Growing up in San Francisco, my grandmother was everything to me. She had migrated from Nicaragua, re-married into a food family, and helped run a restaurant. So, she knew how to cook, and prepared meals for us regularly. Her kitchen was the epicenter of our family.
Today, I work at the Food Bank, supporting many of our Marin pantries. I see the space we created with our partners, and just like my grandmother’s kitchen, it’s at the center of our community, with food hitting the bullseye.
Pre-pandemic, it was a real family atmosphere—with music, food samples, and information about services. The pantry coordinator and volunteers knew every participant by name and often gave hugs. You’d hear them ask, “How are you feeling?” “How’s your daughter?” or “Are you coming to the event tonight?”
You’d feel the warmth and see that participants were comfortable with not only getting help but helping each other.
Since COVID-19 struck, the music and hugs have taken a pause, but the welcoming atmosphere has not. In Marin, we’ve changed many of our operations to drive-thru pantries. Folks drive up, open up their trunks, and a volunteer puts their groceries in. It’s a “no-touch” experience, but you can still see everyone smiling beneath their masks.
At a San Rafael drive-thru pantry, a woman got out of the car to open the trunk, and you could just see the appreciation in her eyes. She said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.” A group of us standing there all gave her an “air hug” from six feet away.
In Marin, there’s more space to have a line of cars, but it requires a lot more coordination. Our partner organizations, volunteers, and county worker support has turned everything upside down to make the food distribution work. For some pantries, we need anywhere from 30-50 volunteers. Folks get there early and set up assembly lines to prepare up to 600 bags of food.
Working six feet apart but alongside each other, we all feel a sense of unity: unity with volunteers and participants. We’re all in this together. When all is said and done, the new normal can be distressing. But I’m certain between the Food Bank, our partners, volunteers, and community supporters, we will get through this together.