2023 California Policy Wins

October 17, 2023

Here at the Food Bank, our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. On its face, the solution might seem simple: provide nutritious food so people facing hunger can thrive, not just survive. But while providing food on the ground is an essential part of our services, we know it’s not enough to simply address the hunger we see today – we must also work to address its root causes and change the policies that allow hunger to continue in our communities and plan for long-term solutions.

That’s why, in partnership with our community and other supporters, our Policy and Advocacy team works to promote proposed laws and create new policies that benefit everyone (check out our policy platform). We advocate at all levels of government, from local to state to federal – and we’d like to share with you some key wins we’ve achieved in the California legislature.

“Changing policy is a marathon, not a race,” said Marchon Tatmon, associate director of policy and advocacy at our Food Bank. “Nonetheless, we’re proud of how we’ve worked together with other advocates to achieve some pretty audacious goals. Our strength is that we’re always in conversation with our community to inform our policy priorities.”

California Anti-Hunger Policy Wins in 2023

 

  • CalFresh: According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about one in eight Californians relied on CalFresh (also known as food stamps) in 2022. The state adjusted this existing program to make it more effective, including:
    • Allocating $15 million to fund a pilot program raising the minimum CalFresh benefit to $50/month (currently, minimum benefits are $23/month).
    • Funded increased summer benefit amounts at $47 million, providing families with school-age kids more money to spend on food – a critical lifeline when free school meals disappear during summer vacation.
    • Secured $40 million to speed up the implementation of California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) benefits, which are similar to CalFresh benefits for undocumented immigrants.
    • Legislated reimbursement funds for skimmed CalFresh benefit dollars and increased benefit theft protection.
    • Secured $9.9 million for a broader Fruit and Vegetable pilot program giving extra CalFresh money for purchasing produce.
  • School Meals for All: Chances are, more kids are hungry than you think: according to the same report from PPIC, roughly half of the children in our state will participate in CalFresh by the age of six. Together with other activists, we successfully lobbied for more than $300 million to fully implement free school meals for all kids in California.
  • Social Security: Many older adults and adults with disabilities rely on this safety net to pay most or all of their expenses, including buying food. We helped secure a grant increase of 8.6% to raise the incomes of these vulnerable groups.
  • CalFood: Secured $60 million in funding for food banks across the state to buy California-grown produce, strengthening our local economy while also providing fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors facing hunger.

These policy wins over the last year bring us another step closer to ending hunger – but our work isn’t done yet. In coalition with partners, participants and other activists, we’re determined to continue advocating for just, compassionate and equitable public policy that truly makes a difference for our communities.

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

September 19, 2023

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

FB: What inspired you to do this work?

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

 

FB: What are the biggest barriers to ending hunger?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

FB: What were your takeaways from the Summit?

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

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

 

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

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

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

A Familiar Face

August 24, 2023

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

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

Volunteering: A Social Exercise

Gideon loads grocery bags into his car for delivery.

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

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

Showing Up, Every Week

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

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

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

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

Be Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy Life

August 24, 2023

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

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

Home-Delivery Makes a Difference

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

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

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

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

Convenient, Consistent Food Access

Gideon lifts a bag of home-delivered groceries.

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

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

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

Until Next Saturday!

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

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

Victoria shows off her grocery haul.

Breaking the Cycle with Homeless Prenatal Program

June 29, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda smiles after our conversation in HPP’s back garden

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

Empowering Community with En2Action

June 29, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

A group meeting at En2Action.

Rooted in Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Perspectives on Marin

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

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

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

Alex Danino (top) and Liliana Sandoval (bottom)

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

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

A RALLY Marin focus group.

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 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: what it means for San Francisco and Marin

October 5, 2022

Last week, President Biden set an audacious goal: eliminate food insecurity by 2030. His commitment came as he presided over the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years. 

“The energy in the room as the President of the United States of America made that commitment was kinetic,” said Tanis Crosby, executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, who attended the conference. “To hear the reaction from people who are or have experienced food insecurity, advocates, teachers, academics, and more was profound.” 

This is the commitment anti-hunger advocates and food banks have been demanding from the federal government for decades.  

 

#FoodForAll means support for all

Ending hunger will take collective effort from all of us – including policymakers. Ahead of the White House Conference, we mobilized feedback from our community partners as part of the Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger campaign. Their feedback, along with the voices of thousands of people experiencing food insecurity, other community-based organizations, and food banks nationwide helped formulate policy recommendations to the administration.  

 “Together with Feeding America, we uplifted voices to hear from people experiencing hunger. That, full stop, is our advocacy focus,” said Tanis. “We learn what works and where policy needs to improve from listening to people telling us what they need. That’s how we achieve our goal of ending food insecurity.” 

The responses from the listening sessions were clear: we must address the high cost of housing, rising inflation, low wages, unaffordable healthcare, racism, and other institutionalized discrimination to end hunger. One attendee summed it up: “people need more freedom to enjoy a life where they’re not worried about the basics.” 

The full Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger report outlines the aspirations of our communities and  anti-hunger policy recommendations—informed by people facing hunger prioritize dignity, increasing access, expanding opportunity and improving health. 

 

It’s more than just food

When Tanis arrived at the White House Conference, she and other anti-hunger advocates asked for key policy recommendations grounded in what our communities said they needed. In breakout sessions, the Administration heard directly from advocates about the tangled web that holds people back, as advocates called for removing red tape and streamlining access to benefits people are entitled to.  

We know hunger is not just a COVID-era problem, and it will take all of us to drive the change we need. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank applauds the Biden-Harris Administration for recognizing the intersectionality of these challenges. “The acknowledgement that there is no single culprit behind food insecurity was heartening,” said Tanis. 

This is our core philosophy: food is a basic human right, and we must address both the causes and consequences of food insecurity to end it. Doing so will require a multifaceted approach.  

 

Looking forward

“The White House Conference was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the federal government to take concrete action to address hunger and its root causes,” said Tanis. “The impacts of hunger are compounding and pervasive and they do not affect us all equally. This was a powerful opportunity for the Food Bank to speak directly to federal lawmakers and advocate for meaningful policy change.” 

The last White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health resulted in game-changing legislation that introduced key policies like SNAP (food stamps) nationwide. We’re optimistic the same will come from this year’s Conference.  

Specifically, the Food Bank is advocating for: 

  • Protecting and strengthening SNAP (food stamps, called CalFresh in California). By far the most effective federal policy to end hunger, SNAP puts money for food directly into people’s pockets. 
  • Permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit to strengthen social safety nets for families. 
  • Increasing the minimum wage to offset skyrocketing income inequality and cost of living and adjusting eligibility guidelines for federal programs accordingly to avoid a “benefits cliff”. 
  • Protecting and strengthening The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is a vital source of food support for food banks across the country. 
  • Improving access to federal food, human services, and health assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid, so that eligible people aren’t missing out on vital benefits. 

“In the end, it’s not about what happened at the Conference, but what we do next and how,” said Tanis. “Solutions co-created with communities that experience hunger are how we solve food insecurity. I’m looking forward to continuing that within San Francisco and Marin, and I’m excited to see meaningful federal change in the months and years ahead.” 

On Art, Activism, and Community: A Q&A with Cliffton Hyson

June 15, 2022

Cliffton is a longtime San Francisco resident and artist, with a warm smile and a knack for storytelling. He’s also a participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, which he walks to with his good friend Sharon. They pick up groceries together, go back to one of their homes, and then plan their meals for the upcoming week (“we’re in the kitchen pretty much all the time,” says Cliffton). Though he’s not an SF native – he moved to California by way of Greenville, Mississippi – Cliffton has lived in the Western Addition since 1981. Needless to say – the neighborhood has changed dramatically.  

Cliffton and Sharon with their groceries.

Through art, youth outreach, and food, Cliffton is determined to continue building community and bringing together Black folks in the Western Addition and the Fillmore who have been displaced and neglected by the city. He’s also passionate about making sure Black youth in the community know the storied history of the Fillmore and Western Addition – “we have a lot of Black history right in front of our face.” Most recently, he worked as a sketch artist for a mural that can be found at the Buchanan Street Mall, and we also learned he will also be working on the city’s Juneteenth celebration. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, condensed and edited for clarity.  

Food Bank: Can you tell us a little more about your advocacy work? 

Cliffton: I’m using my art as an activist in my community to help my people. It’s like I’m reconnecting with something. I want to know about the history of the community that I’m in. I want to bring those stories to life. And by me doing art, I can do that. I can bring those stories to light and bringing those stories to light helps a young black man, a young black lady, a young black girl, a young black boy. 

FB: Right. You mentioned you work with some organizations like Citizen Film doing youth outreach, and you’re working on another art exhibit that’s going to debut in 2023. Can you tell us a little about that? 

Cliffton: So, my art is dealing with trying to help the youth. I want the kids to research the history of the Fillmore during the jazz era, in the ’40s and ’50s. And see, by them researching their own history, they’re educating themselves about their people. It’s educational for the kids that’s doing the research, it’s educational for the community to know about the past, and it’s also educational for the passerby to see that history. We have a rich history. 

FB: That sounds like it’s going to be not only an informative exhibit, but it’s really going to bring to life the history of the Fillmore. 

Portrait of ClifftonCliffton: My biggest thing is for my people to get educated. What you know, they can’t take that away from you. If you want to stay in your community, you’ve got to find a way. Educate yourself on what City Hall is doing for your community, what you can do for your community. I’m helping set up the Juneteenth celebration [for the city]. I have a booth at the Juneteenth celebration, and I’ll be selling my t-shirts and stuff, and I will also bring a good portion of my artwork up there to display.  

FB: That’s awesome, I’m really looking forward to it. What does Juneteenth mean to you? 

Cliffton: Juneteenth means to me, freedom, life, happiness, and loving one another. I really can’t express what the heart feels…. freedom, freedom, freedom, that’s what the heart pumps.  

FB: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Now, just to bring it back to food, what are some of your memories associated with food? 

Cliffton: Cooking brings back memories of my mother when I was young, in the kitchen with her and my sisters and brothers and sitting around preparing food. We’re in conversation, communicating, laughing, joking with each other and having fun, learning how to cook, you know? So, when I’m cooking now, that’s what it brings back. When we’re cooking and the kids are all in there, and we’re sitting around, preparing the meal and cooking, everybody got that conversation going, everybody got a memory going. They remember this, they remember that and we’re all laughing. 

FB: Love that. Thank you for painting that picture. My final question – what does food mean to you? 

Cliffton: Food brings you together, you know? And especially when you’re a good-hearted person and you’ve got good people around you, when you’re cooking, and you got people over and everything… take the food away, you got chaos. If you got a group of people together, bring the food. Ain’t nobody fussing. You can’t fuss because you’re eating. It’s something nourishing for the body, and the body won’t allow you to be negative at that moment because it’s food. A good hefty stomach makes you want to kick back, relax, take your shoes off and just be Black.  

Nourish the Neighborhood 

With groceries taken care of, Cliffton invests energy into his community – “we have other important things to put our finances toward, you know?” It’s an important reminder that food is the basis for so much more. Healthy groceries fuel the artists, activists, community organizers, mentors, and others who shape our neighborhoods into the vibrant, dynamic spaces that we know and love. 

CROps: Community Feedback on the Menu

June 14, 2022

Tomatillos. Collard greens. Tilapia. Black-eyed peas. What do all these items have in common? Well, for one, they’re all pretty darn tasty when cooked. They’re also all part of the new Culturally Responsive Food Options pilot at the Food Bank – CROps for short. Every week, participants at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry and Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, in the Mission and Western Addition respectively, are presented with two additional food items that they can choose to take home, or decline. 

Creating a More Welcoming Pantry 

Tomatillos - part of CROps add onsCROps is an effort to provide more culturally responsive foods and more choice for our Black and Latinx participants, By supplying culturally relevant items people like and know how to use in the kitchen, this pilot hopes to increase satisfaction with the food choices offered, help us learn more about what people like and want to see, and create a more welcoming pantry environment.  

 

Some community members like Cliffton at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry are also eager at the prospect of influencing what foods may appear next: “it’s a wonderful thing, to have a survey to see what the community wants. I got the email, and I will be filling it out.” Surveys among participants helped decide what foods went into the first few weeks of the pilot, and now participant feedback will help decide what items are offered going forward. 

Community Response 

So far, the items seem to be striking a chord with participants. Victoria, a participant at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, cooks for herself and the older gentleman she cares for. On the day we spoke, she had picked up both add-ons: green onions and white mushrooms.  Mushrooms and green onions are two add-on items offered through CROps

“Sometimes I don’t know the vegetables that they give out here, so the new items have been great for me, because they’re things I’m familiar with and already know how to cook. I know what I can do with them,” said Victoria. And what does she do with them? “I cook about as much Mexican food as I do food from my country – El Salvador. So, the green onions are great to make a carne asada, or a carne entomatada.”  

Maria holding up tomatillosWe also caught up with Maria at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry, who is recovering from an operation on her stomach to remove a tumor: “I can’t eat out – my stomach is really fragile from the operation. Street food makes me sick. So, I need to cook at home, for my health.” New food and spice choices, like tomatillos and oregano, allow Maria to make comforting foods that aid her recovery.  

“The oregano that we had today – I use it to make salsa with tomatillo, oregano and a little onion. Then I top off my bean taquitos, and it’s really tasty.” 

“Just What I Need” 

Friends Sharon and Cliffton walk together to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry on Wednesdays, and they’ve both been enjoying the new CROps offerings. Once they get their groceries, they’ll go back to the kitchen together to whip up a menu for the week – but they cook separately. Their collard green recipes brought up a friendly rivalry. Cliffton says he has to make his “Southern style, with the bacon, salt pork or hog bone,” and Sharon opts for “more of a Brazilian green. I love the flavor of garlic in my greens.”  

Despite how their cooking may differ, they agree that the new options are a welcome addition. As Sharon, who is disabled and lives in a senior community in the Western Addition, told us, “People in our age group tend to go through dietary restrictions, so this was most accommodating for me.”  Cliffton and Sharon with their groceries

She also shared that food from the pantry is helping her stay fit “just by changing my diet, and the way that I prepare food for myself. I love mushrooms and fresh vegetables – they’re actually things that I can use at home. The add-on items are just what I need.” 

Looking Forward 

What’s next for the CROps pilot? Food Bank staff will be evaluating the feedback from participants to learn more about participants’ preferences, and how best to continue providing more choice and culturally responsive foods that folks want and enjoy cooking. Through this feedback loop, we hope to continue an ongoing dialogue with participants about how we can offer more options they want and are looking for through our pantry network.