Volunteering: An Unexpected Gift

December 22, 2023

If you asked Nick his driving motivation to home-deliver groceries to neighbors during the pandemic, he simply felt it was the right thing to do: “I feel very strongly that people should not go hungry. I think that of all the things that humans confront, hunger is the worst. So, I just wanted to help make food available.” What he couldn’t have expected was to come away from his volunteering experience at the Food Bank with some new home décor — but more on that later. 

From New Neighborhoods to Familiar Faces 

After working in the warehouse and at different Food Bank pantries during the early pandemic, Nick signed up to home-deliver groceries to seniors, families with young children, folks with disabilities and other neighbors who weren’t able to make it to a traditional pantry but still needed food. His shift took him all throughout the city — including neighborhoods that he, after many years of living in San Francisco, had never been to before.  

Then, he got an email from the Food Bank, inviting volunteers to “adopt a building,” or deliver to the same building and neighbors each week. 

“That’s how I got into home-delivering groceries at an apartment complex in Japantown. And it’s been extremely fulfilling. I enjoy seeing the same people again and again. They have a true multinational force in that building, so it’s a huge variety of people,” Nick shared.  

Communicating Through Food 

“I’ve had all kinds of food given to me because people just want to acknowledge me bringing food to them,” Nick told us, highlighting how despite communication barriers, both volunteers and participants find a way to share their mutual care and respect. Though Nick is the one dropping off groceries, including 70% fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry staples like rice, and proteins like eggs and chicken, many neighbors reciprocate in their own way. 

“There’s one unit with an elderly couple, and the woman is a baker. She makes these palmiers that are so good! And then for example, this week, one person gave me a bag of raisins and date pieces.” Who knew volunteering could be such a sweet gig? 

A Heartfelt Gift 

But of all the moments he’s shared with other neighbors, one memory with John and Yihung, an older couple on his delivery route, sticks out for Nick above the rest. 

“John asked me one time how old I am [75]. I told him, and he just was blown away. He wound up making me a scroll, which is in English and in Chinese characters. It’s just incredible that he took this effort to prepare that scroll, as a way of saying thank you. I almost choke up thinking about it,” Nick shared.  

The hand calligraphy of the beautifully ornate scroll reads: Mr. Nick: Seeing you at this age, you still working hard to serve our elderly. I can’t help but say: the world would be more beautiful if there were more people like you! 

In Nick’s words: “It’s really a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” 

Just the Delivery Boy? 

Nick was immensely touched by John and Yihung’s gesture and hangs the scroll in his home to this day. But he was quick to point out that it takes a whole community of people to make delivering groceries possible, week in and week out. 

“I am humbled by all the effort behind me, by all the people at the Food Bank who make this happen. That’s the extraordinary part of this. The people who are out there on the curb in all kinds of weather, loading groceries into people’s cars, people who are working in the warehouse day after day, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I’m just the delivery boy.” 

Nick’s right: transformative change takes collective action. But that’s exactly why the hard work of volunteers or “delivery boys” like Nick is so critical to ensure that fresh groceries can reach neighbors across San Francisco and Marin. Thousands of families, including John and Yihung, depend on home-delivered groceries to put food on the table and keep up with the ever-high cost of groceries, rent, medical bills, gas and more.  

We can’t promise you a handmade scroll of appreciation. But here’s what volunteering WILL deliver: greater connection with your community, a critical service for our neighbors, and an opportunity to help provide Food For All. Join Nick and sign up to “adopt” a route – fill out this form of interest to get more details.   

Ming’s Story: “We Make Enough for All”

December 1, 2023

Peering in through the windows of a Cantonese barbeque spot in the Richmond district, your gaze meets a line of roast duck, dripping fatty juices onto pans of stir-fried noodles, vegetables, and roast pork Rows of ducks hang above trays of stir fried noodles, meats, and more.below. Next door, another restaurant dishes up steaming, juicy xiao long bao. 

These two restaurants are where Food Bank pantry participant Ming has worked for the past 10 years – first as a cook, now as kitchen manager of both operations. Though her job has steady hours, and she’s able to eat shift meals at work, inflation is still taking a toll on her household budget: “Groceries are really expensive,” she shared. “But even though it’s hard, I still have to support my three daughters.” 

That’s why her local food pantry makes all the difference. 

Pantry Ingredients Save More than Money 

Ming first learned about the Roosevelt Pop-up Pantry from a friend in 2020, when the pandemic shutSu Ming taking her lunch break from work down restaurants all over the Bay Area and put her and thousands of others out of work. As a single parent raising a high schooler, putting another daughter through college, and helping support her eldest daughter at the time, Ming needed some support of her own. Ever since, these weekly groceries from the pantry near her work have remained a crucial time- and money-saver for this busy mom.

“What I get here is easily enough for a few days, sometimes a week it depends on what there is. I’m really grateful, but I have to be strategic,” Ming told us. Thousands of neighbors are performing this mental math each week, stretching their groceries out to cover as many meals as possible.  

Our survey of more than 9,000 Food Bank participants showed that single parent households like Ming’s are among those hit the hardest 69% could not afford a $400 emergency expense, and 88% were worried about running out of food. And with the holiday season and family gatherings in full swing, the pressure to afford special ingredients on top of the essentials can be daunting. 

Holidays Taste Like Mom’s Cooking 

Even though year over year inflation has slowed, the cost of a holiday meal is still 13% higher compared to 2021. It’s no wonder why more than 50,000 households rely on groceries from the Food Bank as the base for their celebratory meals.  

For Ming, the holidays are all about reconnecting with her three daughters — and for her family, much of that connection happens through food. She says her older daughters head home for the holidays with one thing in mind: a home-cooked meal. 

“‘What tastes best is Mom’s cooking!’” Ming laughed, mimicking her daughters. “I make whatever they feel like. I make a soup with carrots, tofu, bean curd sheets, shiitake mushrooms, porkit’s my daughters’ favorite.”  

Food Brings Joy Year-Round 

As the pantry is winding down for the day, Ming darts back into the restaurant and emerges with massive trays of stir-fried noodles and vegetables, braised pork, and fried rice. Food Bank staff and someFood Bank Community Coordinator Marcel and Su Ming are all smiles for lunch volunteers make their way over, dishing up portions buffet-style and gathering around the foldout table. Turns out, it’s not only Ming’s family that she’s bringing together over food. 

“I asked our chef to cook these dishes for the pantry staff – they like eating it,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “Our staff have to eat lunch too. We make enough for all of us, and then we can have lunch together.” 

As folks sit around laughing, chatting and eating in the sunshine, it’s clear this lunch tradition has morphed into something beyond a quick break from work. These meals are a weekly chance to slow down, connect, and be in community with others. And whether for a special occasion or a regular Tuesday afternoon, any day is a great day to share the joy of good food.  

 

 

2023 California Policy Wins

October 17, 2023

Here at the Food Bank, our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. On its face, the solution might seem simple: provide nutritious food so people facing hunger can thrive, not just survive. But while providing food on the ground is an essential part of our services, we know it’s not enough to simply address the hunger we see today – we must also work to address its root causes and change the policies that allow hunger to continue in our communities and plan for long-term solutions.

That’s why, in partnership with our community and other supporters, our Policy and Advocacy team works to promote proposed laws and create new policies that benefit everyone (check out our policy platform). We advocate at all levels of government, from local to state to federal – and we’d like to share with you some key wins we’ve achieved in the California legislature.

“Changing policy is a marathon, not a race,” said Marchon Tatmon, associate director of policy and advocacy at our Food Bank. “Nonetheless, we’re proud of how we’ve worked together with other advocates to achieve some pretty audacious goals. Our strength is that we’re always in conversation with our community to inform our policy priorities.”

California Anti-Hunger Policy Wins in 2023

 

  • CalFresh: According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about one in eight Californians relied on CalFresh (also known as food stamps) in 2022. The state adjusted this existing program to make it more effective, including:
    • Allocating $15 million to fund a pilot program raising the minimum CalFresh benefit to $50/month (currently, minimum benefits are $23/month).
    • Funded increased summer benefit amounts at $47 million, providing families with school-age kids more money to spend on food – a critical lifeline when free school meals disappear during summer vacation.
    • Secured $40 million to speed up the implementation of California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) benefits, which are similar to CalFresh benefits for undocumented immigrants.
    • Legislated reimbursement funds for skimmed CalFresh benefit dollars and increased benefit theft protection.
    • Secured $9.9 million for a broader Fruit and Vegetable pilot program giving extra CalFresh money for purchasing produce.
  • School Meals for All: Chances are, more kids are hungry than you think: according to the same report from PPIC, roughly half of the children in our state will participate in CalFresh by the age of six. Together with other activists, we successfully lobbied for more than $300 million to fully implement free school meals for all kids in California.
  • Social Security: Many older adults and adults with disabilities rely on this safety net to pay most or all of their expenses, including buying food. We helped secure a grant increase of 8.6% to raise the incomes of these vulnerable groups.
  • CalFood: Secured $60 million in funding for food banks across the state to buy California-grown produce, strengthening our local economy while also providing fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors facing hunger.

These policy wins over the last year bring us another step closer to ending hunger – but our work isn’t done yet. In coalition with partners, participants and other activists, we’re determined to continue advocating for just, compassionate and equitable public policy that truly makes a difference for our communities.

Using His “Why”: Q&A with Jalal Alabsi

September 19, 2023

 

Jalal Alabsi is many things: he’s a formerly-practicing doctor, he’s an immigrant from Yemen, he’s a resident of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. All these identities and more come together to inform his comprehensive work to end food insecurity in his community. From securing funding for halal food vouchers to lowering stigma around accessing assistance, Jalal has collaborated with organizations like our partner Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) to help end hunger.

Jalal’s years of successful activism are exactly why our partners at TNDC suggested him when the Food Bank asked for nominees for the first-ever Elevating Voices: Power Summit. Hosted by Feeding America in Washington, D.C., the Summit brought together activists who have lived experience with food insecurity and connected them with key decision makers to discuss effective solutions to hunger.

We caught up with Jalal to hear more about the Summit and his work in the Tenderloin.

 

Food Bank (FB): Before we dig into the Elevating Voices: Power Summit, let’s hear a little more about your work in the Tenderloin.

Jalal: I’ve been working to end food insecurity in my neighborhood for over five years. I started out volunteering at different places, working as a translator for folks who speak Arabic and explaining how people can use food that they weren’t culturally familiar with – I gave people recipes for mushrooms, for example.

[But I realized] that just giving out food isn’t enough – there are bigger problems than that. So, I decided to take classes at City College [of San Francisco] to be a community health worker, where I did my research project on hunger in the Tenderloin.

Now, I’ve worked with City Hall to get $500,000 in funding for halal food vouchers so Muslims can eat their preferred foods. I’ve worked with a few organizations to start the Food Policy Council to discuss hunger in the Tenderloin. [On the ground], I work every day to decrease the stigma around accessing food assistance. And I still give food directly to my neighbors.

 

FB: What inspired you to do this work?

Jalal: I live with this every day. When I first came to the US, I had problems with hunger. I feel what people are feeling when they say they are hungry. You get sick when you don’t have enough food, you can’t live even on the street without food. And now, I’ve gotten the education to be able to do something about food insecurity.

 

FB: What are the biggest barriers to ending hunger?

Jalal: One of the biggest challenges is the stigma around getting food assistance. Many people live with this, and it means they may eat only twice a day so they can afford to live on their salaries. But I explain to people, “[food assistance] is yours, you deserve this, it’s your right”.

Another challenge is CalFresh (food stamps). People need CalFresh. But it’s such a long and confusing process to apply, especially for people that don’t speak English, that for some people it just isn’t worth it.

 

FB: Tell us about the Elevating Voices: Power Summit.

Jalal: The Summit happened on July 12 and 13, and it brought together a group of activists from across the country who have lived experience with hunger.

The first day, we met with Feeding America’s CEO, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot. She wanted to hear from us: who are we, what do we do, what is the next step to end hunger? The objective was to reach a shared understanding of what the power landscape looked like – they wanted to center actual experience with hunger in finding solutions.

Overall, I would call it a long conversation. We had small breakout sessions discussing our advocacy, everything from why we do the work we do, to how we advocate for our community.

 

FB: What were your takeaways from the Summit?

Jalal: We learned how to use our “why” to create change – instead of complaining about a problem, we can turn that complaint into a policy ask. If you use your story and real examples of how you lived with hunger, if you connect feelings and emotions to suggestions for change, then you’ll be able to convince more people that your issue is important and needs to be addressed.

I met with a lot of different people with their own experience. I can see a way where we bring these learnings to San Francisco, so more people can learn how to use their experience to make change. Hunger is a huge problem. It’s different in different places, but the effects are the same.

 

FB: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Jalal: I’m grateful to the Food Bank for supporting me in going to the Summit – it was a great opportunity to make connections with people in other states so we can share information, knowledge, and strategies.

Hunger is solvable. We have the resources. We just need to figure out how to do it.

Technology That Makes an Impact: Q&A With Cruise

September 19, 2023

Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG) is one of the flagship services our Food Bank offers, serving thousands of participants every week. HDG fills critical gaps in the food assistance landscape: it means that people who find it difficult or impossible to attend food pantries, like seniors or adults with disabilities, can still receive the fresh, nutritious groceries they need. “The produce is just wonderful,” shared Violet, a resident of the Richmond district and HDG participant. “It’s hard for me to lug vegetables home – they’re heavy, you know? And I don’t want to be a burden on my sons and their families.”

But HDG wasn’t always as robust as it is now. Thanks to partners like Cruise, we were able to quickly scale the service when shelter-in-place began in 2020. Their commitment to serving the community is moving us closer to providing food for all. We sat down with Cruise to hear more about our partnership.

Food Bank (FB): When and how did the partnership with the Food Bank come about?

Cruise: When the pandemic hit in early 2020, food insecurity skyrocketed across San Francisco. The number of people who needed support from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank nearly doubled.

At Cruise, we started by simply asking how we could help. After talking with the Food Bank’s leadership, we committed part of our all-electric fleet of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to quickly scale the HDG program and aid in delivering groceries to those in need. What initially started as a crisis response program in 2020 has grown into a long-term community partnership – to date, we’ve delivered millions of meals with our AVs – and more than three years later, we’re honored to continue delivering these meals six days a week.

 

FB: What benefit have you seen to giving back to the community in this way?

Cruise: Our Cruise for Good partnerships have provided benefits for our community and our company. We’ve delivered over 2.5 million meals to local residents in need, particularly in underserved areas. We’re proud to directly be partnering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in a robust way – our teams work together on a daily basis to ensure we’re utilizing the best of our technology to meet a community need in bringing nutritious food to people in a way that fosters equity and dignity.

We’ve also learned through this process. Community partnerships have allowed us to tangibly see how our technology can be harnessed to directly meet the needs of our neighbors – and as a result, these partnerships have been a significant source of employee pride as well as provided operational learnings for our business.

 

FB: Cruise took the 1% Pledge, did your partnership with the Food Bank influence that decision in any way?

Cruise: Absolutely! Serving our communities is core to our mission, but it was this partnership that started in the pandemic that was pivotal for us in realizing our potential to meet urgent challenges in our community even while we were pre-commercial.

While this began organically, it is now core to how we operate. Cruise for Good is a formal program anchored by our Pledge 1% commitment to dedicate at least 1% of our fleet to serving the needs of our local communities.

 

FB: Cruise isn’t just working with the Food Bank, are there other ways you are engaging with the community?

Cruise: The hunger crisis also sits at the intersection of a climate crisis, with over 30 million Americans facing food insecurity, while food waste reaches record highs. Recently, we partnered with food rescue nonprofit, Replate, to launch a first-of-its-kind driverless, all-electric food rescue initiative to combat food insecurity, food waste, and climate change. Cruise’s AVs now deliver recovered meals from local restaurants and business to nonprofits serving those experiencing food insecurity.

In addition, millions of Americans don’t have access to reliable transportation, which in turn creates barriers to economic mobility. That’s why we extended our partnership with nonprofit SF New Deal to provide free rides to late-shift service workers here in San Francisco. In the first few months of this ridehail partnership, Cruise has provided hospitality workers with thousands of rides to workers who often have limited safe or affordable ways to get to and from work.

 

FB: September is Hunger Action Month, a time for people to step up to take tangible action to end Hunger. How would you encourage other companies to take action?

Cruise: Hunger Action Month is an important reminder: it’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger.At Cruise, social impact is in our DNA and embedded in our mission to build more sustainable, equitable, and accessible communities – so it’s natural that our employees have shown genuine enthusiasm for this partnership and many teams across Cruise have volunteered and even led fundraising campaigns for the Food Bank. Volunteering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is a simple but effective way for individuals to take action to combat food insecurity. We’d also love to see other companies at One Big Table, where we’ll come together as a community to fundraise to end hunger.

We encourage companies of all sizes to leverage their resources (employee time and talent, in-kind and financial donations) to support critical organizations like San Francisco-Marin Food Bank – and consider joining Pledge 1% to institutionalize these commitments.

A Familiar Face

August 24, 2023

Ring twice. Leave it at the door if there’s a note. Knock once, but loudly, he’s hard of hearing. She’ll get the door; it just takes her a while to get up.

By now, Home-Delivered Groceries volunteer Gideon has these quirks down pat. A freelance journalist by trade, he had just started remote work when the pandemic hit. Three weeks into lockdown, his friend posted on Facebook about a volunteering opportunity with the Food Bank, delivering groceries to homebound neighbors. Gideon was in: “There are things you miss doing, being work from home the whole time. This kind of fills in some of those gaps,” he told us.

Volunteering: A Social Exercise

Gideon loads grocery bags into his car for delivery.

After trying different routes, Gideon eventually chose to “Adopt a Building” or make regular deliveries to the same apartment complex each week. For three years, Gideon’s Saturday mornings have looked very similar: roll up to the Food Bank warehouse, pack his sedan with 20 grocery bags, knock on his neighbors’ doors, and deliver fresh produce, proteins, and grains from the Food Bank wagon in tow.

It’s at this apartment complex where he first met Victoria, who we met in the previous story, along with 19 other neighbors he’s come to know in the years since. For Gideon, volunteering is equal parts exercise – “a trainer once told me the best workouts are the ones that are repeatable!” – and socializing. At one apartment, he goes in to chat with a 94-year-old woman and her daughter offers him a taste-test of the noodles they’re cooking. At another, he shares that they gifted him caramel popcorn after the Warriors were in the finals last year. Even in these passing interactions, it’s clear how food and care go hand in hand.

Showing Up, Every Week

Gideon waves hello to one of the participants along his route.

“It creates a sense of membership,” Gideon said of delivering groceries each week. “You know you’re part of a community, and seeing familiar faces, there’s a type of connection. It’s made [this time] a lot less grim and lonely, without a doubt.”

As we head to make the last delivery of the day – Victoria’s apartment – Gideon shares he’s excited to sit in on the interview and learn more about her life. With 20 deliveries to make, it’s not every day he gets to sit down for a conversation with one of his neighbors. “I look forward to this,” he told us. “I have a stressful job where I don’t interact with people, and volunteering is kind of the opposite. We don’t really have that much time to talk to any [neighbors] individually, but we want to be there for them. We want to show up.”

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

Be Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy Life

August 24, 2023

As a retired nurse and home health aide of 25 years, Victoria knows the importance of staying active and eating healthy. In early 2020, she “started going to the YMCA – they have a lot of activities for seniors. There’s bingo, exercise [classes], and every Tuesday they give us food,” she told us at her apartment in the Mission, where she’s lived alone for the past 10 years.

When the pandemic hit, everything at the YMCA shut down – along with the food pantry across the street where Victoria would pick up groceries each week. “I can stand for a couple of minutes, but if the food I get is too heavy, it’s hard for me to get to my apartment,” she shared. “So, when the program was changed, and they delivered it, I was very happy.”

Home-Delivery Makes a Difference

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

That new program was Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG), which was greatly expanded by the Food Bank during the pandemic when many neighbors like Victoria were homebound and hundreds of neighborhood food pantries were closed. Once a week, HDG participants get a knock at

their door, and a bag full of leafy greens, seasonal fruits, proteins, and grains are delivered to their doorstep with a smile.

“That’s why I’ve known Gideon for a long time. He always comes and delivers the food every Saturday, which I appreciate so much,” Victoria shared with us, gesturing to Gideon, her regular HDG volunteer of three years. “He’s working every weekend – we should give him some award, signed by the governor,” she proposed, earning a laugh and a “I’ll take it!” from Gideon.

Convenient, Consistent Food Access

Gideon lifts a bag of home-delivered groceries.

Victoria is very health conscious, especially since getting diagnosed with glaucoma. With ingredients from HDG, she can make the nutritious meals that help ward away what she calls the “three brothers and sisters” that visit you as you get older: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

“I have to watch my diet sometimes. [The Food Bank] gives mostly everything – bell pepper now, mushroom, ground beef, turkey, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges… so, mostly the food that [I] eat every day. I’ll use that in a stir fry, or sometimes I make sinigang, sisig, adobo, or lumpia shanghai. I enjoy it.”

Convenient, consistent access to healthy food helps take a huge stressor off Victoria’s plate, especially as a retiree on a fixed budget. Her income of $850 per month from Supplemental Security Income has to stretch to pay for her utilities, rent, and various medications and medical bills – a nearly impossible task in San Francisco. “Because of [my] age, I cannot go back to work. This is what I get. And the prices of commodities are going up. With the help of the Food Bank, at least I have something to eat.”

Until Next Saturday!

In the coming months, Victoria is focused on attending checkups for her glaucoma, and looking into attending a friend’s Episcopalian church community – she says the bingo is a big draw. And, of course, she’ll be looking forward to Saturdays, both for her grocery delivery and chatting with Gideon. After showing us the bounty in her bag and contemplating what she’ll make for dinner – “maybe some omelet” – she leaves us with a few parting words that Gideon’s already familiar with.

“When I see him, I say, ‘I cannot repay you for all these sacrifices that you are giving to us.’ So I say, ‘Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy life.’ That’s the thing I tell [him] every Saturday he comes and delivers my food.”

Victoria shows off her grocery haul.

Breaking the Cycle with Homeless Prenatal Program

June 29, 2023

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are life-changing challenges even at the best of times. But for pregnant people staring down the barrel of poverty and homelessness, paying for rent, food, medical care, and everything a growing baby needs to thrive is a near-insurmountable task. That’s where Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) comes in. Located in the Mission District, HPP offers a staggering breadth of services for low-income families. We spoke with Linda Huerta, the distribution coordinator for HPP’s weekly food pantries.

Food Bank (FB): How did you get involved with Homeless Prenatal Program?

Linda Huerta: I learned about HPP first through our Community Health Worker program, which is a 16-month, paid, accredited job training program that prepares clients and other women from the community for careers in community health. I make sure our 400 families can get nutritious food – this week, we had broccoli, tomatoes, bananas, eggs, and more. I’m always thinking about how we can make the distribution more equitable.

Pacifiers are just one of the host of family items that participants can pick up at HPP

FB: Does HPP provide any other services to the community?

Linda: Absolutely – folks don’t just get food when they visit us on Fridays. It’s also diapers, pacifiers, and teething crackers; housing assistance and CalFresh application help; legal services and other family support. These things are available all week, but it’s so accessible to be able to offer more help or sign people up at the same time as the food pantry. And if we can’t help them, then when they come to get food, we can let them know if there’s another organization that can work on their problem.

FB: How does HPP break the cycle of family poverty and homelessness?

Linda: There are so many ways we work towards ending poverty, and a big part of that is food – it allows families to budget their money; maybe dollars that they were gonna spend on food can go to something else that supports them, especially with how expensive food is getting. It makes me feel good inside, honestly, to know that I can do this for my neighbors. Food means nutrition. Food means energy, food means love. And then we can build off that to offer even more services.

Linda smiles after our conversation in HPP’s back garden

Linda closed our conversation by telling us, “It really does take a community. We can’t all do it alone, we need partnership.” Our Food Bank is proud to be a part of the solution by joining hands with organizations like HPP to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives.

Empowering Community with En2Action

June 29, 2023

“I’m always saying, pay attention to the quietest people. It doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say; it just means they’re not comfortable saying it yet,” observed Andrea Baker, the executive director of En2Action, a San Francisco nonprofit that works to promote equity and transformative social good. Elevating community perspectives to enable change is critical to her organization’s work. “Our job is to build comfort,” said Andrea. “That’s when they start finding their voice.”

A flyer for participants interested in enrolling in CalFresh, with the headline "Want to save money on food?"

En2Action is a vital community partner of the Food Bank and has extensive experience conducting robust community engagement that centers racial equity and gathers input from diverse communities to inform community and economic development planning. En2Action is collaborating with the Food Bank on several initiatives that address root causes of hunger in San Francisco and Marin, including the Root Cause Action Learning & Leading to achieve Food SecuritY in Marin Project, also known as RALLY Marin.

Led and facilitated by En2Action, the RALLY Marin Project is a one-year planning grant and engagement effort supported by Feeding America that centers the wisdom of people experiencing food insecurity, engages a task force of community-based organizations and multi-service providers with a goal toward removing systemic barriers to CalFresh benefits in Marin County, which disproportionately impacts people of color.

“Our work with RALLY Marin is, again, about elevating community voices. We are reaching out to food providers, pantries, and other organizations that go beyond just providing food. In particular, with this program, we’re looking at CalFresh and why more folks of color are not utilizing it, particularly in Latinx communities.”

A group meeting at En2Action.

Rooted in Community

When we spoke to Andrea, the nonprofit had just moved into the new Southeast Community Center in Bayview-Hunters Point. A Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-led organization, En2Action’s work includes a history of initiatives that intersect food, racial justice, and economic equity. Looking out of the office space windows, she observed that many of the challenges facing the neighborhood and other communities of color in the City are rooted in historic racist policies such as redlining and urban renewal that displaced thousands of Black Americans — erasing generational wealth in the process.

“How do most families build wealth in this area? You build it through real estate; you buy a home. It supports your kid going to college. You can help somebody open a business. That was taken from us,” she says. She notes that those antecedent inequities, compounded by the region’s high cost of living, contributed to San Francisco’s shrinking Black population — from around 13% in the 1980s to under 5% today. “I have seen this neighborhood go from 75% African American to where we are today; just about 30% of the Bayview population is Black.”

Andrea wants to help the remaining enclaves of color in the City thrive and believes food is a catalyst for community development.

“Food has been a way out for many people of color and immigrant communities. It’s been a way out for a business, a catering business, a food truck, a restaurant,” says Andrea. Four years ago, En2Action launched the Bayview Bistro food hub, transforming a vacant lot into a festive gathering space featuring a variety of savory cuisines from Bayview-based vendors. But when the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, life moved online almost overnight, forcing the nonprofit to pivot. The shift was challenging, as they had to acquire a commercial kitchen and develop Bayview Bistro boxes for online food ordering. Its reach was expanded further through pandemic resources to fight hunger. “And that kept our vendors going. Some vendors who’ve worked with us said, ‘I kept my lights on.’ And that was an amazing thing.”

Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social, wears a hoodie emblazoned with "Eat More Gumbo."
Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social

The learnings from Bayview Bistro and other neighborhood-focused economic development programs, including Sell Black — a digital marketing program to increase the online presence of Black businesses — contributed to the development of its Ujamaa Kitchen. Modeled on the fourth principle of Kwanzaa — cooperative economics — the initiative is an incubator for food entrepreneurs that features a six-month culinary boot camp, certification to operate a commercial kitchen, and a myriad of business mentorship services. Ujamaa Kitchen alum Chef Dontaye Ball, whose pop-up restaurant Gumbo Social specializes in gumbo and soul food, has high praise for Andrea.

“You just look at her impact on our business. Once we got access to that kitchen, that opened the door to be able to push Gumbo Social forward,” Ball said. “Over $35,000 in sales came directly from referrals or opportunities that came directly from En2Action,” he added. “For some people, that’s not a lot, but for us, it’s a game changer. That’s two months of payroll; that gives us an opportunity to build for the future.” That future included a brick-and-mortar Gumbo Social restaurant that opened in early June in the Bayview. And that is an outcome that En2Action enthusiastically applauds. “It’s really important to me, to us, that we are not simply giving fish. We are teaching folks how to fish,” said Andrea. “Food is an empowering thing.”

Getting Perspectives on Marin

A San Francisco-Marin Food Bank branded van drives through the Marin hills.
Our Mobile Food Pantry is part of food outreach in Marin County.

For several months En2Action’s community empowerment lens has been focused on a region rife with systemic inequities 50 miles north of the Bayview. RaceCounts.org ranks Marin County as the second most racially disparate county in California, finding the Latinx community the most impacted across all disparity indicators. Twenty-five percent of Latinx children in the county live below the federal poverty level. The RALLY Marin initiative, led by En2Action, features a unique partnership with a task force of community-based organizations seeking to identify and elevate food insecurity solutions that prioritize the lived experiences and perspectives of people most impacted by the issue. Key to finding those solutions is the targeted community outreach conducted through RALLY Marin, which includes listening with intentionality to the concerns of Latinx residents who may qualify for food assistance. The results have been more than revealing.

“The level of information from community members we were able to hear was authentic, and heart-centered,” said the Food Bank’s Senior Program Manager Alex Danino, reflecting on the focus groups led by En2Action in late April. “There were super-rich discussions that spoke to the challenges and the opportunities for growth,” she added. As part of the team developing recommendations and plans for implementing learnings from RALLY Marin, Alex was impressed by the participant feedback in the listening sessions. “I believe the feedback will tell us how and what we can do next on our outreach efforts,” she observed. “A new way of doing our work is emerging, including how we are working with community partners, the county and co-creating options for access, all based on community voices.”

Alex Danino (top) and Liliana Sandoval (bottom)

Liliana Sandoval, Associate Director of Programs, Outreach for CalFresh, looks forward to the outcomes revealed from the focus groups. “En2Action is going to gather all that feedback, analyze it and propose solutions that we could then take for more access and utilization of CalFresh,” Liliana said. And she adds that important questions will arise from these community engagement efforts. “How could we bring Marin County administrators into the fold and get them involved in co-creating solutions? What can the county do with this information that we’ve gotten directly from people who have not accessed the program because of barriers? Just what work needs to be done at all levels?” En2Action will continue its outreach, partnership, and analysis efforts through RALLY Marin, delivering a Community Plan in the early summer.

As for Andrea Baker, she firmly believes providing community members opportunities to be heard and ask authentic questions about their needs are catalysts for real change, whether in Marin or San Francisco’s Bayview. “If we can engage, empower, and then provide the resources for people to act, then I think we can get a whole lot of stuff done,” she said. Pointing to an En2Action team gathered in a meeting room, “You know, the 12 of us here can’t do it all, but if the 12 of us here, every year, can impact one person and those people can go out and impact one more person, I’m all for that. I can live with those numbers.”

A RALLY Marin focus group.

The Heart of The Fillmore: A Q&A with Adrian Williams

March 23, 2023

On a beautiful, late Wednesday morning, we visited the Rosa Parks Senior Center, where members of The Village Project packed grocery bags to be delivered to community members, primarily senior citizens, in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, also known as the Western Addition.

As we approached several picnic tables assembled into a large rectangle, we could see Adrian Williams, Executive Director of The Village Project among her staff moving quickly through an efficient assembly line to fill green plastic bags with groceries — a typical morning for her. She has been a longtime partner of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, where community-based organizations that offer food as part of their other programming can come to purchase food for a few cents a pound.

The Village Project, founded seventeen years ago, began as a program to ensure the youth in the Fillmore/Western Addition communities had access to food and enrichment during the summer, when school was closed, and school lunches weren’t available. It has since evolved to include a yearly summer program for youth, afterschool program, free celebratory events for Kwanzaa and Mardi Gras, grocery deliveries to local families and seniors, and more. It’s all due to Ms. Adrian’s profound passion for youth and her unique ability to identify community needs, and tailor her approach to finding and utilizing resources.

“Ms. Adrian is an amazing part of the community who’s adapted her programming to meet the needs of the neighborhood,” said Food Bank Program Coordinator, Benson Truong. “We are lucky to have partners like her and hope to continue supporting The Village Project in their mission to feed the community.”

We caught up with Ms. Adrian during her break from the assembly line to learn more.

woman grabbing oranges to pack into plastic bags

Food Bank: Why did you start The Village Project?

Ms. Adrian: We started in 2006, during the height of violence in this community. I was working in Oakland [and] my grandbaby was growing up [in the Fillmore]. I was taking my grandbaby to school one day on California Avenue and passed by this park — [I saw people] throwing frisbees, dogs were bouncing, people on blankets. Then it dawned on me, I don’t see that in the Western Addition.

[Because I show up for my community by feeding people], I was concerned about how the babies* eat during the summer. I talked with my boss and told him that I wanted to volunteer [in the Fillmore] and feed the babies, and that’s how The Village Project started. [I would] come over on Wednesdays, knock on doors and tell the parents “Let me have your babies,” and I’d take them out on field trips to the Aviation Museum and feed them. For some, it was their first time riding BART.

Eventually, the babies would ask for more. I decided to take a leave of absence from my sales job at a Xerox dealership. My boss held my workstation for two years, [but I got hooked], so I just told him, “I can’t come back.” And that was basically the start of The Village Project.

FB: The Village Project’s website boast the Mardi Gras, San Francisco Style and Seven Days of Kwanzaa events; are there other events that The Village Project hosts?

Ms. Adrian Williams: We also have a community barbeque to kick off the summer. I’m also into the blues, honey, so we have a free blues concert.

My stuff is free, and somebody told me a long time ago that people don’t value free; I tend to disagree. I think it’s just the way you present it. People are prideful, and in the era I grew up in, pride was very important in my community.

FB: What does food mean to you?

Ms. Adrian: I grew up in the South, and we had wonderful lunches. We had real cooks in the kitchen, and we were poor. Growing up, lunch was a major meal for me. So that was one of my concerns, that the babies had food to eat. I guess that’s Southern because I’m always trying to feed people.

FB: Do you want the legacy of your work to continue into future generations?

Ms. Adrian: My daughter is the president of the Fillmore Corridor, so she’s already walking in my footsteps working with the community.

FB: It’s Women’s History Month. What does Women’s History mean for you and your community?

Ms. Adrian: I have a strong history of women [in my family]. I used to always wonder why the male person was often missing in the community, and I figured out why when we got older. In the old days, if you’re subsidizing, you could lose your income if you moved a man into your house. Well, my mother, Ruth Williams, who was the strongest person, worked three jobs, and was always astute. She literally changed legislation in the state of Louisiana to allow women on welfare to have a man stay in their household. It just amazes me how much humanity is deprived because of certain economic situations. That’s how my mother was, strong, extremely strong woman.

* When Ms. Adrian says “babies,” she is talking about young children/youth in general, not just infants and toddlers.