On a chilly Thursday morning, a San Francisco-Marin Food Bank truck pulled off the unusually quiet Dolores Street into the parking lot at Mission High School. Sergio Salguera, Sr. Lead Driver at the Food Bank parked and started to unload pallets of fresh produce, rice, milk and eggs.
Salguera, who has delivered to several pop–ups, said this delivery gives him a whole new appreciation of our mission, “I experienced a newfound strength to be able to set-up and deliver to face the crisis and help our community.”
Soon after he arrived, volunteers trickled in with coffee in hand and ready to hear their marching orders.
Tina Gonzales, director of community partnerships at the Food Bank called everyone’s attention and gave a firm reminder of social distancing. Then she asked line managers to greet participants, and volunteers to pack grocery bags with specific amounts of each item – six carrots, four potatoes, three apples, one bunch of celery, etc. Anyone without a task was to make sure boxes of food were open and accessible.
Food is Essential
COVID-19 precautions have caused around 100 food pantries in San Francisco and Marin to close. To fill the gap and ensure our neighbors can still have access to healthy food, the Food Bank team is working around the clock to open interim pop-up pantries.
“We had a lot of pantries close in the community and a lot of people in need of food without access. So, we decided that we needed to reach out to community partners and set up pop-up pantries with the help of volunteers,” said Gonzales.
The pop-up pantries have been a huge success. The pantry at Mission High School was just one of six pop-up food pantries the Food Bank set up that served over 1,800 people last week. And we will continue to bring more online to serve different neighborhoods.
These pantries are here to serve anyone whose regular pantry has closed or who is struggling to afford food because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Practicing Social Distancing
The Food Bank is an essential service, and still allowed to operate, but we are adapting to new realities. “We are trying to do the best we can,” said Gonzales. “We are finding new ways to spread out but still get the work done.”
Instead of having participants walk through the pantry in the typical “farmer’s market style,” they were handed a bag of pre-packed groceries to minimize waiting in line and food handling. Line managers reminded participants to keep six feet between one another, and staff reminded volunteers that spacing out was more important than efficiency.
Volunteers and participants alike understood the need for these new measures.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
“It warms my heart being able to hear how much the community appreciates our mission and the sense of relief they receive from us,” said Salguera.
The outpouring of support and eagerness to volunteer has come from everywhere in the community – participants, local churches, staff, and individuals. It has deeply inspired both Salguera and Gonzales.
“One of the greatest things is our website is blowing up with volunteers. We have seen a lot of people who want to come help” said Gonzales.
And it’s not just volunteers who are pitching in. Friends, family, and neighbors are pitching in to pick up free groceries for vulnerable family and neighbors who could not leave their homes.
“People see it and tell us they have a neighbor, or they are taking care of their mom and need to take another bag. So not only are we helping the people in line,” said Gonzales. We are helping people who should not come out and cannot come out, so it’s been really great to be able to do that.”
Each pop-up pantry is led by a Food Bank staffer or volunteer, and we currently recruiting more volunteers to help us expand. Sign up to learn about opportunities as the arise here.