A Place for Food and a Place for Community

December 15, 2021

If you take a walk down 16th Street in the Mission on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll see a steady stream of people going into an unassuming terra cotta-colored building and leaving with a full bag of groceries – and often a smile as well. That building is Grace Fellowship Community Church, and every Saturday, a rotating duo of coordinators lead a group of volunteers to pack seventy-plus bags of groceries. This week, Karen Seth and Cindy Peterson are spearheading the food pantry. 

The church has been doing this every week for over five years, and the Food Bank has been proud to be their source of groceries throughout. The half-dozen volunteers that showed up to help this particular Saturday unloaded, packed, and distributed enough food for about seventy grocery bags. “We love when we get all the produce,” said Cindy. Eggs and bags of onions and green beans were stacked, rice was apportioned, bread was sorted, and music played from someone’s portable speaker. The energy in the room was clearly upbeat. 

But it’s not just food that Grace Fellowship is passing out – they also provide a community, even in the time of COVID. “One thing that we have really treasured through the five years is the relationships that we build with our participants and that they see us week in and week out, and they’ll tell us what they’re going through,” said Karen. “Some people have struggled with cancer, some people have struggled with losing their jobs, some people have been in and out of the hospital. And so, they tell us these things, and we can be here and hear them and see them and receive them, and this can be a safe place for them.” 

Pantry coordinator Karen Seth opens a box of green beans.

It’s Not Just Food 

At the backbone of Grace Fellowship’s food pantry is its volunteers. Though it takes just a few hours per shift, the work volunteers do at Grace and beyond is vital to food pantries staying in operation. They lift heavy bags of produce, protein, and grains after they’re dropped off by the Food Bank truck, sort produce into assembly lines to make sure a soft pear doesn’t end up crushed in a grocery bag below a heavier squash or melon, and hand out full bags to participants as they come down the line – which lots of volunteers say is the most rewarding part of their work. Many come week after week to serve their community. There’s no one-size-fits-all description for volunteers at the Food Bank and at our partner pantries; they are young and elderly, regulars and non-regulars, from all walks of life. Some are exclusively volunteers, but others both receive food assistance and volunteer. Take Rashmi, a future nursing student who first came to Grace Fellowship in 2017. 

Rashmi packs grocery bags for participants alongside other volunteers.

When Rashmi moved from Nepal to San Francisco, she was a high schooler with parents that each worked two jobs. Her neighbor used to share the food she received from Grace Fellowship with Rashmi and her family, and eventually Rashmi tagged along: “She took me here one day, and I signed up that day. It was my way of kind of being responsible for the household, since my parents both worked full time, two jobs.”  

The food and community Rashmi received from Grace Fellowship not only allowed her to help provide for her family, but also freed up her time and mental space to concentrate on her studies. “It’s just kind of like, ‘oh, one burden off my shoulders,’ in a way,” she said. “I can go about my week without having to worry about what to get for lunch or think about how much to spend, because budgeting is one of my big challenges right now.” Giving back to Grace Fellowship is important to her, too. “I look forward to coming here, then giving food to elderlies and I feel happy when I give them extra food because I know them, and they are using the food.” 

One of the other volunteers helps an elderly participant, Patricia, load a bag of groceries onto her walker as her small white dog jumps down to give space.  

“This place, it’s so nice,” said Patricia with a big smile on her face. “They’re so kind to you. They always have extra food and offer it. And they remember your name, and you just feel blessed.” 

 

Tackling College Hunger | Annie’s Story

December 20, 2018

Some college students talk about the “Freshman 15,” and gaining weight when starting school. But for other students, the financial burden of tuition and books often means going hungry.  In fact, the US Government Accountability Office released a report recently that quantifies how large a problem college hunger has become.

Annie is one such student who struggles to feed herself many weeks out of the year. She’s studying at UCSF for a health care career and utilizes the Food Bank’s campus pantry. “The market has revolutionized my routine,” says Annie. “I exclusively get my food here. I’m eating healthier and wouldn’t be getting my fruits and veggies otherwise.

“Food insecurity is very real if you don’t come from a family that can provide you with a weekly stipend. Having all this debt, you’re kind of in crisis mode all the time. Many students only eat one meal a day. You can’t study; you’re stressed out all the time; and it has traumatic effects on your body.

“I am undyingly grateful to the Food Bank donors. Because of your generosity, I’m able to eat healthier, take care of myself, and give back by caring for patients. Thank you for investing in my health, so I can invest in the health of others.”

Hunger on Campus

June 9, 2017

It used to be a joke, or even a badge of honor for some – the tale of the starving college student who survived by eating ramen noodles morning, noon and night. Or the thrifty sophomore who bought a 10-pound bag of potatoes and made it last a month.

Horace Montgomery, Director of the Associated Students program at San Francisco State, has heard them all, and he isn’t laughing.

“There is this perception that if you make it to college, and you have housing and your classes, that you’re fine. But it’s just not true,” Montgomery says. “We have many hungry students on this campus, and it’s affecting their school work, their lives and their futures.”

Enter the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Partnering with Associated Students, we set up a pantry on the Northwest side of campus in February – our very first one on a college campus. Within just a few days of opening registration, the 100 participant slots were filled. Plans are in the works to double the pantry’s reach by the fall semester.

The pantry arrived not a moment too soon, with so much research out there that suggests hunger can adversely affect studying habits and physical well-being on college campuses. Amie Williams is Director of the school’s Health Promotion and Wellness program and says they figure that 1 in 3 students on campus is food insecure “and when you’re at a 30,000 institution level, you’re talking about a lot of students with hunger issues.”

Pre-med student Mayrane talks about the constant struggle to make ends meet, especially in San Francisco where everything is so expensive.

“There was a month not too long ago when I was eating once or maybe twice a day, just because I couldn’t afford to buy food after paying all of my other expenses.”

She calls the Food Bank’s new pantry a godsend. The big bag of groceries she gets from the new pantry helps to get her through her busy week. “I love all the fresh fruit, especially because I really want to eat better and feel healthier.”