Providing Hope and Joy with Food

December 22, 2021

Soup. Soap. And Salvation. Since 1865, The Salvation Army has taken a holistic approach to serve those with the greatest need in our community. According to Diane Shatto, a Lieutenant and ordained minister at San Rafael’s branch of The Salvation Army, you can’t nourish people’s spirits until you nourish them with food. “That’s why our food pantry and home-delivered groceries are key activities for us.” 

The Salvation Army, the Food Bank’s partner agency, serves about 300 people every week at its San Rafael facility. Most are either families from the neighborhood or seniors from the 55+ apartment complexes nearby. The weekly pantry is centrally located, next to the Canal Area and other food bank partners – Marin Community Clinics and Canal Alliance making it accessible for many in the community. The surrounding area is home to many new immigrants and young families – 22% of the Canal population is under the age of 18. 

“The partnership with the Food Bank is, well, magical,” said David Shatto, who manages the site along with his wife Diane. “The weekly deliveries of fresh food from the Fresh Rescue program, that comes from your warehouse just down the street on Kerner, keep the pantry well-stocked.” The community-centric approach is the key to our partnerships with organizations throughout San Francisco and Marin. Diane added, “we have the physical space, but we didn’t have the material resources to serve the community, but the Food Bank’s weekly deliveries help. It’s one big piece of the puzzle.”  

Carol Gotti has been volunteering with the Salvation Army’s food program for over ten years, and the participants are a lot more to her than names and numbers. “I’ve gotten to know about people’s lives, and you get a feeling about the things that bring people joy,” she said.  

“One of the senior participants I deliver to has a lot of health issues and allergies, and since I have the time, I give her items that she requests like fruits that won’t interact with her medication or upset her stomach. People feel bad to waste, so it makes her happy that someone is looking out for her.” 

When Covid hit and people lost their jobs or hours, many joined Carol as volunteers. “A few are teachers, a few are retirees, and others worked in restaurants,” she said, “It’s important to be doing something so that you feel like you’re thriving, and these volunteers have stayed with us beyond the initial panic of the pandemic.”  

“Our model is servant leadership, and though it’s a good feeling to help people, it’s frustrating we can’t do more,” said Diane. “We wish people didn’t have to get creative about feeding their families. What really gets me are the children who walk around hungry, and no one knows or asks them. I was one of those kids. 

“I was the second youngest of five children with three older brothers who were always more aggressive than me about grabbing the food at dinnertime. I had hunger pains all the time, and other kids at school would make fun of me because I was skinny. It makes you feel inferior, you lose motivation, and you lose hope. And that’s how the cycle of poverty continues.”

“Ending hunger is about more than just giving food, it’s about providing hope. That’s why our volunteers create such strong relationships with the participants. When you give people food, you build trust, and you can help them in deeper ways. Ultimately, it’s about hope, and when you have that, you can improve lives.” 

Carol agreed, “Food is a wonderful way to bring people together, and once you’ve done that, you share life, and you have the sheer joy of being in community with others. For our participants, it’s then an opportunity to pass that on to their families and spread more joy. It’s a perfect 360-degree relationship.” 

A Place for Food and a Place for Community

December 15, 2021

If you take a walk down 16th Street in the Mission on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll see a steady stream of people going into an unassuming terra cotta-colored building and leaving with a full bag of groceries – and often a smile as well. That building is Grace Fellowship Community Church, and every Saturday, a rotating duo of coordinators lead a group of volunteers to pack seventy-plus bags of groceries. This week, Karen Seth and Cindy Peterson are spearheading the food pantry. 

The church has been doing this every week for over five years, and the Food Bank has been proud to be their source of groceries throughout. The half-dozen volunteers that showed up to help this particular Saturday unloaded, packed, and distributed enough food for about seventy grocery bags. “We love when we get all the produce,” said Cindy. Eggs and bags of onions and green beans were stacked, rice was apportioned, bread was sorted, and music played from someone’s portable speaker. The energy in the room was clearly upbeat. 

But it’s not just food that Grace Fellowship is passing out – they also provide a community, even in the time of COVID. “One thing that we have really treasured through the five years is the relationships that we build with our participants and that they see us week in and week out, and they’ll tell us what they’re going through,” said Karen. “Some people have struggled with cancer, some people have struggled with losing their jobs, some people have been in and out of the hospital. And so, they tell us these things, and we can be here and hear them and see them and receive them, and this can be a safe place for them.” 

Pantry coordinator Karen Seth opens a box of green beans.

It’s Not Just Food 

At the backbone of Grace Fellowship’s food pantry is its volunteers. Though it takes just a few hours per shift, the work volunteers do at Grace and beyond is vital to food pantries staying in operation. They lift heavy bags of produce, protein, and grains after they’re dropped off by the Food Bank truck, sort produce into assembly lines to make sure a soft pear doesn’t end up crushed in a grocery bag below a heavier squash or melon, and hand out full bags to participants as they come down the line – which lots of volunteers say is the most rewarding part of their work. Many come week after week to serve their community. There’s no one-size-fits-all description for volunteers at the Food Bank and at our partner pantries; they are young and elderly, regulars and non-regulars, from all walks of life. Some are exclusively volunteers, but others both receive food assistance and volunteer. Take Rashmi, a future nursing student who first came to Grace Fellowship in 2017. 

Rashmi packs grocery bags for participants alongside other volunteers.

When Rashmi moved from Nepal to San Francisco, she was a high schooler with parents that each worked two jobs. Her neighbor used to share the food she received from Grace Fellowship with Rashmi and her family, and eventually Rashmi tagged along: “She took me here one day, and I signed up that day. It was my way of kind of being responsible for the household, since my parents both worked full time, two jobs.”  

The food and community Rashmi received from Grace Fellowship not only allowed her to help provide for her family, but also freed up her time and mental space to concentrate on her studies. “It’s just kind of like, ‘oh, one burden off my shoulders,’ in a way,” she said. “I can go about my week without having to worry about what to get for lunch or think about how much to spend, because budgeting is one of my big challenges right now.” Giving back to Grace Fellowship is important to her, too. “I look forward to coming here, then giving food to elderlies and I feel happy when I give them extra food because I know them, and they are using the food.” 

One of the other volunteers helps an elderly participant, Patricia, load a bag of groceries onto her walker as her small white dog jumps down to give space.  

“This place, it’s so nice,” said Patricia with a big smile on her face. “They’re so kind to you. They always have extra food and offer it. And they remember your name, and you just feel blessed.” 

 

Raising a Glass to Pandemic Volunteers

October 25, 2021

With the closings and shutdowns starting in the early spring of 2020, everyone’s lives changed, some dramatically. This was especially true for people working in service industries, many of whom found themselves suddenly out of work and isolated at home. For people who like socializing and being with other people, being cooped up at home was especially challenging. 

Vince Toscano is a San Francisco-based Whiskey Guardian at Angel’s Envy so, naturally, he knows a lot of Bay Area bartenders. Even before the start of the pandemic, Vince periodically organized small groups of 5 or 6 bartenders to volunteer on various projects, such as beach cleaning, as a way of socializing and giving back to the community. Once shelter-in-place began, many more of his bartender friends suddenly had time on their hands. 

After talking with a friend who volunteers at the Food Bank on Thanksgiving, Vince put the word out to his bartender friends. Instead of the usual crew of 6 who would sign up for other volunteer gigs, 30 signed up, and they’ve been volunteering at the Food Bank ever since. 

For the last 15 months, Vince and his crew have continued regularly packing food at our warehouses on Pennsylvania and Illinois Streets, as well as distributing groceries at a Pop-Up in the Mission in San Francisco. They’ve enjoyed being together again and doing something meaningful for the community at the same time. 

A Sense of Belonging and a Drive to Help Others

For Vince and his bartenders, volunteering for the Food Bank has helped dispel some myths and misconceptions about San Francisco. “There’s this general belief about San Francisco that it’s all tech and homeless people and there’s really no middle class of any sort. I think what the Food Bank reintroduced me to was that there’s a lot of people that you don’t see.” Vince found himself working side by side with people from all kinds of backgrounds, ordinary people drawn together by a sense of belonging to this community and the desire to help their neighbors in need. 

“It was refreshing to see other people take the time and effort to help someone they didn’t even know.” 

He was impressed that so many came to volunteer even at the height of the pandemic. The Food Bank maintained very strict social distancing safety protocols, and Vince says, “everybody who volunteered knew the risk, but they did it anyway. You know the risk and you know what you’re doing, but at the end of the day people need to eat.” 

For these bartenders, helping at the Food Bank has felt immediate, tangible, and important. “There’s an instant impact. You know that the food we bagged at 10 this morning will be on somebody’s table tonight.” 

What’s Next?

Now that the Bay Area and the country is slowly coming back to normal, these bartenders are back at their jobs, but they plan to keep on volunteering. They’re already confirmed for next week! 

We count on volunteers and organizers like Vince to make a difference by volunteering in our warehouse or in the community. It only takes a few hours of your day to make a big difference. Sign up for your shift today at sfmfoodbank.org/volunteer, and if you aren’t able, please consider making a donation to support our efforts. 

Back At the Office? Come Volunteer

July 20, 2021

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. 

Adopting a Building Creates Relationships

March 29, 2021

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

A few regular volunteers were all in.

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

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

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

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

A Whole New Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know the Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

 

Support Your Community During the Holidays

December 2, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so does the rise in food insecurityThis holiday is a holiday like no otheras 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 canHere are several ways you can support your local community so that no one goes hungry. 

Volunteer

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 weekAnd 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.

Donate 

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 Congressto 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. 

Students Volunteer During COVID | Leo’s Story

October 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

A Strange School Year

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

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

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

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

A Family Affair

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

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

Pauline’s Story | Librarian to Food Banker

August 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

From Packing Bags to Curbside Assistance  

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

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

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

A Community Sentiment 

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

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

Masks and Food for Good: Q&A with Cobaltix 

July 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pop-up Pantry Co-Leads Find Community

May 28, 2020

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.”