Buy-Nothing: The Gift of Community

January 24, 2023

With her rescue dog Charlie slung over her hip in a crossbody bag (she says, “my passion is, I love dogs”), Cilla Lee was hard to miss at the Stonestown Pop-up Pantry where we met. And as she talked, three things became apparent: Cilla is a woman with a lot of ideas, a lot of drive, and a lot of herself to give. A San Franciscan since the age of five, she says that the pandemic “made [her] step up” when it came to supporting her community.  

Buy-Nothing: Where It All Began 

She’s underselling it a bit: Cilla took a leave of absence from her airline job so that others with less seniority could keep their jobs during the pandemic, which led her to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank as a participant. Early in the pandemic, with nowhere to go and not much to do, she stumbled upon the concept of “Buy-Nothing Groups,” virtual and occasionally in-person communities where immediate neighbors exchange all types of goods, services and information– all for free, all from their own abundance, all as part of a “gift economy.”  

“There wasn’t a Buy Nothing in my area, so I went ahead and started one up. I went through a crash training course and kind of figured it all out on my own. This whole thing about paying it forward was just because my mom was always helping people growing up. So, I just said, ‘This would be something my mom would do.’” 

From Pastries and Prep Meals… 

Cilla became the admin of the Outer Richmond Buy Nothing group on Facebook. While food isn’t often the primary focus of Buy Nothing groups, in the early pandemic, food donations started rolling in. At first, she started out by making baked goods and offering them up to add a little sweetness to her neighbor’s days.  

“I started making prep meals to show people like, hey, it really wasn’t that hard — come on by and grab a couple of prep meals and pretend it’s a home dining experience. I was also trying to help my neighbors grab groceries. And now I have some volunteers, and they’re just amazing.”  

Since those early days, it’s blossomed into something much bigger.  

…To Neighborhood Pantry!

On the day we met at Stonestown, having already picked up groceries for her and her boyfriend, Cilla was salvaging extra items that other neighbors didn’t want and shuffling them into cooler bags she had brought. Cilla and other volunteers in her neighborhood will pick up extra food from local food pantries, including pantries run by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which can’t always keep extra items due to both logistical and food safety constraints. Cilla and her team of volunteers will often find homes for groceries that same day by sending out alerts in the Buy-Nothing group, but they also set up a small farmer’s market style distribution in their neighborhood. That distribution happens every Friday, plus two extra Saturdays a month for folks who can’t pick up during weekday hours.

“We’ll have bins of different things. I have people RSVP, so they line up, and then they just understand that you only take what you need. And then if you want to wait till the end when everyone has picked up what they need, you’re welcome to take whatever extras we have.” 

Personal Touches Make the Difference 

As a small pantry operation, there’s a community building aspect inherent to the way it operates. Cilla says it’s not just her neighbors’ names and faces she’s come to know.  

“I’ll remember which family likes what. There’s a Moroccan family that likes certain items; there’s a Ukrainian family that likes rye bread. And I do a group chat for the regulars that come pick up and for the volunteers. I’ll say, ‘Hey, this is what we got this week. Here’s some [recipe] ideas.’” 

A Slice for You, A Slice for Me 

This colorful distribution van helps Cilla and volunteers make deliveries, too!

And neighborhood businesses even got in on the pantry distribution, with a local pizzeria offering fresh pies up to the Buy Nothing Group.  

“As soon as my driver is on the way to go pick it up, I post it. That way people can claim the pizza as soon as it comes to my door,” Cilla explained. “Depending on how many people claim it, I’ll split it half and half, or I’ll split it three ways, so everybody literally gets a piece of the pie.” 

Food is Community  

At the Food Bank, we’re grateful to learn from and be in partnership with people like Cilla, who use their knowledge of their neighbors to find hyper-localized, community-specific solutions and novel ways to fight hunger. Ultimately, like Cilla says, at the heart of it all is the gift of connecting with our neighbors– and food is a pathway to do just that.  

“It’s uplifting, because you know that you have this community and that you have people that care about you,” Cilla told us, smiling. “Your family may or may not be here; they may be in the same neighborhood, or they may be out of state, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve got a support group.” 

 

Volunteering: A Family Legacy

January 23, 2023

Family legacies come in all shapes and sizes: they might entail a craft or trade that spans generations of family members, a treasured recipe passed down from elders, or even an inherited love of a favorite sports team. For Andrew Lam, his family’s legacy “might just be the Food Bank.” In memory of his late mother Alice Lam, Andrew and his father Harry sponsored this year’s volunteer match that brought in more than 3500 volunteer shift sign ups – and $25,000 to benefit the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. 

“My mother volunteered a lot, for different food banks and for her church. So, my father and I thought that [this match] would be appropriate and would honor her,” Andrew shared. 

Food is at the Heart of it All 

Andrew and Harry began donating to the Food Bank in 2020 through the Alice Lam Memorial Foundation, and they’ve remained dedicated supporters ever since.  

“We support arts, legal aid for undocumented farmworkers, all kinds of things. But food is such a basic need. What my father and I believe is: food is the most important thing. Nothing else can come unless people are fed.” 

Food is interwoven throughout Andrew’s memories of growing up, too. “It’s a huge part of our family. I have a binder with all my mother’s recipes. Food can bring people together and make people feel good, too. You know, it’s not just sustenance. It can really improve somebody’s day.” 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work 

Already on board with the mission of the Food Bank, Andrew shared that seeing the scope of the warehouse operations in-person opened his eyes to how crucial volunteers are. Speaking on that first warehouse visit, he told us: “It was great to see how people come out to volunteer. Obviously, money goes somewhere, but it doesn’t work without the volunteers doing the actual legwork.” 

After that experience, the Volunteer Match seemed like the perfect fit. Because, as Andrew knows, sometimes time is the most valuable gift one can give: “Everybody has different ways to give back, and it’s not just about money.”  

Volunteers are what power our entire operation at the Food Bank year-round, but during the early months of the new year, participation often wanes. That’s why we’re extra grateful to announce we met the match this year – thank you to every person who signed up for a volunteer shift!  

Ending Hunger, Together 

We’re also grateful for the partnership and generosity of caring neighbors like Andrew and his father, who understand that volunteering is an easy way to have a huge impact on the well-being of our community. Andrew hopes that he and his father can continue to rally their neighbors around volunteering for the good of all.  

“It’s direct aid to our community that we live in, so it means so much more to us. And it’s part of what you owe to your community – because you want to think that if you were on the other side, other people would help you, right?” 

Emergency Allotments Make A Huge Difference

January 19, 2023

Imagine being 80 years old, retired, and getting by in San Francisco with income from your pension and Social Security – just $1,789 needs to cover $1,000 for rent and utilities, plus other expenses. Now imagine you are also the guardian for your three-year-old granddaughter. How do you cover all the costs?

This is the reality for Mrs. S*, who applied for CalFresh with the help of the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach Specialist Crystal Deng. Mrs. S initially applied on her own, but the bureaucracy was confusing, and she missed some steps. Her application was denied.

Mrs. S’s experience is not unique. The CalFresh application process is convoluted and cumbersome – if you forget a piece of verifying information or miss a call from a county official, you can lose out on benefits. That’s where the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach Team comes in. Crystal helped Mrs. S, like hundreds of other participants, apply and get approved for benefits. Now Mrs. S can afford more fruit, vegetables and other healthy food for her and her granddaughter.

“CalFresh helps participants alleviate their financial stress,” shared Crystal. “Benefits also help them increase access to healthier food and have extra money to stretch their food budget so they can choose the food they like.”

But our CalFresh Outreach Team is worried. During the pandemic, emergency allotments put even more money in the pockets of those receiving benefits. The average recipient in California was receiving $262 per month as of January 2022, an increase from $141 in 2019. Unfortunately, those allotments will expire in February.

“The cost of living in San Francisco is very high and people are struggling with jobs, housing and food,” shared Crystal. “Right now, with the [pandemic-era] emergency allotment the average person is receiving $262. That makes a huge difference.”

Without the allotments some people qualify for as little as $23 a month. Pre-pandemic, Crystal often heard people tell her the application wasn’t worth it for such a low amount – $23 doesn’t buy much in the Bay Area.

The end of emergency allotments will be a major blow for our community – San Francisco households receiving CalFresh will lose an average of $160 per month. There are 72,000 households in San Francisco that receive CalFresh that will need be seeing the rug pulled out from under them next month. Our Policy and Advocacy team is advocating for greater benefit amounts that better reflect the high cost of living in our community, and stronger safety nets and support for food programs like ours. In the meantime, Crystal and others on our CalFresh Outreach Team will continue assisting our neighbors to ensure they receive the benefits they both deserve and need to support their families.

 

* Name changed for privacy, at request of participant.

What Food Means to Us

December 14, 2022

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather around a shared meal. Pantries are perused, cookbooks are cracked, and calls are made to relatives for their special recipes (if you missed it, check out our community cookbook with contributions from participants, volunteers, and staff!).

Here’s what we know at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank: in sharing a meal, we share our humanity. We’ve spent the last 365 days gathering stories from the community and asking: “what does food mean to you?”

“Food means nourishment”

One sunny February morning, we visited our partner Code Tenderloin in San Francisco and heard from volunteer Arielle: “Food means nourishment – of the mind, body, and soul. Food makes you feel good, gives you confidence and courage that maybe you don’t have when you’re hungry. Maybe best of all is you can share it with people – it’s the way to a person’s heart.”

Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director, Donna Hilliard, added: “I think, with our culture, food is everything. When we come together, we eat. When we celebrate, we eat. When we’re sad, we eat. Sharing meals especially means a lot. For the folks at Code Tenderloin, all of us have been on the ground, so we serve our food with love. That’s why so many people are comfortable coming back – we want them to feel like our extended family.”

Arielle, left, is a student, mom, and volunteer at Code Tenderloin. Donna Hilliard, right, is Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director.

CalFresh recipient Yurin told us how a balanced meal means wellness for her family. “It’s something fundamental to health,” she shared. “Having good food, healthy food, is vital to every person every day.”

And at a bustling Pop-up Pantry in San Francisco’s SoMa, participant Russ chatted with us after picking up his groceries. “It means everything,” he said, showing us a watermelon he was excited to slice into. “I’m learning how to eat healthier now that I can get more and better food from this pantry. I turn 65 next August. You can live a lot better as you learn how to cook, what to eat, and what not to eat.”

Yurin is a Marin resident, mom, and CalFresh recipient.

Making Space for Joy

“Food brings us together, you know? If you got a group of people together, bring a meal. Ain’t nobody fussing when you’re eating.” Cliffton is a longtime San Francisco resident and an artist – recently, he painted ‘Spirit of the Fillmore’ in the Buchanan Street Mall. He’s also a participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry. “Food is nourishment for the body,” he continued. “Your body won’t allow you to be negative in that moment, because it’s getting good food.”

That’s the not-so-obvious benefit of a full pantry: with no worries about where the next meal will come from, our neighbors can bring a little more sweetness into their lives.

Laura Cedillo, center, is a Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center. Cliffton, right, is an artist, longtime San Francisco resident, and participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry.

Laura Cedillo, Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center [https://www.nativehealth.org/], told us that “food means someone’s looking out for you and taking care of you.” Laura and her team pack bags of healthy groceries for anyone who needs them in a second-story space that’s part health clinic in the Mission. She views food as memories as much as sustenance. “When I think of food, I think of family, and I think of being cared for. It’s like, hey, how do I love myself? One of my best friends is Mohican from the New York area, and I remember on her birthday she was like, ‘I’m going to make myself some butternut squash.’ And now every time I make butternut squash, I remember my friend. I remember people I love when I cook.”

 

More than Just Calories

We heard loud and clear from almost everyone we spoke to that food is much more than something that fills your stomach for a few hours.

“I believe food means connection to others,” said Maria, who is both a participant and a volunteer at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the Mission. “You can meet someone at the food pantry and get to know them and also know they care about you. Because all the people volunteering here, they care about all of us – that’s why they’re here.”

Maria, left, is a resident of San Francisco’s Mission district, and is both a participant and a volunteer. Pastor Richard Roberts, right, heads our partner San Francisco Community Fellowship.

“To share food is to get to know people, right?” said Pastor Richard Roberts at San Francisco Community Fellowship  one of our partners in the Excelsior. “It’s not just feeding them physical food, it’s emotional support and understanding, and getting people to a space where they feel comfortable and accepted. That’s what food means to me.”

As he spoke, Pastor Roberts watched volunteers pack grocery bags while photos of churchgoers at weddings and service days smiled down on them. For him, creating a community and holding a food pantry are all part of the same spirit.

The F-Word (Not That One!)

December 9, 2022

With the holidays in full swing, there’s a lot of talk about family. But what does family truly mean?   

As our community shares below, it’s not just blood ties, and it’s not just the relatives you see twice a year. Family can really be found wherever you look: in senior housing, at a food pantry, down the street, and at your table. And unsurprisingly, food and family intersect more often than not.  

Building Relationships after Retirement

Cui Juzhu (left) and Hui Yu (right)

Cui Juzhu and Hui Yu are both retirees with a penchant for feeding others. Not only are they volunteers at the same SoMa food pantry where they pick up their groceries, but both women find a way to spread the love to neighbors who live in their senior housing building. “Some of my friends have disabilities, so they can’t come and walk to the pantry. So, I pick up my groceries, cook for my family, and then the rest I share with [my friends],” explained Hui Yu, who is a retired restaurant kitchen worker.  

Cooking for others is an act of love; it’s saying, “you are family to me.” And it’s this kind of care that stretches to nourish whole families, friend groups, neighbor networks, and communities.  

Found at a Pantry: “Second Family” 

In sociology, there’s something called a “third place,” that describes a social environment outside of work or home where folks can congregate, see familiar faces, and build community. For María, the Friday food pantry in the Mission where she’s volunteered and picked up groceries for the past 10 years is a little of all the above. 

“I learn their names and their families. Some of them bring me food or coffee when it’s cold, and that’s really heart-touching. It feels good to know that someone else is watching over you. That someone cares about you, even when they are not even close-related, or cousins. They are like my second family.” 

We often say that good food transforms lives. María shows us it’s no exaggeration — good food is a pathway to building community and building family.  

Friends, Neighbors, Pantry Partners

Janet and Bob are obviously close friends and neighbors: they finish each other’s sentences, tease each other, and laugh together. And as many folks can attest, friends are really chosen family. Both born and raised San Franciscans and retirees, Bob began giving Janet rides to their neighborhood food pantry in Stonestown where they pick up groceries together.   

When we spoke in late October, Bob told us how he “fixes things for the neighborhood. I do all types of repairs – I worked in Silicon Valley for 30 years, so I know all about it.” Fences, wall dividers, you name it: folks in the neighborhood know to come to Bob for a repair. Janet, a retired caregiver, chimed in playfully: “I call Bob the house doctor.”  

When folks don’t have to guess where their next meal will come from, it’s a lot easier to devote energy to investing in your community and friendships – something that Bob and Janet clearly do in equal measure.    

Sharing Space, Creating Memories 

For Sharon, who we met at her neighborhood pantry in the Fillmore, it’s no sweat if the people gathering for her holiday feast are biological kin or not – it’s the act of coming together in a shared space to prepare a meal that creates family.   

“Family is everything, you know? I’ve raised a pretty considerable amount of kids. I have four biological kids; I also have two foster children. And depending on my circumstances, I may accumulate a few more children at the table, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been a parent for a long time. After two kids, it doesn’t matter how many people sit at my table. It’s a joy, it’s a blessing. It’s a chance for us to connect when we all sit down together and eat, and I love that. The holidays are always great. It just feels good, when you and your family can sit down to a healthy meal and something that you enjoy. These memories are going to last a lifetime. It makes it all worthwhile.”  

Happy Holidays and New Year

With that, we at the Food Bank would like to wish you happy holidays and a joyful start to 2023! We hope you’re able to take some time this month to sit down to a delicious, home-cooked meal that’s prepared with love. And we hope you can celebrate with family – whoever that may be. 

See you in the New Year! 

Our Community Cookbook: Holiday Recipes and Stories

November 15, 2022

How many of our favorite holiday memories revolve around food? Spanning different cultures, regions and families, food is at the center of our tables and our traditions, especially during this time of year. So, inspired by the season, we set out to ask Food Bank staff, volunteers, and our community what some of their favorite holiday recipes and food-related memories are. Please enjoy this collection of stories and tasty treats – and let us know if you make any!

Hui Yu’s Soy Sauce Turkey and Potatoes

We met Hui Yu at her neighborhood pantry in the SOMA district, where she volunteers regularly and picks up groceries for her and her husband as well. Prior to retirement, Hui Yu worked in a restaurant kitchen, so she’s no stranger to feeding others. Now, she often cooks meals for friends in her senior living facility who can’t make it out to the pantry. Poultry was at the top of Hui Yu’s list as a holiday main: “With chicken, sometimes I’ll roast or fry it. Or, we’ll have the whole family over and then celebrate together with a turkey. On the outside, I’ll use Chinese soy sauce, put it all over the skin, massage it, and then inside, put some potatoes.” Sounds delicious!

Katherine’s Pfeffernüsse

Katherine, Donor Database Coordinator at the Food Bank, shared a Pfeffernüsse recipe (German spiced cookies) that brings back the memories of a winter trip with friends years ago. “One of the joys of food for me is that it can so easily evoke memories and sensations from good times with those I love, or on adventures in places I love. Pfeffernüsse will always remind me of the Christmas I spent in Berlin visiting friends. One bite and I’m suddenly coming in from the biting cold to have a small treat of the spiced cookie and a cup of hot tea after my daily ritual of wandering through the neighborhood Weihnachtsmarkt. The glazed version is common, but I also like them with a dusting of powdered sugar or just plain.” Keep scrolling for her full recipe!

Barbara’s Okra, Cornbread, and Sweets

Barbara, a senior living in the Fillmore who picks up groceries at her neighborhood pantry, sees the holidays as an opportunity. “My favorite recipes for the holidays are things you don’t make on a regular basis, traditional recipes that comes down from your family. My favorite recipe that was passed down to me is my mother’s okra.” At first thoughtfully pondering what else makes up her usual holiday table, Barbara began quickly listing other favorites: “I’m a dessert person, so I make lemon pies, coconut pineapple cake, peach cobblers and banana puddings. Oh, and cornbread dressing! Because there’s no recipe for that – it has the basics, the trinity: onion, pepper, celery. But it’s more of a feeling. So, the trick to that is to make a scratch cornbread.” We agree. Often, the best recipes aren’t written down or in a cookbook – they’re a feeling, or a memory.  

Steve’s Turkey Dinner

“I think holiday meals are always a way of coming together with family,” Steve told us at his neighborhood pantry. He’s a military retiree and a volunteer at his local pantry, where he also picks up groceries for him and his wife. For his family, the holidays are about the joining of different traditions. “I have a traditional turkey dinner, where I usually go up to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving. And then I host a turkey dinner for my wife’s family. My wife’s Chinese, so we tend to do Chinese vegetables, mashed potatoes and cranberries [on the side].”

Kim’s Naw Mai Fan

As Program Manager at the Food Bank, Kim is around good food quite a bit! But nothing quite compares to her family recipe for naw mai fan. “This is my mom’s recipe. She learned how to make this from my grandmother, an immigrant from the Toisan region of China in Guandong province. My grandmother came to San Francisco’s Chinatown right after World War II, where she raised my mother. We make naw mai fan every Thanksgiving and Christmas and it is my all-time favorite food.” Full recipe is included below, so please let us know if you give it a try!

María’s Ponche con Piquete

Sharing is caring! María is a mom, volunteer, and pantry participant in San Rafael. She told us that her family embraces potlucks during the holidays, but also for camping trips and other gatherings throughout the year. “Our tradition for Christmas is to get the whole family together, and everyone brings a little something. Someone brings the pozole, someone else the tamales, the champurrado, the ponche. We make ponche con piquete, like we call it back home – it’s made from fruit, and you add wine to your liking.” 

 

 

This is just a small sampling of the wide variety of food traditions in our community – a huge thank you to all who shared with us! To neighbors across San Francisco and Marin, we wish you a happy holiday season. We hope some of these recipes and stories inspire your next culinary adventure!

Detailed Recipes

Thank you to Katherine for sharing her Pfeffernüsse recipe. Here it is, in full: 

 

Thank you to Kim for sharing her family’s naw mai fan recipe. Here it is, in full:

 

Employment Plus: More than Job Opportunities

November 15, 2022

Samedi and Annette tying bags together

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

Employment Plus: Emphasis on the “Plus” 

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

Javon poses while breaking down cardboard

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

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

Pop-up Pantries Create Connection 

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

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

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

Packing Bags in Partnership 

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

Dana fills up grocery bags with fresh produce

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

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

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

 

Farmer’s Market Style…Is Always In Style

November 15, 2022

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

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

COVID Pantry Pivots

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

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

“What you’ll eat, you take”

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

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

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

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

Farmer’s Market Style Forecast

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

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

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

 

Partner Spotlight: Perspectives on Food Justice with TNDC

September 6, 2022

Four masked people smiling at the camera, holding a pre-made meal, a fresh pineapple and eggs - all available at the food pantry.
Pantry staff and participants take a moment to smile.

The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) has provided affordable housing and promoted equitable access to resources in San Francisco since its founding in 1981. Part of their mission is food justice – and that’s where our five-year partnership comes in.

Food programs span all sections of the organization. “There’s Tenderloin After School Program, Healthy Corner Stores, and Health and Wellness, which includes Healthy Aging, Food & Nutrition, and Urban Agriculture. Then there are our food pantries at our supported housing buildings. Food touches a lot of the work we do,” said Rebecca Barajas, Food & Nutrition Supervisor, TNDC.

Join us on a tour of three of TNDC’s programs to see how food justice means so much more than just providing food – and why community partners are integral to our mission to provide food for all.

Food Pantry

A participant and a pantry staff member hugging and smiling.
“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Our first stop is the food pantry on the bottom floor of TNDC’s Kelly Cullen Community, which provides supported living to seniors and people who were unhoused. We arrived to a frenzy of activity. Staff and volunteers packed grocery bags with cauliflower, milk, eggs, ravioli, and more for participants living in multiple TNDC buildings on the block.

“We open our doors to distribution at 9:15. We’ll set up tables and pack bags from heaviest to lightest – so chicken or rice would go on the bottom and something like a pear would go on top,” Rebecca told us.

“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Healthy Corner Stores

Fresh produce like cantaloupes, mangoes, bell peppers, and pears line refrigerated shelving in Dalda's Community Market.
TNDC’s Healthy Corner Stores incentivizes businesses like Dalda’s Community Market to stock unprocessed, nutritious food at affordable prices.

We made our way deeper into the Tenderloin to visit Dalda’s Community Market, a store that’s part of TNDC’s Healthy Corner Store Coalition. “We provide refrigeration equipment and business consulting services,” said John McCormick, Healthy Corner Store Coalition Program Manager, TNDC. “We ask the locations to limit alcohol and tobacco ads. We also promote the stores through community engagement activities, like tastings of the food.”

“People want healthy food. And we know that because people are buying it in the stores,” John told us. “Stores that aren’t part of our coalition are now selling produce because they know there’s a market for it. It totally changes the food apartheid we see here,” he said, referring to the inequitable access to nutritious food that neighborhoods like the Tenderloin have been subjected to. “Now there’s healthy produce in the neighborhood. There’s not as much of it as other places, but it’s better than it was 10 years ago.”

Urban Agriculture

A 3-story mural depicting the Tenderloin Peoples' Garden.
A mural marks the People’s Garden across from San Francisco’s City Hall.

Finally, we walked a few blocks away to the Tenderloin People’s Garden, one of 14 growing spaces TNDC developed across the city. “They grow a lot – hundreds of pounds of food get distributed to our residents from the food the gardens grow,” Rebecca told us.

A person smiles down at Swiss chard in the People's Garden.
Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator, picks some chard for our team to take home.

“Part of the cycle of gardens is once you start using them, they keep providing and then you have to keep using them,” said Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator at TNDC. “There’s an abundance behind it.” The garden grows produce like chard, lemons, bok choy, and more alongside ornamental and aromatic plants like rosemary, jasmine, and nasturtium, which attract pollinators and predator insects that eat pests for a more natural kind of insecticide.

People who come to the gardens find an oasis. “I like when it’s like this, no trucks driving by, no ambulances. Bees and butterflies and bugs are flying around and you can hear birds chirping. Even in the middle of the city, you have some peace and quiet. It’s really a benefit for the mind. See, like that,” said Thomas as a bird broke out into song.

Safety Nets Creating Stability: Lisa’s Story

September 6, 2022

Lisa is a lot of things. She’s a Pisces, a gamer, and a voice in her community. A resident of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (TNDC) Kelly Cullen Community in San Francisco, she also attends their educational classes and volunteered at their People’s Garden before the pandemic. “I do a little of everything,” she laughed when we spoke to her outside the building’s weekly food pantry.

Right now, she’s living on her own with three small dogs. She has friends on her floor, a computer to game on, and a multifunctional pressure cooker that cooks rice, sautés vegetables, and air-fries meat she gets from the food pantry downstairs. “I like the pantry because I can get my extras here, the things I wouldn’t be able to buy from the store,” she told us. “Right now, I have everything. I’m stable, I’ve got housing. I don’t have any worries, so to speak.”

But it wasn’t always this way. For Lisa, a combination of government-funded safety nets and community support led her to this stability – and now she’s able to offer helping hands to others as well.

Safety Nets Are Necessary

For seniors and folks with disabilities like Lisa, government policies on food assistance have had a checkered history. Originally, people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were ineligible for SNAP or CalFresh. But that changed in 2019. “Advocates from the SSI and anti-hunger community, including our Food Bank, all worked really hard to overturn that policy. And then activists conducted outreach across the state to connect SSI recipients to the resource,” said Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.

Lisa felt the effects of policy changes firsthand. “In the beginning, when folks on SSI weren’t allowed to collect food stamps, I found that really stressful. It’s easier now,” she said. She explained that expanded CalFresh benefits during the pandemic were also a boon. “I get a little extra on top of what I usually get, and I can set myself up better. If they stop the extra [food assistance money], I’m still good now because I have my staple foods in my pantry and meat in my freezer.”

Community Support is Integral

Lisa’s current situation wouldn’t be possible without the support she received, both from the government and her community. “A young lady named Lynn turned me on to classes with TNDC [where I live now]. She has helped me grow.” And with that growth came a desire to help others in the Tenderloin: so far, she’s advocated for pedestrian safety and a dog-friendly park in the neighborhood. “I learned a whole lot about myself, and I learned about community organizing,” said Lisa.

She also reaches out a helping hand to folks in the Tenderloin, as others have done for her. “Talking to people is my way of giving back. I can tell them places to go, and if they need my help to sign up for anything I’ll help them,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to change your life when nobody’s helping you, but when you get support, it’s easier. That’s my game plan. I’m gonna bring y’all in.”