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

Church Remains Open as Physical Doors Close

August 27, 2020

While COVID-19 put limits on gatherings and in-person church services, Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview district has found new opportunities for service through its Pop-up Food Pantry during this crisis.

Minister Damonn White at Cornerstone Church Pop-up Food Pantry“Although our church can’t fellowship in person and the doors for the church are closed, we like to say that the church is still open and we’re still doing the work,” explained Minister Damonn White, who spends his Thursdays at the Pop-up Pantry Cornerstone now hosts in partnership with the Food Bank.

The Pop-up at Cornerstone opened in May, making it the second Pop-up Pantry the Food Bank opened in the Bayview District after the Bayview Opera House. Each week it serves bags of fresh produce, protein, and shelf-stable items to 600 households from all over San Francisco.

The pantry may be new, but food has always been part of the ministry at Cornerstone Church. Not only do they feed about 250 families each year through their holiday food baskets, but they are also always prepared “if somebody comes to us hungry,” said Minister White. “We have families sometimes say, ‘I’ve been displaced, we need food to eat.’ We always have some food on hand.”

Challenges of COVID-19

Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church has experienced the grief of this tragedy firsthand. When we spoke with Minister White in July, eight of his parishioners had gotten the virus, and one person had died.

Minister White explained, “the sad part of this is that when transitioning of life happens, that we’re not really able to love on people the way we would like to. But we just have to take the safety precautions, you know. We’re learning on a day to day basis, with gloves, masks, social distancing, and it’s tough. It’s tough.”

Their experience is not unique. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities is particularly evident in Bayview, where 31% of residents identify as Black compared to just 6% of San Francisco’s population overall. As of July, there were 192.91 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents in the neighborhood – the highest infection rate of any San Francisco neighborhood.

Immediate Food Needs

The risk of the virus itself is not the only challenge for the Bayview community. In July, the Human Services Agency (HSA) conducted a survey of low-income San Francisco residents who receive its services. It found that Bayview had one of the highest percentages of people Cornerstone Church Pop-up Food Pantryreporting that they did not have enough food in the last two weeks.

HSA also found that while 34 percent of Black respondents reported food as their most immediate post-shelter in place need, only 26 percent reported visiting a food pantry.

The Food Bank is trying to address this by working with community partners like Cornerstone Baptist Church and the Bayview Opera House to ensure there are food pantries in the neighborhood. But we know simply opening a pantry is not enough. After hearing from local residents that lines were too long, we implemented an improved line management system where individuals registered for timeslots to reduce wait times. And we will continue working with community leaders to improve our outreach to the local community.

In the meantime, Cornerstone is happy to be of service to San Francisco residents far beyond its immediate community. “We want to make sure we meet the masses. We don’t want to be considered a Black church. We’d like to be considered a community church for all.”

And if you visit the pantry Thursdays, you’ll see they’ve achieved this. The Pop-up Pantry at Cornerstone serves a diverse cross-section of people. Thanks to the welcoming environment the Cornerstone community provides, we continue to see strong interest from neighborhood residents in wanting to join.

“For me, this is what it’s really all about. It’s nice to wear a suit and get up and say an elegant speech in front of a room full of people and inspire them to live a greater, a better life,” said Minister White. “But this right here is where the rubber hits the road. For me, I’m a people person. I’m a community person. I like to do whatever I can do to help people. So today and every Thursday, when I’m here, it’s so gratifying, you know, to walk away and know, okay, we actually helped some people today.”

Pauline’s Story | Librarian to Food Banker

August 10, 2020

Before the pandemic, Pauline Harris was working as a children’s librarian at the Richmond District Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Now, she works at the Food Bank as Disaster Service Worker.

“I miss being at the library, but I recognize that it’s important for me to be here,” said Pauline.

Disaster Service Workers are City and County employees who are not able to perform their typical day-to-day work right nowPauline is just one of many who have been activated to support COVID-19 response efforts – such as contact tracing, staffing hotels where unhoused individuals are isolating, or helping at the Food Bank. 

During her first deployment at the Food Bank in mid-May, Pauline worked alongside volunteers packing fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins into bags for our temporary Pantry at Home program assembly line.  

“I remember I was told that we packed around 2,800 bags that day,” she said, recalling her first day. “It was a killer shift since I wasn’t used to it yet.”  

From Packing Bags to Curbside Assistance  

That shift didn’t stop Pauline from wanting to do the work for the Food Bank. 

Now on her second deployment, she is assisting volunteers who are delivering groceries through Pantry at Home to over 12,000 seniors each week. At the curb on Pennsylvania Ave, outside of the Food Bank, the volunteers pick up the packed grocery bags that are ready for delivery. Here, Pauline greets them and helps pack about 15 grocery bags into their car, and at times hears stories about the people they deliver to. 

“Sometimes, I feel like the folks that are bagging the groceries should come down and meet the drivers just to see what it’s like,” said Pauline. “Hearing where these bags go and interacting with the drivers has been a cool experience.” 

A Community Sentiment 

Pauline enjoys working with the volunteers. “The volunteers [drivers] are amazing people and always seem positive,” she said. 

“Seeing this many people that want to help makes me feel great about what I’m doing. It’s amazing how enormous the need isAt first, I knew the need was dire, but not at this level. That’s why, in my opinion, it makes the most sense for me to come and help. We should not be letting anyone fall through the cracks and become needlessly hungry.” 

Irene’s Story | We’re All In This Together

August 4, 2020

Growing up in San Francisco, my grandmother was everything to me. She had migrated from Nicaragua, re-married into a food family, and helped run a restaurant. So, she knew how to cook, and prepared meals for us regularly. Her kitchen was the epicenter of our family.

Today, I work at the Food Bank, supporting many of our Marin pantries. I see the space we created with our partners, and just like my grandmother’s kitchen, it’s at the center of our community, with food hitting the bullseye.

Pre-pandemic, it was a real family atmosphere—with music, food samples, and information about services. The pantry coordinator and volunteers knew every participant by name and often gave hugs. You’d hear them ask, “How are you feeling?” “How’s your daughter?” or “Are you coming to the event tonight?”

You’d feel the warmth and see that participants were comfortable with not only getting help but helping each other.

Since COVID-19 struck, the music and hugs have taken a pause, but the welcoming atmosphere has not. In Marin, we’ve changed many of our operations to drive-thru pantries. Folks drive up, open up their trunks, and a volunteer puts their groceries in. It’s a “no-touch” experience, but you can still see everyone smiling beneath their masks.

At a San Rafael drive-thru pantry, a woman got out of the car to open the trunk, and you could just see the appreciation in her eyes. She said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.” A group of us standing there all gave her an “air hug” from six feet away.

In Marin, there’s more space to have a line of cars, but it requires a lot more coordination. Our partner organizations, volunteers, and county worker support has turned everything upside down to make the food distribution work. For some pantries, we need anywhere from 30-50 volunteers. Folks get there early and set up assembly lines to prepare up to 600 bags of food.

Working six feet apart but alongside each other, we all feel a sense of unity: unity with volunteers and participants. We’re all in this together. When all is said and done, the new normal can be distressing. But I’m certain between the Food Bank, our partners, volunteers, and community supporters, we will get through this together.

Sandy’s Story | Grocery Delivery Makes the Difference

July 30, 2020

Before the pandemic, Sandy performed as a fiddler at festivals. And before that, as a young woman, she was an activist. She’s a mother and a grandmother with a zest for life.

She also knows what it’s like to experience hunger.

When she was a child living in Northern Ireland, there were times she and her brother would have to split what little food they had.

“I remember a time we split one scrambled egg,” she recalls. “Hunger has always been something. Not ‘I missed lunch,’ but true hunger.”

And now after 48 years in San Francisco, living through so much of this city’s rich and vibrant history, she is experiencing the challenges of living on a fixed income amidst the rising cost of living in the Richmond District.

“I’m living on my savings and I also get retirement. The rent here is $840 a month. I thank God it is only that. And my check is about 800 and…,” she pauses to think. “It’s close, I mean they are right next to each other.”

COVID-19: A Challenge for Seniors

Even before the pandemicone in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were food insecure. For many low-income seniors, the Food Bank was a lifeline, helping ensure they weren’t choosing between affording food and paying rent.

COVID-19 suddenly threw a new impossible choice into the mix: choosing between risking your health to pick up much-needed food or go without it. To guarantee they wouldn’t have to make that choice, we started grocery delivery to 12,000 low-income seniors in our community every week.

To aid in these efforts, the USDA also granted a waiver that allowed Amazon to deliver senior boxes from the Supplemental Food Program (SFP), which provides a monthly box of mostly shelf-stable food to seniors living at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

While we look forward to bringing seniors back to the community centers, churches, and other weekly pantries locations, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases makes it clear: seniors like Sandy are still vulnerable.

Grocery Delivery Makes All the Difference

When Sandy’s husband was still alive, the couple relied on the monthly SFP food boxes. But her health challenges made picking up the SFP box difficult, and after her husband was killed, she stopped coming.

Even after she stopped picking up her SFP box, she kept in touch with Shirley Chen, senior program manager at the Food Bank. And in March, Shirley was able to connect her with our CalFresh team who signed her up for benefits, enroll in our Pantry at Home program, and even help her get her SFP box delivered straight to her door.

Unfortunately, the USDA ended the waiver allowing us to deliver SFP boxes for seniors shelter at home in June, making her Pantry at Home deliveries and CalFresh benefits even more crucial.

Thanks to the Food Bank, and the help of its caring staff members and volunteers, Sandy said she hasn’t been so well fed in a long time. “Do you know how long it has been since I could buy a rolled pork roast? My family came over and shared it with me. It fed 5 of us.”

In a time when we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the generosity of the Food Bank staff and her neighbors who make these deliveries means a lot. “I’m terribly grateful.”

Masks and Food for Good: Q&A with Cobaltix 

July 16, 2020

As the founder of an IT company, Steve Walker is doing his best to give back to the community, but never thought about the issue behind hunger until recently. Located in SOMA, a microcosm for poverty and income inequality, his company Cobaltix is right around the corner from the Bessie Carmichael Elementary School Pop-up pantry. Steve knew he needed to find creative ways to help the community, which sparked the idea of making and donating handmade cloth masks in his neighborhood.

So, one day in April, after seeing the line at the Pop-up pantry extending around the block, Steve Walker decided to follow the line to the entrance and pass out face masks to staff and volunteers. Soon he extended it to participants who didn’t have one on their faces. Not long after, he donated so many that we were even able to share them with the Food Bank’s pantry network, including pantries that serve the unhoused population and need clean masks. 

But Steve knew he could be doing so much more. Once he started familiarizing himself with the growing need and engaging with the community, he decided that there were other items he could be giving out. One week, he donated two hand carts and coffee. Since then, he and his staff also started bringing coffee and breakfast items such as pastries, bagels, granola bars, and fruit each week for staff and volunteers. 

We spoke with Steve about his firm’s contribution and how they’re expanding their help to other pop-ups. 

Food Bank: As an IT company, why did you start making masks in the first place? 

Steve Walker: Cobaltix is currently doing well, and we started thinking about how we could give back to the community. One of the things we decided on was hiring a bunch of people that weren’t doing so well during this pandemic and putting them on payroll for at least eight weeks. One person we hired was a seamstress, and we asked her to make us masks and bought a bunch of fabric. 

At first, I’d never really thought about food as something we needed to worry about in the Bay Area. But after seeing the line outside of Bessie Carmichael, it dawned on me that I needed to do something. We’re not a food company or anything of that sort, but we have this surplus of masks and started giving them out. We’re also bringing these over to Rosa Parks Elementary School since we want to keep doing more in other areas.

FB: What has been your experience coming out to these Pop-ups?  

SWFor starters, the neighborhood representative Isabel is amazing. She’s managing all these people and leading them. I look at all the people in there—the volunteersand they’re also amazing. The Food Bank is literally changing their lives. We also partnered with United Playaza youth-led violence prevention organization that’s supporting the Pop-up. We have hired a chef that’s making lunches for them during their volunteer shifts. I can tell that they’re so happy to be there.

It’s fulfilling to see all these families walk in, especially mothers, and open the food bags to see what’s inside, with a look of relief on their faces. People who are going to this Pop-up pantry don’t have jobs and can’t afford to buy groceries each week.  

FB: So far, what have you learned after finding out about the growing need? 

SW: Living in California, this is the breadbasket of the world, and food is primarily grown here. I’ve always known that there’s income inequality and it’s expensive to live in the Bay Area. At the same time, seeing the number of people who are close to the edge due to economic downturn and lining up for food has been eye-opening and kind of scary. It’s something we need to fix as a society. 

FB: What would you say to those that are thinking of making a difference for those in need? 

SW: Another reason why we’re doing this is we’d like to set an example for companies to do more for the world. It doesn’t take all that much to make a difference for the people who need it most. I think there’s a bunch of other companies like ours that are just as small that can get a bit creative on how to give back. I also found that the more you ask about what others need, the more likely you’ll be able to give back to the community. I hope that companies, whether big or small, can start or continue to make a huge difference in many ways.  

Tina’s Story | Food is Family

July 7, 2020

Growing up, there was a time our kitchen cabinets were filled with blue and white generic brand food. I didn’t know my family was going through a hard time and that generic was the cheaper option. All I knew was that we had plenty.

Food was comfort. Food was family. And that’s the feeling of security the Food Bank is providing right now for over 60,000 families in this pandemic—especially for the kids who come to the pantries with their parents or grandparents. They aren’t aware of hardships, needs, or financial worries. They just see it as a fun outing.

This week, I was at a pantry in North Beach, San Francisco. The line was over 10 blocks long, weaving through the streets, nearly all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. I saw a woman with her five-year-old grandson get in line. I knew they had a long 90-minute wait ahead of them and instantly felt bad.  

I kept my eye on them and saw the woman give her grandson snacks. He held her hand as he enjoyed his food and juice box. Thirty minutes later, they had only moved two blocks. They started doing leg exercises and stretches, and then piggyback rides. The boy was cheerful, laughing, and enjoying himself. 

After an hour and thirty minutes, I finally saw them coming around the corner to enter the distribution area. They were both smiling under their masks and still holding hands as they seemed to cross the finish line together. It warmed my heart, and I couldn’t help but clap and say, ‘You made it! Good job!” The little boy gave me a thumbs up. It was a beautiful thing to see him unaware of the long line he waited in for the food they needed.

The smiles on the faces of the woman and her grandson are the Food Bank’s goal. Our priority is to provide not only food, but also a welcoming, positive experience.

For all of us, there’s an uneasy feeling with everything changing in the pandemic. The Food Bank is a consistent beacon of care, compassion, and community. We’ve been here for over 30 years; we’re here in this crisis, and we will be here in the future. And we’ll always have a smile, so folks know we’re here to help each other. 

Ruthanne’s Story | No One Should Go Hungry

June 29, 2020

Every Tuesday, volunteer Ruthanne McCunn arrives around 8 a.m. in the morning at Mission High School. She packs grains like rice or pasta, proteinand produce like carrots, apples, onions, and potatoes into bags before the Pop-up Pantry opens. Once 9 a.m. hits, a few volunteers including Ruthanne position themselves to pass out food bags to participants while the rest of the volunteers continue packing. 

As participants arrive at the front of the line, Ruthanne greets each person with a smile and recommends, in both English and Cantonese, to be mindful of the eggs that are inside each bag.

Since the beginning of shelter-in-place, Ruthanne has volunteered at a few Pop-up pantries, including Mission High School and Gordon J. Lau Elementary School, each week.  

“It’s been therapeutic to do something purposeful,” she said. “It’s an opportunity and a gift to be able to actually do something positive for the community.”  

Prior to the Food Bank, she volunteered with Martin de Porres House of Hospitality for 27 years. However, they can no longer allow volunteers in their building and Ruthanne wanted to help. 

Serving Communities for Years 

“I’ve known about the Food Bank for many years,” said Ruthanne. “[Martin de Porres House of Hospitality] gets a ton of their food from the Food Bank and works with the unhoused population. Because of this pandemic, I decided to go the source of the food, the Food Bank, and signed up to volunteer.

What surprised her the most from this experience is the number of participants that arrive at these pop-up pantries. She recalls an instance at the Gordan J. Lau Elementary School pop-up.  

“I remember this one time, the line went around the block and stretched all the way towards the Fairmont HotelI arrived there at 7:30 a.m., and the line was already two blocks long. I asked a participant that was standing at the very beginning of the line, ‘What time did you get here?’ She said she got there at 4:30 a.m., which is mind-boggling to me. 

A Continuing Effort 

 Since her first shiftRuthanne has witnessed the many changes the Food Bank is making to accommodate everyone at the pop-ups, including, for example, introducing timeslots to make sure people don’t have to wait in line for hours. Ruthanne has also seen the growing need firsthand. But her many years of experience on the frontlines of addressing food insecurity has taught her that this issue is not new.  

“People don’t have enough food, even though this is purportedly a rich nation,” said Ruthanne. “Because of that, no one should go hungry, especially here in San Francisco.

Partner Spotlight: Q&A With The Richmond Neighborhood Center

June 18, 2020

With three neighborhood food pantries serving more than 800 Richmond District residents each week, a home delivered grocery program that reaches 150 seniors, and a CalFresh application assistance program, The Richmond Neighborhood Center is one of our largest Community Partners.

Before COVID-19, The Richmond Neighborhood Center created a thriving community around its food programs. Pantry volunteer shifts created an atmosphere similar to a family gathering. Even among the participants, weekly pantries were a place to gather and catch up with one another. And with Home Delivered Groceries, the volunteers and seniors were paired individually to have a chance to get to know each other and build a long-term relationship.

COVID-19 changed all of that. While The Richmond Neighborhood Center remained open and continues to serve their community, they had to shift the way they operate. We caught up with Program Manager Yves Xavier, to hear more about how things are going now.

(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)

Food Bank: How have the last few months been for The Richmond Neighborhood Center?

Yves Xavier: They’ve been going well. The first three weeks of the shelter in place ordinance were pretty zany for lots of reasons. I think we were all a little nervous for our own health. We had to quickly redesign our programs to meet these constantly changing guidelines. Every day it seemed like there was either a new guideline or fear of what this pandemic could bring. So, those first three weeks were tough, but we adjusted and reshaped all our programs.

Specifically, for the pantry, we made quick changes that we wish we didn’t have to make but certainly were better for health. For example, one of the coolest pantry experiences, or at least what we really love about our pantry, is that people from the neighborhood gather together. You make friends or you come over with your friends to sit and talk and wait for your group to line up. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we had to get rid of all of that.

FB: How is volunteer recruitment?

YX: It was a really cool, unexpected shift – for both home delivered groceries and the pantry, we lost probably half of our regular volunteers. But within a day or two, we had a huge influx of new people from the neighborhood. So, our volunteer corps has been strong since the pandemic began. There just seems to be an outpouring of people who want to help, even though there was a large loss at the same time.

FB: One of your pantries was at George Peabody Elementary. Do you still have access to the school?

YX: Unfortunately, no. We don’t have access to the school, so we moved our pantry operations to The Neighborhood Center. We still run three pantries, but we saw a decrease in participation from participants who lived in the Inner Richmond for lots of reasons – including the fear of getting on a bus, buses not running etc. – who couldn’t make it out to our 30th Avenue Outer Richmond headquarters to get their food. But the Food Bank has helped us deliver to many of them through Pantry at Home.

We’ve also been slowly recruiting volunteers to take over those deliveries. We’re up to making 105 deliveries on our own and we’re hoping to take over all the deliveries to free your staff up to serve more people in the city who need it.

FB: Are you serving more people now?  

YX: We’ve definitely seen an increase in participants, but it was similar to the way that the volunteer corps worked. There were some folks in our pantries who stopped attending. And then we also saw an influx of new people. We didn’t talk to everyone about the reasons for coming, but we took a general poll of those in line and heard from many new people who lost jobs their recently.

FB: Aside from the pantries, how has the rest of your programming been going?

YX: Our grocery delivery programs that we do in partnership with the Food Bank and the Richmond Senior Center have carried on. We took about 25 people off our waitlist and served them. It stretches us a bit thin, but it is doable. So that program hasn’t been impacted in a negative way.

But changes had to be made. One of the things that made our home delivery so unique is we did a one to one volunteer match – one volunteer goes to one senior and it’s the same senior and the same volunteer each week. We have seen really cool relationships grow out of that where people get connected and just go over for other things like helping their senior change light bulbs, shop for them, or take them to a doctor’s appointment. There are endless stories like that. But COVID-19 has made people get creative in the way they connect. We stopped asking volunteers to connect in person. Instead, we’re asking people leave bags in front of doors, ring the doorbell, stand six feet away, and wave.

That hasn’t felt great because that social connection is such an important piece of the program. But the bottom line is people are continuing to get their groceries every week. And that’s what we really wanted to make sure is continuing to happen. We’ve encouraged our volunteers to make calls to their seniors, or teach them how to use Zoom, or write emails and pen pal letters. So, folks have been creative, but it’s definitely been a change.

We also saw a huge increase in CalFresh application assistance – more than any other time in my five years working with the food programs at The Neighborhood Center. Now we are taking as many as six appointments a day, which is pretty significant.

FB: How are you planning to adapt programming as the city reopens? Do you anticipate new challenges?

YX: It’s a really good question. I can’t say we’ve thought about it as much as would probably be helpful, but that’s partly because we’re pretty much set on keeping things the way they are for the foreseeable future. Even as things start to reopen throughout the city, we’re not expecting to change much. We’re going to keep people lining up, disallowing congregating, ensuring that everyone is wearing masks, pre-packing bags for participants, etc., until phase four, when mass gatherings are allowed again by the city.

FB: That makes a lot of sense. Was there anything else that you wanted to share about how you’ve adapted to COVID-19?

YX: I’m just really impressed by everybody who helps make these partnerships happen. Our staff and volunteers have been incredible with all their flexibility and dedication. Same goes for the Food Bank staff. Gary, our point person for the pantry, is always professional and friendly. During a difficult time, he was great – always keeping us up to date, helping make sure that we had what we needed, and just overall supportive; as was Jillian who supported us with Home Delivered Groceries.

I’m also impressed with how everything shifted for everyone across the city who does these programs and how people can keep a positive attitude, keep the collaboration going, and work really hard to serve more people and get creative. It’s been really cool to see all that happen.