More Than a Food Pantry

April 19, 2022

Sharon Murphy looks forward to her weekly visit to the North Marin Community Services in Novato (NMCS). She knows that’s where she and her son, Rob, can get healthy, nutritious food, feel part of a welcoming community, and see friends.  

The North Marin Community Services in Novato is one of the Food Bank’s partners that exemplifies a holistic approach to caring for their community. They realize that many issues in our lives are interconnected, and that when we need help, it can be for several reasons. That’s why they offer assistance for food, financial aid, health and childcare. Every Tuesday they offer nutritious food through their Food Pantry and Childcare Healthy Food Program. They’ve been a life-saver for Sharon. 

Redefining Independence  

Sharon had lived an independent life and worked at a brokerage firm until she was 71. She also struggled with vascular difficulties. Sharon has had numerous surgeries for her medical condition, one of which required that her leg be amputated. Her life changed drastically, and tasks like shopping for groceries became very difficult. “I can’t do much with the loss of my leg, but I’m learning,” said Sharon. 

One of Sharon’s friends who volunteers at NCMS, recommended the pantry for food assistance for herself and Rob, who is now her caregiver. They had never gone to a food pantry before, yet from their very first visit, they felt welcomed by everyone there. “I think this place has really helped me in so many ways. The volunteers have made my experience enjoyable because they’ve all been friendly. I’ve made friends over the last six months–good friends. My son has made friends there too. 

When life brings unaccustomed changes, Sharon and Rob know that they can count on NMCS for food, friendship, and a bright spot in their week. As Sharon expressed, “The pantry has enhanced my life. Tuesdays are my pick-me-up days.” 

Building a Participant Volunteer Community One Bag at a Time

April 19, 2022

Mei has been picking up weekly groceries at our Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up pantry in the Portola neighborhood of San Francisco every week. After she retired as a seamstress, she took care of her grandchildren after they were born until they grew up. 

One day, Food Bank staffers passed out flyers asking participants if they’d be interested in volunteering. When Mei was approached, she immediately offered to volunteer and was eager to jump right in. 

“I enjoy coming here and wanted to help out,” said Mei, who smiled behind her mask while packing some carrots and winter squash into a food bag at the Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up pantry. “I always took my grandchildren to this park to play,” says Mei, “so this is my neighborhood.” 

Since then, Mei has been coming every week to pack food bags. Every Monday morning, the closed-off street next to Palega Playground and Recreation Center in the Portola neighborhood and just over a mile away from John McLaren Park turns into a food pantry. It’s a well-orchestrated symphony that participants have seen every week but are now helping to conduct. 

From Participant to Volunteer 

Louisa Cantwell, who supervises the pop-up, was looking for an opportunity to engage more with the community and decided to ask if the participants wanted to volunteer at this pantry with the Food Bank.  

“Even though the participants all speak different languages, there’s a genuine sense of community here. A participant volunteer said to me that she’s not able to donate food or money to the Food Bank. But she’s able to give her time, and she didn’t know she was able to do it before. She feels very empowered by that.” 

It’s also been easier for Louisa to fill up volunteer shifts. 

“What we found was by removing the barrier of having to sign up for a shift through our website, we were easily able to get people to come down and volunteer two to three hours of their time every Monday morning.” 

Annette, who’s a longtime volunteer, enjoyed seeing the change of pace since she started. “This is already a community-building experience,” she said. “To have participants volunteer with us too is incredible.” 

Preparing for 2022 and Beyond 

Louisa is planning to invite participants to volunteer at several other pantries. Because the community stepped up at the Martin Luther King Jr. pop-up, she’s hopeful that other pantries will see similar results 

“It’s really important to put equity at the center of what we do. These opportunities will give participants agency, choice, and power in the food distribution.” 

For Mei, volunteering while also receiving food made an impact on her. 

“I’m grateful to be able to get this food while volunteering because it helps so many people.” 

Meals on Wheels, Supply Chain Challenges, and Home-Delivered Groceries

February 9, 2022

It was 6am on a chilly Wednesday morning. Most people are still asleep in their beds at this hour, but in the parking lot of Meals on Wheels’ San Francisco headquarters in Bayview, the day had already begun. We came to tell the story of one of their main programs, a weekly sendoff of home-delivered groceries to participants across the city. Not only did we learn a lot about Meals on Wheels and the incredible work they do in San Francisco, but we also came away with an understanding of how the supply chain challenges that affected the Food Bank also impacted our partners.

As the black of morning slowly lightened to gray, about a dozen volunteers trickled in and gathered around a table to grab coffee and donuts before their shift. A Food Bank refrigerated truck slowly backed into the parking lot, and with a little direction from a woman in a Meals on Wheels fleece, the volunteers started dragging a few tables out of the warehouse and into the parking lot to form two assembly lines. Soon, pallets of carrots, onions, asparagus, and rice made their way to the assembly lines.

The last pallet unloaded off the truck had a surprise delivery of frozen high-grade fish. When we approached the woman directing the volunteers, she introduced herself as Stephanie Galinson, Volunteer Programs Manager at Meals on Wheels SF. “We pretty much know there’s going to be onions, apples, and carrots all winter long and we’re used to that,” she told me. But in the last two years, there’s been a lot of changes to what type of food we receive for our clients. “At the beginning of COVID, I guess the Food Bank had a sudden spurt of donations from restaurants that had to close down. So, we received some crazy wonderful stuff – the Food Bank called us one day and said, ‘Guess what you’re getting? Wagyu steaks.’ We said, ‘You’re joking, right?’ That Wednesday we carefully bagged up the gourmet steaks,” she laughed.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes for Home Delivered-Groceries and More

The pandemic threw Food Banking into chaos as we scrambled to find innovative solutions to unusual problems. But nearly two years in, we’re able to get enough context on how COVID impacts programs like home-delivered groceries that we can make some generalizations about how our work will be affected in the short-term future. The same goes for our partners like Meals on Wheels, who are starting to expect the unexpected. “We get unusual stuff – we’re getting more non-animal proteins, which is great. For example, we’ll get plant-based tuna substitute, or a lentil and rice package meal. We even had Impossible Burgers a couple weeks ago. The volunteers are excited about the increased variety, and it’s always interesting to get feedback from clients and learn whether they enjoy the new items. Some folks are excited to see something that’s not chicken or eggs, because it’s something different.”

Partners like Meals on Wheels, as well as our own food pantries, have seen such a change in the type of food they distribute for a few reasons. During the early days of COVID-19, we saw a spike in the number and type of donations we received. Our community has been incredibly generous during these hard times, whether it be through monetary donations that let us turn $1 into two meals or through the giving of food. In the first few months of the pandemic, we even saw some donated caviar pass through our warehouse on its way to participants.

But as the months of COVID have turned to years, we’re starting to see the effects of long-term disruption to industry, especially the global supply chain. “We’ve worked hard to overcome the barriers caused by supply chain challenges to meet the increased need for food assistance since the pandemic, but it puts tremendous strain on our financial resources,” Barbara Abbott, our Food Bank’s Vice President of Supply Chain, told me. Writ large, this means that we have to pay a lot more money for the food our neighbors need.

Not only are the Food Bank and our participants spending more money on food, but much of the available product is being bought out first by retailers. We’ve had to buy food from unusual places to replace what we lost due to cancelled or delayed shipments, like the frozen fish and Impossible Meat that partners like Meals on Wheels receive from us instead of the more typical seasonal food. The same goes for fruits and vegetables. Stephanie at Meals on Wheels, as well as many other partners, are seeing less-common produce like asparagus and pears replace the now harder-to-find regulars of onions, apples, carrots, and more for their home-delivered groceries.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Just as we’ve had to change the way we work at the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels had to transform their program to adjust to the realities of COVID-19. But the impact our food pantry programs have on the community is still as important as ever.

Volunteer Meals on Wheels driver Michael picks up some bags of home-delivered groceries for his rounds.

“I have a fixed route in the Tenderloin,” a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver named Michael told us while loading packed grocery bags into his car. “I bring the groceries to my clients, and we look forward to seeing each other. It’s much more than just the food delivery – it’s talking with my clients, and respecting them, and empathizing with them.”

It takes a community to meet the challenges posed by food insecurity, COVID-19, and supply chain uncertainty. The Food Bank is committed to supporting Meals on Wheels and other partners by supplying fresh, nutritious food for home-delivered groceries, and volunteers like Michael are with us every step of the way. “My clients can always depend on me on a Wednesday morning, to come with a bag of groceries and a good word,” he said.

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.”