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.

What’s in Store at the Shop Floor?

March 1, 2023

Step onto the shop floor at the Pennsylvania Warehouse and you’ll be greeted by racks filled with just about every item under the sun: fresh fruits and vegetables (of course), canned beans and proteins, fresh breads and pastries, eggs, frozen proteins like chicken breasts, and assorted dry, fresh, and frozen grocery items from supermarkets all over San Francisco.  

Through our “shop” program, we serve 243 partners in the community. Here’s how it works: on any given weekday, by appointment or drop-in, agencies ranging from congregate meal sites to afterschool programs can stop by the warehouse and shop for groceries from 8am-3pm.  

Donations and Fresh Rescue Lead the Way 

These Food Bank shop partners “pick up free produce, bread for 8 cents/pound, and other donated items for 18 cents/pound,” said Henry Randolph, Senior Shop Floor Manager at the Food Bank. Produce comes to the Food Bank through the Farm to Family program just like it does for food pantries. But the other food we offer comes from community donations, or through our Fresh Rescue program. We’ll go out to local supermarkets like Whole Foods, Lucky’s, Safeway, Amazon and Costco, and bring back a variety of different products for our shoppers.”  

Flexibility, Variety, Affordability 

One partner, the Homeless Church of San Francisco, has been coming for the past three decades. Since they don’t operate a traditional pantry, the flexibility and price point of the shop floor is a huge draw. 

“At the place where we live, we bring in [unhoused] guests and we serve lunch and dinner five days a week. And we go out to different camps across San Francisco on Thursday and Friday nights and serve a full meal. On Sunday morning, we cook pancakes and serve them at the Embarcadero. And we also give out food boxes to around 30 people who live in hotels,” said April Prosser, co-founder of the Homeless Church along with her husband Pastor Greg Prosser. “So, we have a variety of needs. The donations from the Food Bank allow us to have really good meals.” 

Community Support Remains Crucial 

The Food Bank helps hundreds of partners meet the unique needs of their programs and agencies. But Henry says that lately, “demand is very high, with a limited supply,” because of inflation and supply chain issues, driving home the need for continued support from our community as we strive to keep our shop floor racks full for our neighbors and partners.  

In Henry’s words: “We’re trying to do the best we can. But if the Food Bank is hungry, how can we feed other people?” 

Through Challenges, Relationships Remain 

Regardless of current challenges, one thing remains stable: the relationships formed between Food Bankers and long-term shop partners. “I can think of a handful of agencies, like the Homeless Church, that have been shoppers for close to 30 years. And I think that’s really special because we all have a common goal: to provide services to our community. There are a lot of compassionate people that are really dedicated,” Henry shared.  

The feeling is mutual: April says that “from the beginning, the Food Bank has been a lifesaver. And Henry is a real blessing.”

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.