Recently the staff at KRON4 came out to take over the volunteer shift at our warehouse. Anchor Darya Folsom shares why this was the perfect way for their team to reconnect after a year of working remotely and learn how your office can sign up for a team building volunteer shift.
In September the Food Bank approached several regular Pantry at Home volunteers with an idea: adopt a building; commit to making all your deliveries to the same location and the same participants at the same time week after week for three months.
A few regular volunteers were all in.
Kelly Runyon and his wife Barbara decided to adopt a building as a way to show their love for a neighborhood they enjoyed visiting.
“I filled out an application and said I’d be interested in Chinatown,” said Kelly, who spent the next three months delivering to 44 participants every Monday and Tuesday.
Patricia Tuori, who had been volunteering twice a month for weeks, though it would be a great way to keep volunteering even after her work schedule changed. After adopting a building, Patricia always knew her Tuesday route would take about an hour and a half door to door.
She explained, “I was working while I was doing this, so, it was nice to take a little bit less time at it. But I still got to do it.”
A Whole New Experience
Both Kelly and Patricia felt that adopting a building (or in their cases a few buildings) enriched the Pantry at Home experience for both themselves and the participants.
Kelly and Barbara have lived in San Francisco since the seventies. Despite decades in the City, they still “went to a lot of neighborhoods that we had no idea even existed. So, it was interesting for that reason. We kind of got to know the city better.”
But the real joy came in adopting a few buildings. “We got to know individuals and they got to know us,” he said. “They knew when I knocked on the door, they knew my knock.”
They also discovered suppressing benefits on a pragmatic front. Coming back week after week helped them learn the ins and outs of each building. One apartment required a key fob to use the elevator – meeting the building manager and getting her cell phone number was their ticket in.
“Each week we could just text her as we were getting parked and then pick up a fob and do our thing,” explained Kelly. Delivering to that building “went from being an absolute, impenetrable ‘how do we do this’ problem to a whole procedure that was straightforward and always worked.”
Getting to Know the Neighbors
For Patricia, the greatest reward was getting to know people. “Rather than just going up to a house and you don’t ever see them again, you see the same people every week. It’s a really nice way to develop a relationship,” she said.
“When I was doing the same two buildings every week, I knew that the neighbor for this person takes both their bags,” she shared. “Or that the person in 202 would leave their door open and they want you to put the bag right inside on the stool.”
The support that came from getting to know each other went both ways. One woman saved all the jars she struggled to open during the week for Patricia to help her open them. Another participant checked in to make sure Patricia was okay after she took a couple of weeks off to quarantine.
“The benefit to [the participant] is just knowing that every Tuesday at 12:30, which is when I did it, there’d be a delivery and they didn’t have to hang around all afternoon or wonder when someone was coming,” said Patricia.
Adopting a building was “just a really nice way to develop a relationship. I don’t know why more people wouldn’t want to do it that way if they could,” she said. “It takes a lot of the unknowns out of it.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread, so does the rise in food insecurity. This holiday is a holiday like no other, as families struggle to afford rent, utilities, medication, or food.
Since the start of the pandemic, many more people have stepped into our pantry lines for the first time. In October alone, almost four times as many people than before the pandemic used our Food Locator to find resources, pantries, and CalFresh (food stamps) assistance.
That’s why this holiday season, it’s important now more than ever to make a difference however you can. Here are several ways you can support your local community so that no one goes hungry.
While it’ll be hard to have a safe gathering during the holidays, you can still volunteer at our Pop-up food pantries and warehouses in San Francisco and Marin by packing grocery bags for participants or deliver groceries to homebound seniors and adults with disabilities. We especially need help during the week. And remember the need for volunteers doesn’t end in December, so please consider volunteering throughout 2021.
If you’re bilingual, your language skills are also imperative to make these distributions more inclusive and effective for all participants. Currently, Cantonese and Spanish support are our most urgent needs.
Learn more about volunteer opportunities here.
Fundraise for Us
Due to COVID-19, we are temporarily halting the delivery. Host a virtual fund drive instead, which can be done easily to raise money. Plus, participants will receive even more food. We are able to turn every dollar into two healthy meals! Learn more about food and fund drives here.
We need sustained financial support to continue to respond to the dramatic need we are seeing in the community right now. Your donations are what keep us going, and we hope you’ll consider signing up for our Monthly Giving Circle to help support us year-round. Your gift will go a long way to feed those in need. Learn more here.
Support Our Partners
Our community partners will also need your support to fight hunger. If our volunteer shifts are filled, support our partners by volunteering with them instead.
Take Action Today
It will take systemic change to end hunger. That’s why our actions extend beyond food distribution and CalFresh assistance. You can influence change by:
- Calling and emailing your members of Congress to demand they pass comprehensive COVID relief to keep our communities fed.
- Speak up on social media and tag your members of Congress by using the hashtag #BoostSNAPNow. You can find their Twitter handles here.
- Write a letter to the editor to highlight why boosting SNAP will help your community. You can submit one to the San Francisco Chronicle here.
So, whether you decide to volunteer, donate, or take action, your support will provide more food for the community during the holidays and beyond. We can’t do any of this without you. We hope you will join us to end hunger.
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.”
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 a 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 now. Pauline 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 is. At 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.”
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?
SW: For 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 volunteers, and they’re also amazing. The Food Bank is literally changing their lives. We also partnered with United Playaz, a 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.
On a warm, borderline hot, Wednesday morning, Sara Cruz stands on the blacktop of Rosa Parks Elementary School directing volunteers. Everyone is hard at work. It’s nearly 9 a.m., and it’s almost time for the Pop-up Food Pantry to open.
However, Sara wants to check in on the line before the Pop-up Pantry opens. While the school is tucked away in a shady enclave, it sits at the nexus of Western Addition, the Filmore District and
Japantown – meaning even with shelter-in-place traffic levels, the majority of the line snakes along some busy streets.
As she moves at a fast clip, she reminds participants to maintain a six-foot distance from one another and to keep the sidewalk clear for passersby. Sara is also using this opportunity to touch base with volunteers and disaster service workers stationed to manage the line. She makes sure they have enough water and an understanding of their role for the day.
Sara and her husband Edison are co-leads of the Pop-up Pantry at Rose Parks Elementary School. Every Wednesday, they welcome the Food Bank delivery truck, instruct the volunteers, pack food bags, greet participants, and hand out food. Sara is part of the Food Bank’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), where she first heard about the opportunity to co-lead a pantry. Since Rosa Parks is walking distance from Sara and Edison’s apartment, it was a convenient way to engage with their community during this time.
10 Weeks in and the Growing Need
Rosa Parks was one of the first emergency Pop-up Pantries the Food Bank opened after shelter-in-place went into effect. With the help of countless community volunteers, it now serves around 1,200 households every week.
At the end of what turned out to be a half-mile long line, Sara told one patient participant who lined up early, “we start around nine, things will start moving soon.”
Rosa Parks is just one of 25 pop-ups and 217 neighborhood pantries that remained open after shelter-in-place. Overall, the Food Bank is serving nearly twice as many households as it was before the pandemic.
Stepping Up with Their Community
This is only possible because community members like Sara and Edison saw a need and stepped in. “I am so surprised by how proactive and supportive the community has been,” said Sara. “The volunteers we’ve seen on-site are extremely willing and able; they just want to help out and support as best as they can.”
For the couple, doing this work feels personal – both Sara and Edison were laid off at the end of last year. “Neither of us is working right now, so we understand that the pandemic is affecting a lot of people in adverse ways,” explained Edison. “This was an easy opportunity to give back to the community.”
Sara echoed that sentiment. “When we look back and ask ourselves: ‘What was I doing to help during this time?’ I can say we were doing this,” she said. “We’ve met some really interesting people through this experience – many of them have become our friends.”
Food insecurity hits seniors particularly hard, especially when they are trying to balance a fixed income with the rising cost of living. Even before the pandemic, one in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were already food insecure. Those who had recently experienced food insecurity were twice as likely to say their diet was fair or poor.
For many low-income seniors, COVID-19 only exacerbates these challenges by layering on the health risks now associated with meeting their basic needs like going out to get food.
Our temporary Pantry at Home program supports the health of seniors by ensuring they are getting a bag of fresh groceries – including fruit, vegetables, grains, and high-quality protein – delivered to them every week. Because of the generous support of our volunteers and partners, close to 12,000 seniors do not need to risk their health to pick up groceries each week.
We spoke with volunteer Esther Honda about her family’s experience delivering groceries to some of our community’s most vulnerable.
Food Bank: When did you start volunteering with us and why?
Esther Honda: We started volunteering once shelter-in-place started. I knew I wanted our family to volunteer at the Food Bank, and it just worked out well for us to deliver groceries. I have to confess that it seemed like a good excuse to get out of the house but also felt really necessary to help others who could not safely leave home.
FB: Can you describe the experience?
EH: We drive over to the Food Bank warehouse on Pennsylvania Street, back in, and are greeted by friendly volunteers who check us in and offer to help us load up our bags of groceries. There are 3 of us in the family so we manage fine, though. Then we turn on the delivery app and head out to a well-organized list of clients.
FB: You are volunteering with your family?
EH: We volunteer as a family, and we all agree that it’s a great thing to do together! As soon as I signed us up, the family was totally on board.
FB: Are you at all concerned about your health and safety while volunteering?
EH: We wear gloves that the Food Bank hands out, plus our own masks, and we try our best to make as little physical contact as we can.
There has not been one time when we felt unsafe, though, in any neighborhood. I will say that people in all the neighborhoods we have delivered to have been really kind and helpful. It seems like folks can tell you are out there to help others and often offer to hold a door open for you, show you where an elevator or particular house or apartment number is, and to help you get food to the recipients.
FB: Have you learned anything new or surprising during your volunteer experience?
EH: My husband and I have lived in San Francisco for over 30 years, and until we started delivering, there were some neighborhoods in our city we had never been to. It’s expanded our own sense of our city.
FB: How has the volunteer experience impacted you?
EH: Volunteering has made us feel more useful and less like we’re spinning our wheels during this time. We feel like we’re doing something positive and worthwhile. We’ve done lots of things as a family that were community-oriented, but usually, these things have been about the public schools our kids have gone to. This is the first time we’ve gone out to volunteer our support to others as a family. Our teenage daughter has done this on her own, though, so this is actually a bigger step for us, the parents.
FB: What would you say to other people who may be considering volunteering but are on the fence?
EH: Do it! Especially if you are bilingual or have even a tiny bit of language ability in Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, or Mandarin! You are needed, and you will feel appreciated. I have personally been so grateful for the opportunity to get out and volunteer, and the Food Bank makes it easy to sign up for shifts that fit our schedules.
We strongly recommend volunteering with a family member or roommate. It makes dropping off easier and more fun.
FB: What is your favorite part of volunteering?
EH: Our daughter says her favorite part is the cute old people and how appreciative they are when we drop off. They smile and often thank you repeatedly, even when they speak little or no English. It’s very rewarding.
FB: Is there anything else you want to share about your experience?
EH: Some people might feel hesitant driving and dropping off in neighborhoods they are not familiar with or in housing projects that they might have thought to avoid for safety reasons in the past. I have had to confront my own privilege and biases while delivering somewhere unfamiliar for me and have learned the simple truth that it’s ok… These are people, just living their lives! And they’re very appreciative. If nothing else, I hope that the public health reality has shown that we are all, as San Franciscans and as humans, facing this challenge together. We need to support one another, and food is a very basic need that brings joy and togetherness, even when we have to be apart.
When schools closed in March, parents and caregivers were immediately left figuring out how to balance work, childcare, and homeschooling their children. For the families who relied on the Food Bank every week, there was an added layer of stress – where would they get their groceries? Prior to shelter-in-place, many families could pick up the fresh groceries at their school pantry during drop-off or pick-up. Across San Francisco and Marin, school closures caused 46 of the Food Bank’s Healthy Children food pantries to stop their weekly distributions
One such pantry was at Dolores Huerta Elementary School in San Francisco’s Mission District. When the school closed teachers and staff quickly worked to identify and contact families to let them know where they could access food. Even with new available pop-up pantries opening nearby, with vulnerable relatives at home, some families could not attend nearby Pop-up pantries. The school’s Family Liaison, Nataly Terrazas; Elementary Advisor, Luis García; School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, and school parent and pantry coordinator, Casey Federico quickly sprang into action matching families who couldn’t leave their house with volunteers who could pick up and deliver food to them. They now have 30 volunteers who trade off delivering to 13 families.
(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)
Food Bank: How did you start partnering with us and what have you been doing since the start of the pandemic?
Casey Federico: At Dolores Huerta, which is both of my daughters’ elementary school, there was an established food pantry every Monday morning. Another parent had coordinated it before me, but their son graduated, so I took on the job of being the pantry coordinator this fall. Even before shelter-in-place, we were seeing a huge expansion in need for the pantry. We grew from a 50–person pantry last year to a 70- or 80-person pantry in November.
When the shelter-in-place happened, I was in communication with Edith, our neighborhood representative from the Food Bank, and knew everything was shifting. At the same time, I was getting all these texts and messages from families at the school saying, ‘we are about to be out of food’ There were lots of different challenging situations. And so, from discussions with the school team – Sarah, Luis, and Nataly – we found out who couldn’t leave their home for whatever reason and identified 12 families who needed food delivered. We started with a group of volunteers –families who did have transportation and could go to a food pantry and pick up a box and then deliver it to those people’s homes.
Our School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, is such an inspiration. She was just so careful and thoughtful about confidentiality. Sarah asked families who they’d be okay being paired with, because to have someone know you are receiving food from the Food Bank and then know where you live, that is a big deal. She was just super thoughtful about that and got everybody’s permission all along the line.
FB: What are you hearing from people in the community now?
CF: I’m still hearing a lot of people saying, you know, we got this [food], but it isn’t really enough. That is the hard reality. So many families that are part of our community are hospitality workers, etc.
Another amazing thing that happened is one of our teachers, her fiancé owns a restaurant and every time somebody from the community buys a meal in his restaurant, Toma, he’s donating a meal to a family in need. He’s also delivering meals. So, families are getting additional support from that too.
But what I just heard from Sarah last week, is just the numbers are increasing so much. So, we are talking about how to meet new needs. It’s really challenging.
FB: Do you talk to the families you deliver to? How are they doing?
CF: One thing that’s been really good, is a lot of relationships have been built between the families who are delivering and the families who are receiving. I know everybody’s been sending texts like, I’m going to drop it off. They text, I got it, thank you.
There’s also been some specific communication around needing health items like toothpaste and soap and tampons, and that kind of stuff. A few volunteers who have the capacity have also been sharing those types of items with families. Many of the families who are delivering are also out of work or running low on food themselves.
FB: We see this too, it’s incredible how many of our volunteers say, ‘oh yeah, I’m out of work right now and so I have free time and I’m going to do this.’
CF: I know, it just takes my breath away. One of the women who is helping deliver said ‘oh yeah, we both lost our jobs last week, but this is just so important, it’s the one trip I have purpose around. I have to do this.’
FB: Is there anything else that you wanted to share about the experience?
CF: I think the one thing that the Food Bank really does is bring together a community of people. Almost everybody who volunteered at the weekly food pantry at Dolores Huerta is also receiving a box of food. And so, I think our, our community of folks who really view themselves as part of the system were ready to jump in. The group of parents who help us to set up, fold up boxes, and do all that kind of stuff are really jumping up again to help out, which is cool.
That sort of friendly, joyful mood that was at our Monday morning pantry translates over and made people feel comfortable to be both asking and giving. I’m so proud to be part of this community!
Last night, we were proud to participate in a digital Town Hall Meeting on food insecurity during the COVID–19 crisis, hosted by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener. Over 2,200 people watched on Facebook and Zoom as our Executive Director, Paul Ash, joined leaders from fellow Bay Area non-profits working to ensure no one in our community goes hungry during this difficult time.
Food Providers Adapting To Meet the Growing Need
Senator Wiener was joined by the leaders of Meals on Wheels SF, St. Anthony’s, Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, and the CA Association of Food Banks. Each organization is reporting exponential growth in the number of people in need of food assistance since the crisis hit. In the face of significant challenges — including operating with only 60% of their workforce and fewer volunteers, having to rethink how to prepare thousands of meals while keeping cooks 6 feet apart, and compensating for closed pantries — the organizations are continuing to step up to feed more of our neighbors facing hunger. As Executive Director Jose Ramirez of St. Anthony’s shared, “We’re really leaning on each other and learning what it means to be a community.”
“We should not go back to the ‘old normal'”
The Town Hall also focused on the ways that COVID-19 has helped advocates advance policy recommendations that improve food access. The crisis has actually allowed us to secure improvements to the CalFresh program for which advocates have been fighting for many years. These include the expansion of online purchasing using CalFresh benefits, allowing for the application process to be done entirely over the phone, and waiving the interview requirement.
The Food Bank is co-sponsoring a bill in the State Senate, authored by Senator Wiener, that aims to make some of these program flexibilities permanent. SB 882 – CalFresh: Simpler for Seniors – would make it easier for eligible low-income Californians to sign up and stay connected to CalFresh, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, many of whom have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis.
We are In This Together
As our colleague Jose from St. Anthony’s shared last night, “This is an opportunity to reflect on our priorities as a city, as a community, and as a country. We have to address food insecurity as the crisis that it is. It’s about human connection and compassion – putting people first, leading with compassion, and letting the rest fall into place.”