the Food Bank, has hosted a neighborhood food pantry at the Ship Shape Community Center for more than 20 years.

Every Tuesday, both volunteers and staff members come together in front of the community center and pack bags with fresh produce such as apples and lettuce, as well as meat or eggs and loaves of bread to give out to the participants who live on the island. Once the pantry opens, over 200 participants (up from over 85 participants before the pandemic)arrive by car or walk on over from their homes, and are enthusiastically greeted by the volunteers and staff. Some of the participants even stay to catch up and hear what others have been up to after grabbing their weekly bags of groceries.

Since the start of the pandemic, Amanda, who also manages the pantry, has seen an increase in the number of people using One Treasure Island’s services. Previously, many pantry participants worked in the restaurant industry; an industry heavily impacted by COVID. With many restaurants closing their doors temporarily or for goodaround 117,000 jobs in the hospitality industry were lost in California during December alone. 

“We’ve had people come to sign up for the pantry and they’ve even said, ‘I used to work for this restaurant, and they just completely closed down, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ This has impacted many people, shared Amanda.

Providing Access for All  

Dave, a participant for over ten years, previously worked in landscaping and was barely getting by on his salary when he started coming to the pantry. He now works for the city and knows everyone at the pantry.

“The food pantry really saved my life,” he said. “[Otherwise] I’d be eating a lot more noodles.”

For some newer residents of Treasure Island, like Rickey, formerly incarcerated, coming to the pantry is the only choice for fresh food.

“This makes it a lot easier for us. Right now, we don’t qualify for benefits like food stamps, so it means a lot to us,” said Rickey.

Others like Mike, a long-time volunteer and participant who knows everyone living on the island, see the pantry as a tight-knit community that continues to be resilient during unprecedented times.

“I used to like the closeness; everyone on the island is my friend,” he said. “Now, you can’t get close [due to COVID]. It’s sad.”

Staying Hopeful

While the pantry is still the only option for many, Amanda stays hopeful for the future.

“At the beginning of COVID, we had lines around the block, and it was just nice to see that we can provide families with something that meant a lot to them,” said Amanda. “It’s always heartwarming when people show up with their kids because you get to know the kids too. It’s been very helpful, especially for the families. Living here on this island, I really felt like the community has come together a lot more in the last few months.

Phillis & Lee: ‘Boring’ Until You Know Them

January 14, 2021

COVID-19 has brought tremendous attention to Food Banks. Newspapers nationwide included images of long lines of cars or people standing six feet apart waiting for food at food pantries in their top images of 2020. But something is lost in those images of people waiting for hours – the people.

Participants at our pantries are more than their circumstances.  They are people with families and friends, with jobs and hobbies, with hopes and fears, with sorrows and joys. And many of them – like Phillis and Lee – are full of surprises.

We first met Phillis (89) and Lee (81) in a line of cars waiting for groceries at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center’s Pop-up Pantry. They started coming to San Geronimo by way of the Community Center’s weekly senior lunch held on the same day as the pantry.

“We were friends with someone else who comes here. For weeks she kept saying you’ve got to come to the lunch, it’s great, you’ve got to come. Well finally we came,” explained Phillis. “We had lunch with her, and next door was the food pantry.”

Since coming to the pantry, they no longer need to spend money on groceries – a huge advantage considering almost half their income from Social Security goes to rent. Without it, Lee says, “we could survive.” Phillis pipes in, “but it would be very difficult.”

Despite their financial situation, they both say the real benefit of coming to the pantry has been the community.

“We are just so grateful for the San Geronimo Valley Community Center,” said Phillis. “We’ve met so many wonderful people, you can’t imagine.”

The Neighborhood Pantry: A Community Gathering

Food pantry coordinator greets participant

Before the events of 2020 neighborhood food pantries weren’t just the primary way the Food Bank gets food to those who need it—they were bustling, thriving communities. Regardless of if you were a volunteer or participant or both the pantry was a chance each week to catch up with friends. The farmer’s market-style meant not only that people chose the food they wanted, but that they were encouraged to mingle with their friends and neighbors before and after picking up their food.

“When you start talking to people, they may look old or they may look funny to you, but once you start talking to them, you just can’t imagine how much background there is, and just the lives they’ve led,” said Phillis. “When people say they are retired, you never hear their story.”

Lee agrees, “that’s so true. You think ‘boring’ until you know them.”

Lee and Phillis certainly were not boring, but they did have stories to tell—stories that went far beyond the pantry.

After talking to Phillis and Lee about why and how they started coming to the food pantry they mentioned they’ve only been married for three years. The two finish each other’s sentences constantly and have the banter of an old married couple, so you’d never guess it had only been three years.

Phillis said she was living in a veterans home in Yountville and “I needed a walking partner, and I heard him say he likes to walk.” Before she could say more, he chimed in, “it just grew.”

These are the kinds of stories you hear when you spend time at a pantry. At the Food Bank, our hope is food pantries will continue to foster this sense of community, and the food people receive will help to support the lives they want to lead—because everyone deserves to do more than just survive.

Continuing Family Holiday Traditions During the Pandemic

December 17, 2020

“I was waiting for the holidays to be with my entire family,” says Anabely, while standing in line with her two young daughters to pick up a grocery bag at the Cornerstone Church Pop-up pantry. “But now because of the virus, I won’t be able to do that.”

Like many families, Anabely, her husband, and her two daughters always reunite with their extended family during the holidays. But now because of COVID-19, they’ll have to celebrate on their own.

“Every year, we get together for the holidays and celebrate together with food,” she says. “I love making tamales and I also cook turkey. I just love cooking.”

Celebrating with Food

Food is a tradition that 2020 hasn’t taken from us. We can’t see each other in person, but we can enjoy the food we always cook around the holidays.

Like many, Mei Yu stays connected with her family via WeChat. Of course, like the rest of us, she’s sad she can’t see her loved ones in real life but isn’t letting that stop her from making the food she enjoys every year and keep it festive.

“We love having roast chicken during the holidays,” she says. “We usually season the chicken with salt, chicken powder, and soy sauce, and we cook it in the oven for 20 minutes.” “I also love making vegetable dishes, salads, and cakes to celebrate with my family. We also put eggs in the salads.”

Mei Yu never finds herself alone in the kitchen. Her husband, son, and daughter join her to make these dishes—all of which are family recipes. 

Although Mei Yu considers these dishes to be simple, her family enjoy them regardless. 

“I can’t celebrate with my extended family this time, but I can still enjoy these dishes and celebrate with my own family.” 

Supporting Families this Holiday Season 

While families are finding ways to keep their traditions alive, many still struggle to afford food. That is why the Food Bank is working hard to meet the need and even include some extras like cooking oil during the holiday season to help families continue these traditions in a special way. 

“Getting food here helps us from having to purchase food I can’t afford,” says Mei Yu. “Food has gotten really expensive recently.” 

Anabely feels the same way. “We’re very thankful for the food. Our whole family is very thankful. God bless the Food Bank because what they’re is doing for people like my family that need food—it’s great and it’s really helpful for people that need it and love to cook.” 

A Holiday Like No Other

November 19, 2020

For many, Thanksgiving is synonymous with three important things: family, gratitude, and food. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is forcing many of us to rethink what those things mean this year.

For one family, the global pandemic is a time to establish new Thanksgiving traditions and cook familiar dishes, even if they can’t gather everyone around the same table.

“I kind of have a large family and my mother – she is 85 now – was the cook,” said Irie, a Food Bank participant. “We would go over to her house for dinner. So that won’t be happening this year.”

Irie lives with his wife in San Francisco’s Bayview District. A few years ago, he and his wife were in a motorcycle accident – she broke her spine. After the accident, neither of them were able to work their construction jobs, so they rely on disability and they are regularly coming to the Pop-up Food Pantry at Cornerstone Church. Since Irie was a little kid, Thanksgiving has always involved turkey and dressing, plenty of cakes and pies, cans of cranberry sauce, and greens. This year is no different. He has a special baster that will inject the marinade right into the turkey he is planning to fry. For dessert, he is making a couple of sour cream pound cakes plus, “my mother and my wife want me to make a German chocolate cake, and I want to make some banana pudding blend.”

It’s an ambitious menu for a small Thanksgiving, but Irie inherited his mom’s love of cooking, and whatever they don’t eat they are planning to share.

Keeping Traditions Going

Last year, with more leftover food at the end of their Thanksgiving dinner than they knew what to do with, Irie and his family said, “Let’s just go and just make a bunch of plates and just take it out to the hungry while the food is still warm.”

They ended up giving away 10 plates of food to unhoused folks in their neighborhood.

“It just felt so good. We thought, ‘let’s try to feed 20 people this year’. So that’s what we’re gonna do,” said Irie. Even though they’ll have fewer family members around the Thanksgiving table this year, “we’re going to cook the food up, make 20 plates, and go feed 20 people.”

One of those plates will go to his mom so he’ll at least be able to see her from a distance. By the sound of it, Irie’s mom and anyone else getting a Thanksgiving meal from him this year are in for a treat.

A Food Bank Thanksgiving

Food and community are at the heart of what we do here at the Food Bank, making this is an extra special time of year for us. Despite family gatherings being scaled back or canceled altogether this year, we are still planning to distribute extra food this month to help our community make Thanksgiving as special as possible.

In fact, we will give away enough food for 1.4 million Thanksgiving meals, up from 880,000 last year. That includes more than 232,000 pounds of chicken and 1 million pounds of produce.

Finding Gratitude in 2020

Even if this will be a holiday like no other, we want to ensure our community can still enjoy a celebratory family meal next week, no matter what form it takes.

“I’m just really thankful to have this Food Bank because I’m sure it helps a lot of people, including me,” said Irie. “At the same time, it helps me to help others, and that’s what I really want.”

Students Volunteer During COVID | Leo’s Story

October 19, 2020

Volunteer after volunteer has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, it took 1,200 volunteers each week to run our operations. Now, with new COVID-19 programming, it takes 2,000. That is an unprecedented number of new volunteers.

One of the volunteers is Leo, who is 11 years old and starting middle school this year. Leo’s mom, Amber, works at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, and at the beginning of the pandemic, he started tagging along with her every week to volunteer at the Center’s Thursday Pop-up Food Pantry.

“I’ve just been coming along because I know that they need volunteers,” he said, adding jokingly: “and because she makes me.”

Leo and his mom have a good laugh over that. But despite any extra encouragement from Amber, Leo always has a good time when he volunteers.

“It’s pretty fun. I mean, it can get kind of exhausting because it’s really hot outside sometimes. But yeah, it’s pretty fun.”

A Strange School Year

For Leo, the Pop-up food pantry is not the only thing new in his life, he is starting middle school this year. And if middle school was not hard enough, he is doing it amid the pandemic.

“I’m excited, but I’m also not excited,” explained Leo. “I wish that I could actually start in the classroom in Middle School, but I’m going to have to be at home.”

Like many of his peers, Leo is navigating remote learning while trying to stay in touch with friends – a challenge many teenagers are currently facing.

At least he is not the only teen who volunteers at the pantry; there are several other students who regularly joined him on Thursdays in the summer. Though they aren’t his school friends, Leo says he likes meeting new people while helping out.

A Family Affair

The Food Bank has always encouraged young volunteers to join us, and we often see families volunteering together to give back while spending time together. This includes families delivering to seniors, families in our warehouses, and families like Leo and his mom, who volunteer at Pop-ups.

For other youths who are up for the hard work, it takes to pack bags and load trunks for several hours, “It helps a lot of people for the food pantry to have extra volunteers,” said Leo. “And even if you don’t like it, you can bring extra food home.”

Undocumented Immigrants Forgotten in Pandemic Relief

October 5, 2020

Each week, Diana and Cristina* wait patiently to get food at our Mission High School Pop-up Pantry. 

“I’ve been laid off for three months because of this virus,” said Cristina, who worked as a hotel housekeeper. “Most of the money goes to bills.”

Diana, a friend of Cristina’s who worked as a cashier at a café, echoes that concern. “The money that I do get is only for paying bills, and I don’t have that much money left to buy food.” 

The Food Bank is open to all, and they are among many immigrant participants who benefit from the groceries at our Pop-up pantries. However, for Diana and Cristina who are also undocumented, the Food Bank is one of the few supports to get them through the week.

Weathering the Pandemic Without a Safety Net

Prior to COVID, immigrant families were already impacted by the changes to the long-standing Public Charge rule. Undocumented immigrants who keep their government benefits such as CalFresh (food stamps) for more than 12 months within any 36-month period are barred from obtaining lawful permanent (or “green card”) status. As pandemic-related job losses exacerbate the need for food assistance, rules like Public Charge force families to balance seeking help with remaining in this country. 

Many resources are currently available to weather this pandemic but are inaccessible for undocumented immigrants like Cristina and Diana. For example, while both women lost their jobs due to COVID-19, they are still ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. Undocumented immigrants were able to receive a one-time disaster relief assistance fund and support from nonprofit groups due to ineligibility for federal assistance. 

The Governor also recently passed an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit this year, allowing all tax filers, including undocumented people who pay taxes, to receive a tax credit. This policy change will put money back in the pockets of nearly 600,000 undocumented California taxpayers.

However, these are not long-term solutions and not every family is able to continue to receive assistance elsewhere. Bills such as AB 826, which would’ve provided emergency food assistance by distributing pre-paid grocery cards through food banks and immigrant-serving organizations to low-income communities including undocumented immigrants, was recently vetoed by Governor Newsom.

Currently, there aren’t any other bills to provide food aid to undocumented immigrants throughout this pandemic.

Navigating Remote Learning 

As single mothers and Spanish speakers, both Diana and Cristina found it challenging to find ways to educate their children while schools were closed. Although their children can speak English, the language barrier made it even more challenging for homeschooling.

“I try to create projects to keep my daughter busy and educated,” said Diana. 

On top of navigating homeschooling and distanced learning in a second language, Cristina and Diana were constantly ensuring their children, who typically received meals at school, were getting enough to eat each week. 

The Need to Feed 

Like many of us during shelter-in-place, both Diana and Cristina are concerned about catching COVID-19, especially knowing the Latinx population makes up an increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases in California due to historic inequities. 

“I’ve been feeling a bit trapped, but also afraid of going outside,” said Diana. “Still, I need to come here so that I can feed my seven-year-old daughter, Maria.” 

“If these programs didn’t exist, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to properly feed my son,” said Cristina, as she tightly hugged her son. “It especially helps because if my son wants specific foods, at least I’ll be able to use this food as a daily staple without feeling guilty about it.”

*Names used in this blog post are aliases to protect the identities of the participants