As she sat quietly on a bench, inside the gymnasium at the Ingleside Community Center — a bag of groceries by her side — Denise Venegas uttered the words she has been meaning to say for months: “Thank you for making me whole again.”
It was quite a relief for the San Francisco woman who experienced a parents’ worst nightmare 16 years prior. Two of her children died, and in the days, weeks, and months afterwards, her life became a blur.
“I simply forgot who I was. I had a great job at the post office, and one day I just forgot to go to work, and I forgot to take care of myself!” she said.
For the next several years, she lived a very dark existence filled with pain, which led to drug use, domestic violence, and eventually homelessness. Little did she know that someone would come along and change her life for the better.
San Francisco-Marin Food Bank Pantry Coordinator SuKei Lao remembers leaving the Ingleside Food Pantry one day back in January 2016. Denise was sitting on some steps nearby.
“She looked sad, and I thought that maybe I could help, so I asked if she was hungry and interested in getting free, fresh produce,” Lao said.
Reluctant at first, Denise eventually agreed. Soon, she was enrolled at the Ingleside Pantry and began receiving fresh groceries every Thursday.
Nearly a year later, Lao ran into Denise at the pantry.
“I didn’t recognize her until she asked me if I remembered when I helped her,” said Lao. “Then I realized it was Denise, and she looked amazing! Much healthier than I remembered.”
Denise can’t believe her own transformation and chalks it up to all the fresh fruits and veggies she receives at the pantry.
“After my ‘episode,’ I didn’t know how to shop for healthy food for myself,” she said, fighting through tears. “Now I sleep better, I feel better, I lost weight in a good way…not by eating less, but by eating better food. I got my dignity back, my self-respect.”
That food, coupled with a stable home and a new dog, have all come together to help return her mind, body, and spirit.