What Food Means to Us

December 14, 2022

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather around a shared meal. Pantries are perused, cookbooks are cracked, and calls are made to relatives for their special recipes (if you missed it, check out our community cookbook with contributions from participants, volunteers, and staff!).

Here’s what we know at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank: in sharing a meal, we share our humanity. We’ve spent the last 365 days gathering stories from the community and asking: “what does food mean to you?”

“Food means nourishment”

One sunny February morning, we visited our partner Code Tenderloin in San Francisco and heard from volunteer Arielle: “Food means nourishment – of the mind, body, and soul. Food makes you feel good, gives you confidence and courage that maybe you don’t have when you’re hungry. Maybe best of all is you can share it with people – it’s the way to a person’s heart.”

Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director, Donna Hilliard, added: “I think, with our culture, food is everything. When we come together, we eat. When we celebrate, we eat. When we’re sad, we eat. Sharing meals especially means a lot. For the folks at Code Tenderloin, all of us have been on the ground, so we serve our food with love. That’s why so many people are comfortable coming back – we want them to feel like our extended family.”

Arielle, left, is a student, mom, and volunteer at Code Tenderloin. Donna Hilliard, right, is Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director.

CalFresh recipient Yurin told us how a balanced meal means wellness for her family. “It’s something fundamental to health,” she shared. “Having good food, healthy food, is vital to every person every day.”

And at a bustling Pop-up Pantry in San Francisco’s SoMa, participant Russ chatted with us after picking up his groceries. “It means everything,” he said, showing us a watermelon he was excited to slice into. “I’m learning how to eat healthier now that I can get more and better food from this pantry. I turn 65 next August. You can live a lot better as you learn how to cook, what to eat, and what not to eat.”

Yurin is a Marin resident, mom, and CalFresh recipient.

Making Space for Joy

“Food brings us together, you know? If you got a group of people together, bring a meal. Ain’t nobody fussing when you’re eating.” Cliffton is a longtime San Francisco resident and an artist – recently, he painted ‘Spirit of the Fillmore’ in the Buchanan Street Mall. He’s also a participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry. “Food is nourishment for the body,” he continued. “Your body won’t allow you to be negative in that moment, because it’s getting good food.”

That’s the not-so-obvious benefit of a full pantry: with no worries about where the next meal will come from, our neighbors can bring a little more sweetness into their lives.

Laura Cedillo, center, is a Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center. Cliffton, right, is an artist, longtime San Francisco resident, and participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry.

Laura Cedillo, Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center [https://www.nativehealth.org/], told us that “food means someone’s looking out for you and taking care of you.” Laura and her team pack bags of healthy groceries for anyone who needs them in a second-story space that’s part health clinic in the Mission. She views food as memories as much as sustenance. “When I think of food, I think of family, and I think of being cared for. It’s like, hey, how do I love myself? One of my best friends is Mohican from the New York area, and I remember on her birthday she was like, ‘I’m going to make myself some butternut squash.’ And now every time I make butternut squash, I remember my friend. I remember people I love when I cook.”

 

More than Just Calories

We heard loud and clear from almost everyone we spoke to that food is much more than something that fills your stomach for a few hours.

“I believe food means connection to others,” said Maria, who is both a participant and a volunteer at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the Mission. “You can meet someone at the food pantry and get to know them and also know they care about you. Because all the people volunteering here, they care about all of us – that’s why they’re here.”

Maria, left, is a resident of San Francisco’s Mission district, and is both a participant and a volunteer. Pastor Richard Roberts, right, heads our partner San Francisco Community Fellowship.

“To share food is to get to know people, right?” said Pastor Richard Roberts at San Francisco Community Fellowship  one of our partners in the Excelsior. “It’s not just feeding them physical food, it’s emotional support and understanding, and getting people to a space where they feel comfortable and accepted. That’s what food means to me.”

As he spoke, Pastor Roberts watched volunteers pack grocery bags while photos of churchgoers at weddings and service days smiled down on them. For him, creating a community and holding a food pantry are all part of the same spirit.

The F-Word (Not That One!)

December 9, 2022

With the holidays in full swing, there’s a lot of talk about family. But what does family truly mean?   

As our community shares below, it’s not just blood ties, and it’s not just the relatives you see twice a year. Family can really be found wherever you look: in senior housing, at a food pantry, down the street, and at your table. And unsurprisingly, food and family intersect more often than not.  

Building Relationships after Retirement

Cui Juzhu (left) and Hui Yu (right)

Cui Juzhu and Hui Yu are both retirees with a penchant for feeding others. Not only are they volunteers at the same SoMa food pantry where they pick up their groceries, but both women find a way to spread the love to neighbors who live in their senior housing building. “Some of my friends have disabilities, so they can’t come and walk to the pantry. So, I pick up my groceries, cook for my family, and then the rest I share with [my friends],” explained Hui Yu, who is a retired restaurant kitchen worker.  

Cooking for others is an act of love; it’s saying, “you are family to me.” And it’s this kind of care that stretches to nourish whole families, friend groups, neighbor networks, and communities.  

Found at a Pantry: “Second Family” 

In sociology, there’s something called a “third place,” that describes a social environment outside of work or home where folks can congregate, see familiar faces, and build community. For María, the Friday food pantry in the Mission where she’s volunteered and picked up groceries for the past 10 years is a little of all the above. 

“I learn their names and their families. Some of them bring me food or coffee when it’s cold, and that’s really heart-touching. It feels good to know that someone else is watching over you. That someone cares about you, even when they are not even close-related, or cousins. They are like my second family.” 

We often say that good food transforms lives. María shows us it’s no exaggeration — good food is a pathway to building community and building family.  

Friends, Neighbors, Pantry Partners

Janet and Bob are obviously close friends and neighbors: they finish each other’s sentences, tease each other, and laugh together. And as many folks can attest, friends are really chosen family. Both born and raised San Franciscans and retirees, Bob began giving Janet rides to their neighborhood food pantry in Stonestown where they pick up groceries together.   

When we spoke in late October, Bob told us how he “fixes things for the neighborhood. I do all types of repairs – I worked in Silicon Valley for 30 years, so I know all about it.” Fences, wall dividers, you name it: folks in the neighborhood know to come to Bob for a repair. Janet, a retired caregiver, chimed in playfully: “I call Bob the house doctor.”  

When folks don’t have to guess where their next meal will come from, it’s a lot easier to devote energy to investing in your community and friendships – something that Bob and Janet clearly do in equal measure.    

Sharing Space, Creating Memories 

For Sharon, who we met at her neighborhood pantry in the Fillmore, it’s no sweat if the people gathering for her holiday feast are biological kin or not – it’s the act of coming together in a shared space to prepare a meal that creates family.   

“Family is everything, you know? I’ve raised a pretty considerable amount of kids. I have four biological kids; I also have two foster children. And depending on my circumstances, I may accumulate a few more children at the table, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been a parent for a long time. After two kids, it doesn’t matter how many people sit at my table. It’s a joy, it’s a blessing. It’s a chance for us to connect when we all sit down together and eat, and I love that. The holidays are always great. It just feels good, when you and your family can sit down to a healthy meal and something that you enjoy. These memories are going to last a lifetime. It makes it all worthwhile.”  

Happy Holidays and New Year

With that, we at the Food Bank would like to wish you happy holidays and a joyful start to 2023! We hope you’re able to take some time this month to sit down to a delicious, home-cooked meal that’s prepared with love. And we hope you can celebrate with family – whoever that may be. 

See you in the New Year! 

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: what it means for San Francisco and Marin

October 5, 2022

Last week, President Biden set an audacious goal: eliminate food insecurity by 2030. His commitment came as he presided over the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years. 

“The energy in the room as the President of the United States of America made that commitment was kinetic,” said Tanis Crosby, executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, who attended the conference. “To hear the reaction from people who are or have experienced food insecurity, advocates, teachers, academics, and more was profound.” 

This is the commitment anti-hunger advocates and food banks have been demanding from the federal government for decades.  

 

#FoodForAll means support for all

Ending hunger will take collective effort from all of us – including policymakers. Ahead of the White House Conference, we mobilized feedback from our community partners as part of the Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger campaign. Their feedback, along with the voices of thousands of people experiencing food insecurity, other community-based organizations, and food banks nationwide helped formulate policy recommendations to the administration.  

 “Together with Feeding America, we uplifted voices to hear from people experiencing hunger. That, full stop, is our advocacy focus,” said Tanis. “We learn what works and where policy needs to improve from listening to people telling us what they need. That’s how we achieve our goal of ending food insecurity.” 

The responses from the listening sessions were clear: we must address the high cost of housing, rising inflation, low wages, unaffordable healthcare, racism, and other institutionalized discrimination to end hunger. One attendee summed it up: “people need more freedom to enjoy a life where they’re not worried about the basics.” 

The full Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger report outlines the aspirations of our communities and  anti-hunger policy recommendations—informed by people facing hunger prioritize dignity, increasing access, expanding opportunity and improving health. 

 

It’s more than just food

When Tanis arrived at the White House Conference, she and other anti-hunger advocates asked for key policy recommendations grounded in what our communities said they needed. In breakout sessions, the Administration heard directly from advocates about the tangled web that holds people back, as advocates called for removing red tape and streamlining access to benefits people are entitled to.  

We know hunger is not just a COVID-era problem, and it will take all of us to drive the change we need. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank applauds the Biden-Harris Administration for recognizing the intersectionality of these challenges. “The acknowledgement that there is no single culprit behind food insecurity was heartening,” said Tanis. 

This is our core philosophy: food is a basic human right, and we must address both the causes and consequences of food insecurity to end it. Doing so will require a multifaceted approach.  

 

Looking forward

“The White House Conference was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the federal government to take concrete action to address hunger and its root causes,” said Tanis. “The impacts of hunger are compounding and pervasive and they do not affect us all equally. This was a powerful opportunity for the Food Bank to speak directly to federal lawmakers and advocate for meaningful policy change.” 

The last White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health resulted in game-changing legislation that introduced key policies like SNAP (food stamps) nationwide. We’re optimistic the same will come from this year’s Conference.  

Specifically, the Food Bank is advocating for: 

  • Protecting and strengthening SNAP (food stamps, called CalFresh in California). By far the most effective federal policy to end hunger, SNAP puts money for food directly into people’s pockets. 
  • Permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit to strengthen social safety nets for families. 
  • Increasing the minimum wage to offset skyrocketing income inequality and cost of living and adjusting eligibility guidelines for federal programs accordingly to avoid a “benefits cliff”. 
  • Protecting and strengthening The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is a vital source of food support for food banks across the country. 
  • Improving access to federal food, human services, and health assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid, so that eligible people aren’t missing out on vital benefits. 

“In the end, it’s not about what happened at the Conference, but what we do next and how,” said Tanis. “Solutions co-created with communities that experience hunger are how we solve food insecurity. I’m looking forward to continuing that within San Francisco and Marin, and I’m excited to see meaningful federal change in the months and years ahead.” 

Latin American Heritage Month

September 15, 2022

Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Latine, Latin: To recognize this heritage month, we asked Food Bankers to share their preferences and thoughts on the terms we use to describe a population that encompasses a vast array of different countries, cultural traditions, languages, ethnicities, and more.

Survey Results

From our survey results, several things were clear:  

1) Overwhelmingly, Food Bankers who identified as part of this community do not identify with the term “Hispanic.”  

2) The majority of Food Bankers surveyed who identify as part of this community personally use Latino/Latina to identify themselves. However, the majority of Food Bankers also recognized and agreed with the use of the term “Latinx” to promote gender inclusivity.  

3) When possible, it is always best to ask individuals exactly how they personally identify.  

Limitations of Terms

We know none of these terms fully capture the complexities of the communities we are trying to represent, because the communities that have been grouped under the umbrella of “Hispanic” or “Latino” are not a monolith. All of these terms have pros and cons, and often directly tie back to histories of colonization/attempts to fit different diasporic communities under one label, voting bloc, etc.  

Decision: Latin American/Latinx

At the Food Bank, we want to use this month to uplift food changemakers who identify as part of this community in all their fullness and complexity. But talking about a large group of people necessitates a broader term. Given the feedback from our staff, this year we have landed on “Latin American Heritage Month,” and using the term “Latinx” as well.

We are continually reevaluating our language for inclusivity and accessibility.

Partner Spotlight: Perspectives on Food Justice with TNDC

September 6, 2022

Four masked people smiling at the camera, holding a pre-made meal, a fresh pineapple and eggs - all available at the food pantry.
Pantry staff and participants take a moment to smile.

The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) has provided affordable housing and promoted equitable access to resources in San Francisco since its founding in 1981. Part of their mission is food justice – and that’s where our five-year partnership comes in.

Food programs span all sections of the organization. “There’s Tenderloin After School Program, Healthy Corner Stores, and Health and Wellness, which includes Healthy Aging, Food & Nutrition, and Urban Agriculture. Then there are our food pantries at our supported housing buildings. Food touches a lot of the work we do,” said Rebecca Barajas, Food & Nutrition Supervisor, TNDC.

Join us on a tour of three of TNDC’s programs to see how food justice means so much more than just providing food – and why community partners are integral to our mission to provide food for all.

Food Pantry

A participant and a pantry staff member hugging and smiling.
“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Our first stop is the food pantry on the bottom floor of TNDC’s Kelly Cullen Community, which provides supported living to seniors and people who were unhoused. We arrived to a frenzy of activity. Staff and volunteers packed grocery bags with cauliflower, milk, eggs, ravioli, and more for participants living in multiple TNDC buildings on the block.

“We open our doors to distribution at 9:15. We’ll set up tables and pack bags from heaviest to lightest – so chicken or rice would go on the bottom and something like a pear would go on top,” Rebecca told us.

“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Healthy Corner Stores

Fresh produce like cantaloupes, mangoes, bell peppers, and pears line refrigerated shelving in Dalda's Community Market.
TNDC’s Healthy Corner Stores incentivizes businesses like Dalda’s Community Market to stock unprocessed, nutritious food at affordable prices.

We made our way deeper into the Tenderloin to visit Dalda’s Community Market, a store that’s part of TNDC’s Healthy Corner Store Coalition. “We provide refrigeration equipment and business consulting services,” said John McCormick, Healthy Corner Store Coalition Program Manager, TNDC. “We ask the locations to limit alcohol and tobacco ads. We also promote the stores through community engagement activities, like tastings of the food.”

“People want healthy food. And we know that because people are buying it in the stores,” John told us. “Stores that aren’t part of our coalition are now selling produce because they know there’s a market for it. It totally changes the food apartheid we see here,” he said, referring to the inequitable access to nutritious food that neighborhoods like the Tenderloin have been subjected to. “Now there’s healthy produce in the neighborhood. There’s not as much of it as other places, but it’s better than it was 10 years ago.”

Urban Agriculture

A 3-story mural depicting the Tenderloin Peoples' Garden.
A mural marks the People’s Garden across from San Francisco’s City Hall.

Finally, we walked a few blocks away to the Tenderloin People’s Garden, one of 14 growing spaces TNDC developed across the city. “They grow a lot – hundreds of pounds of food get distributed to our residents from the food the gardens grow,” Rebecca told us.

A person smiles down at Swiss chard in the People's Garden.
Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator, picks some chard for our team to take home.

“Part of the cycle of gardens is once you start using them, they keep providing and then you have to keep using them,” said Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator at TNDC. “There’s an abundance behind it.” The garden grows produce like chard, lemons, bok choy, and more alongside ornamental and aromatic plants like rosemary, jasmine, and nasturtium, which attract pollinators and predator insects that eat pests for a more natural kind of insecticide.

People who come to the gardens find an oasis. “I like when it’s like this, no trucks driving by, no ambulances. Bees and butterflies and bugs are flying around and you can hear birds chirping. Even in the middle of the city, you have some peace and quiet. It’s really a benefit for the mind. See, like that,” said Thomas as a bird broke out into song.

Safety Nets Creating Stability: Lisa’s Story

September 6, 2022

Lisa is a lot of things. She’s a Pisces, a gamer, and a voice in her community. A resident of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (TNDC) Kelly Cullen Community in San Francisco, she also attends their educational classes and volunteered at their People’s Garden before the pandemic. “I do a little of everything,” she laughed when we spoke to her outside the building’s weekly food pantry.

Right now, she’s living on her own with three small dogs. She has friends on her floor, a computer to game on, and a multifunctional pressure cooker that cooks rice, sautés vegetables, and air-fries meat she gets from the food pantry downstairs. “I like the pantry because I can get my extras here, the things I wouldn’t be able to buy from the store,” she told us. “Right now, I have everything. I’m stable, I’ve got housing. I don’t have any worries, so to speak.”

But it wasn’t always this way. For Lisa, a combination of government-funded safety nets and community support led her to this stability – and now she’s able to offer helping hands to others as well.

Safety Nets Are Necessary

For seniors and folks with disabilities like Lisa, government policies on food assistance have had a checkered history. Originally, people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were ineligible for SNAP or CalFresh. But that changed in 2019. “Advocates from the SSI and anti-hunger community, including our Food Bank, all worked really hard to overturn that policy. And then activists conducted outreach across the state to connect SSI recipients to the resource,” said Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.

Lisa felt the effects of policy changes firsthand. “In the beginning, when folks on SSI weren’t allowed to collect food stamps, I found that really stressful. It’s easier now,” she said. She explained that expanded CalFresh benefits during the pandemic were also a boon. “I get a little extra on top of what I usually get, and I can set myself up better. If they stop the extra [food assistance money], I’m still good now because I have my staple foods in my pantry and meat in my freezer.”

Community Support is Integral

Lisa’s current situation wouldn’t be possible without the support she received, both from the government and her community. “A young lady named Lynn turned me on to classes with TNDC [where I live now]. She has helped me grow.” And with that growth came a desire to help others in the Tenderloin: so far, she’s advocated for pedestrian safety and a dog-friendly park in the neighborhood. “I learned a whole lot about myself, and I learned about community organizing,” said Lisa.

She also reaches out a helping hand to folks in the Tenderloin, as others have done for her. “Talking to people is my way of giving back. I can tell them places to go, and if they need my help to sign up for anything I’ll help them,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to change your life when nobody’s helping you, but when you get support, it’s easier. That’s my game plan. I’m gonna bring y’all in.”

Pass the EATS Act

June 29, 2022

You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Yet, as many as 1 in 4 college students who struggle with food insecurity can’t receive CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Our Policy and Advocacy team is working to change this by lobbying Congress to pass the Federal EATS Act.  

CalFresh is one of the most important tools for addressing food insecurity and hunger. Recipients can shop for the groceries they want, when they want, by spending their monthly benefits at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Unfortunately, students from low-income backgrounds are largely unable to access CalFresh because of barriers like a 20 hour/week work requirement. “The work requirement is an archaic rule that requires students to be working hours that they don’t have,” explained Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.  

Eased Restrictions, Increased Participation

The current “work-for-food” rules are based on assumptions of a “typical” college student – upper middle class, with endless free time and family support. In reality, there is no typical student. Between required labs, rotations, and residencies, working to pay their bills, and even supporting families, many students simply don’t have 20 free hours in their week. School is work. Extra barriers to healthy groceries can spell the difference between obtaining a degree and halting their education. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 got rid of this “work-for-food” rule – temporarily – and the results were immediate. “During the pandemic, restrictions like the work requirement were lifted, and more college students were able to access CalFresh. So, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be so hard to get more students in the program,” said Meg.  

School is Work

However, expanded CalFresh eligibility for students is set to expire just one month after the federal Public Health Emergency is declared over. That’s where the Federal EATS Act – and you – come into the picture. The Federal EATS Act would permanently expand CalFresh access to low-income students by making attendance at an “institution of higher education” count as their work requirement. “The EATS Act recognizes that school is work,” said Marchon Tatmon, Government Affairs Manager at the Food Bank. “This bill will allow students to access the nutrition they need.” We need your help to make sure all students have access to healthy groceries that fuel their learning. You can sign up for Action Alerts and get involved through our email list: sfmfoodbank.org/advocacy. Let’s urge Congress to pass this permanent legislative fix for college hunger, together.  

“Not Part-time Employees”

June 28, 2022

CalFresh is supposed to be the first line of defense against hunger, but that’s often not the case for college students. For Dustin and Anthony, two among thousands of college students facing food insecurity, the Federal EATS Act would make a huge difference. Dustin is an LGBT Studies major and first-generation college student at City College of SF. Like many other students, Dustin turns to the Food Bank to stock his fridge and pantry. CalFresh isn’t an accessible option for him because of the work requirements and red tape in the application process. “I do not have the support of parents sending me through college, so I utilize the Food Bank when I don’t have funds,” Dustin told us at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry in March.  

School Comes First 

Anthony is a graduate student at UCSF, currently in his second year of the dentistry program. He’s been a recipient of CalFresh on and off since 2018. When we spoke on the phone, he laid out his simple problem with the work requirement for students. “When you’re in a rigorous academic program, you don’t really have much time to study if you’re working to make ends meet. It puts a lot of stress on students who are now focusing more on working instead of studying. We are full-time students, not part-time employees.”  

Not Enough Time in the Day 

For students who come from low-income backgrounds, a college degree holds the promise of less financial struggle in the future. Getting that degree, however, is not easy. And dedicating 20 hours of precious study time a week to a job, just so that you can buy groceries, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a vicious cycle that forces students to choose between their studies and their survival. That’s why students like Anthony are such strong supporters of passing the Federal EATS Act. “I know countless friends and family members who are college students and could greatly benefit from CalFresh. With the EATS Act, if we remove these barriers then people will have much easier access to food.” 

Paying a High Price: Inflation Impacts

June 2, 2022

On a hot Wednesday afternoon in May, Victoria arrived at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry to pick up groceries like a gallon of milk, white mushrooms, and green onions for the older gentleman she provides home care for. She carried the bags out to the sidewalk and then paused to chat for a few minutes, shielding her face from the sun and setting down her heavy groceries. We learned she’s lived in San Francisco for Victoria holds up her milk and grocery bagthe past 40 years, and understandably, she’s seen the city change a lot in her time here. “When I came here [in the 80s], you could buy a thousand wonders for $50. You could fill the refrigerator for at least a month [for $50]. Now, everything is so expensive. There are times when there’s not enough to buy food. It’s terrible.”  

Working as a gardener and caretaker for seniors, San Francisco has been her home – the place where she says, with a twinkle in her eye, she has lived her “most beautiful life.” But while Victoria has seen SF through its fair share of economic ups and downs over the decades, including high inflation in the 80s, the current climate is unlike anything she’s seen before. These days, she’s trying to focus on the fact that “I’m okay, and the gentleman I take care of is okay – that’s what gives me peace.” 

With grocery prices up 10% in the SF metro area, and gas prices soaring alongside them (up 43% compared to this time last year), the Food Bank is a lifeline for our community in this particularly challenging time.  

Shrinking Savings 

Like Victoria, many folks are worried. Every week we speak with community members like Arnoldo, who echo this feeling of constantly falling behind. Arnoldo has been coming to Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry ever since his small package delivery business in the Mission was forced to close during the pandemic. Without the income from his business, Arnoldo is left looking for work as a painter and scraping together what he can. He rents a room from a friend, but even sharing a space is expensive.  

“Right now I don’t have a job, and all my bills are so high. The little savings I had, went straight to rent,” he said, shaking his head.  

Impossible Choices 

Sharon lives just a short walk from Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, and the groceries she picks up have been a huge help – she even told her friend Clifton about it, and now they come to the pantry together. But that doesn’t mean it’s erased the rest of her worries, especially operating on a fixed budget due to her disability income.  

“We’re forced to make choices, you know? I literally don’t go grocery shopping. I can’t afford to. I’m caught, stuck between the choice of paying my housing and utility costs and purchasing food. So, I literally gave up on purchasing food, and without the Food Bank…” she trailed off, but the implication is obvious.  

“Really Rough Right Now” 

For Anna, sticker shock is just another worry on top of caregiving and supporting her parents, who are both disabled. Her dad needs 24/7 care, but hiring a full-time caregiver is financially out of reach. “My parents only get Social Security, and it isn’t enough, so I have to help them with rent,” she said. RightAnna holds her groceries in front of the park now, Anna is working anywhere from six to seven days a week as a nurse at Highland Hospital, and teaching UCSF nursing students as well. She stops by Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry to pick up food for her parents on her one day off.  

She leaned against the fence for a little support, watching kids play in the park next to the pantry while telling us about her situation. “It’s really rough right now. Everything is going up in price. It’s affecting me too, because I have to pay my own rent, my own food, the car and insurance – everything is going up in price now. I went to the store and the prices are crazy.”  

Take Action  

If you’re wondering why we’re still seeing so many folks at our pantries, two years into the pandemic – this is your answer. The pandemic has exacerbated issues that were already present – a housing/homelessness crisis, a cost of living that outpaces wages, the highest income inequality in the nation – and introduced new ones, like lingering isolation and mental health impacts from shelter-in-place. 

That’s why we must keep pushing for comprehensive social safety nets that ensure the safety, dignity, and health and well-being of all in our community.  

Reality Check 

Over the course of our conversation, Anna grew reflective. She explained that growing up in Ukraine, she held an idealized image of life in the US – one that dissolved almost immediately when she moved to San Francisco in ‘95.  

“I think before [my family] moved here, we thought a little differently about this country. Once we got here….it’s not as easy to live here as people think it is. When they show the US back home, it [seems] so glamorous, like money comes from the trees. When people move here, it’s a very different story.” 

We owe it to our neighbors and ourselves to contend with that reality. Volunteer. Advocate. Donate.

A New Kind of Pantry: Kain Na Community Food Hub

June 1, 2022

If you’ve ever walked through San Francisco’s Mission Bay, you know the district is new and modern, home to Bay views, public parks, and the iconic Chase Center. Much of the neighborhood is recently developed, and adding to the spirit of transformation in the district is a new kind of food pantry: Kain Na Community Food Hub, which opened its doors on February 4 this year. 

Kain Na was informed by the Mission Bay community and is operated by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) to provide free nutritious and culturally relevant food in an open market space. Food is provided by the SF-Marin Food Bank and the Deep Medicine Circle. 

Local artist ChiChai included an acknowledgement of the Ohlone land Kain Na occupies in her mural for the space.

“TNDC has a successful and powerful legacy of engaging the community and taking direct action to meet people’s needs,” said Maurilio León, TNDC CEO. “Kain Na is an example of our values and the impact we can make in advancing food and health justice.”

Walking into Kain Na, which means “Let’s Eat” in Tagalog, it’s clear that the space was designed to welcome people inside. The name itself pays homage to the Filipino community of San Francisco and celebrates the universal language of food. Local artist ChiChai covered the walls with murals, including a prominent acknowledgment of the Ohlone land the building occupies. Paintings show people coming together and sharing platters of food, mirroring the abundant selection of fresh produce, meat and eggs, and pantry staples filling the food hub’s aisles.

Kain Na is a multifunctional space, and the rows filled with produce during market hours can be reworked into tables where food and nutrition classes are held. Cookbooks and pamphlets fill some of the shelf space. The space is bright, clean, and welcoming – much like the Mission Bay neighborhood it occupies. Located on the ground floor of TNDC’s supportive housing 626 Mission Bay Boulevard, Kain Na serves many building residents and is part of a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of food insecurity. 

A Shift to Empowerment 

Kain Na builds on the concept of a food pantry to offer even more choice and flexibility. Many food pantries are open for only a few hours once a week. For many participants, having a set appointment time is convenient – parents know they can grab groceries when they pick up their kids from school, or people who work during the week can depend on their Saturday time slot without needing to wait in line while doing their weekend errands. Kain Na, on the other hand, takes a flexible approach by staying open all day for several days a week, a better option for someone who has a more unpredictable schedule.  

“If a participant can’t make it one day to get their weekly food, they can visit the hub on the other days it’s open,” said Tina Gonzales, the Food Bank’s Director of Community Partnerships. “This reduces anxiety and fear of scarcity, making the food hub a positive shopping experience.” 

Participants are free to select their own food items.

The food pantries run by our partners like TNDC are committed to serving people with dignity, and one of the key elements of that is offering choice. Before the pandemic, all our pantries were set up like farmers’ markets, where participants were free to select the amount and type of food they received. For the last two years, we’ve had to pivot to pre-bagging groceries for our participants – but we’re working to bring back the empowerment inherent in folks choosing their own food in a farmers’ market setting. Kain Na is a great example of how to offer food options safely going forward. 

“It gives participants the choice to pick the food they need to feed themselves and their families,” said Tina. “Participants grab a watermelon when they are in season because their kids like the fruit. If they want to skip receiving 10 potatoes one week, they can choose the four potatoes they need instead.” This allows pantries and hubs to adjust their offerings to include foods they see their community wants.  

Kain Na also serves as an information center with free food and nutrition workshops. “It offers other community resources to improve participant wellbeing,” said Tina. “Things like CalFresh (food stamps) outreach, eviction defense resources, tax assistance, and summer programming for kids make Kain Na a community resource as much as it is a food program.”  

At the Food Bank, we’re looking to Kain Na Community Food Hub as an example of what some food pantries could look like in the future. It is offering yet another kind of service to help meet people where they are at. The food hub’s insight into what strategies work best to solve food insecurity in a post-COVID world will be invaluable. We’re proud to support TNDC and Kain Na in trailblazing solutions to hunger in San Francisco.