Keeping Each Other Healthy: Gary’s Story

July 8, 2024

Once a week, a familiar face stops by a neighborhood food pantry in the Richmond district for an afternoon volunteer shift: coordinating the check-in process, breaking down cardboard, and helping share groceries with hundreds of neighbors each week.  

Meet Gary. He’s a retired special education teacher and a regular pantry volunteer: “I have had cordial interactions almost universally at the pantry, and I find being outside positively reinforcing,” he shared.  

But socializing and fresh air aren’t the only reasons he chose to volunteer with the Food Bank.  

“My rejoinder is that during COVID, I didn’t leave the house. I was at high risk, and you fed me. So, I see this as my responsibility to reciprocate,” Gary told us.  

High Risk and Housebound 

Gary, a long-time San Francisco resident, described his feelings in the early part of the pandemic as a sense that “the sky was falling.”  

I’m a hypochondriac. I was in a high-risk group, so I literally did not leave my house for a long time,” he shared. As people plundered grocery store shelves for food and toilet paper, Gary said there was one thing that helped put food on the table and gave him some peace of mind.  

“The Food Bank really massaged my anxiety about the contagion. It was pivotal. I did have people who were kind enough to go shopping for me too, but my home-delivered groceries were very helpful.”  

HDG to Farmer’s Market-Style 

Gary lives on his pension income – so even before record inflation hit, his pre-pandemic grocery routine involved walking to a variety of stores and markets to get the best deals and buy food in bulk. The health risks of the pandemic made this routine impossible for him, but home-delivered Food Bank groceries helped Gary offset the pressure on his budget and stay nourished with fresh vegetables.  

“I used the produce a lot in salads and in pasta. I would sauté vegetables, add some condiments, spice it up a bit, and have a lot of pasta,” he recounted. “It was a preponderance of produce!” 

When he felt safe to do so, Gary began attending the weekly in-person food pantry near his home. Now with both experiences under his belt, he’s an enthusiastic advocate for the farmer’s market-style selection at his neighborhood food pantry, which helps avoid what he calls “lentil-bean syndrome.” 

“You would get lentil beans in every [home] delivery, and I still have them. I really like lentils, but it was a lot,” he shared. “I think that this format is far better, because people can decline [what they don’t want], and it’s just far more efficient.” 

Keeping Each Other Healthy 

Before Gary left to begin his volunteer shift, he reflected on the past four years. Thanks to his own network of support – friends, neighbors and groceries from the Food Bank – Gary was able to stay healthy and safe during the height of the pandemic. But he knows not everyone had that good fortune. 

“A real concern of mine is community healthcare,” he shared. “Had we a more empathetic government, a lot of people would be alive right now.” 

Every week, we see neighbors facing difficult choices between paying for food or healthcare. That’s why the Food Bank is tenacious in pushing for public policy that addresses the root causes of hunger, while also addressing the immediate need for food in our community. 

Forming a Support System 

As for Gary’s next steps? With the Food Bank’s Pop-up Pantries closing in June 2025 due to the end of pandemic-era funding, he’s already looking for new ways to volunteer and continue to be part of a support system for others. 

“I would be happy to work with youth. I would be happy to work with older people. I would be happy to walk people’s dogs if I can,” he laughed. “As human beings, we are empathetic. And when you [volunteer], you feel better. We all want to feel better.” 





A Gift for the Future: Carolyn’s Story

July 3, 2024

Carolyn Golden’s relationship with the Food Bank goes way back – back to the beginning, in fact. Prior to the merge of the Marin Food Bank and the San Francisco Food Bank in 2011, Carolyn saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a Marin Food Bank food drive. 

“I moved to Marin in 1980, about two years before I started with the Food Bank. They had an enormous turkey sitting in Corte Madera, in the town center. You would put bags of food down the chute into the turkey. I brought a bag of food and probably a check for $50. That’s how I started: how can I make an impact? I see this food, I know that it will feed people and I know what they can buy with the $50 donation,” Carolyn reminisced.  

Shortly after, she began donating her time at the original Marin warehouse. 

“I did some volunteering up at the Novato Center, which was the size of a small house. It was really tiny, and I went up to help sort and put food bags together. Compared to now, there are these enormous warehouses in Marin and in San Francisco!” 

Seeing Food Pantries in Action 

Outside of her work as a web developer, Carolyn volunteered as a tax preparer for low-income neighbors in Marin at a neighborhood resource center. One Friday volunteer day, Carolyn went down the hall to see the nearby food pantry in action. 

“I said, I’ve got to check out the food pantry and suggest that people use it – they can come to see me, and then go get some food. So, I walked down there one day and I went, oh my God, you’ve got salmon from Whole Foods, fabulous breads, all the fresh produce. They were letting people select what they wanted. I was also impressed by how caring and kind the volunteers behind the tables were to everyone,” she shared. “I was really impressed by the food – it was excellent quality food. And that was 20 years ago, so I know it’s getting better and better.” 

From Fresh Rescue items from local grocery stores to the farmer’s market-style setup, many elements have remained tried and true staples of Food Bank programming. Yet since Carolyn’s initial pantry visit, the Food Bank has continued to evolve immensely. 

Growing Together 

With even more fresh produce (now more than 70%!), larger warehouses, more families supported, and network of 350 partner organizations across San Francisco and Marin, the quality and scale of Food Bank operations has grown drastically. Through it all, Carolyn’s partnership has grown alongside it.  

One thing that resonates with me about how special the Food Bank is, is that it’s so responsive to the situations affecting people today and looking to future needs. I believe that a dollar goes much further with the Food Bank – more bang for the buck,” Carolyn shared, speaking to her decision to increase her support and eventually become a major donor. “Although it felt good to buy food and then drop in in the bin for donation, [I realized] the Food Bank can buy so much more for the same dollars. I stopped giving food and increased my cash donations.”  

Yet her motivation for donating remains the same as the first day she brought a $50 check. 

I just think, if you’re not eating, how are you going to do well in school? How are you going to be able to work? Food is the basis of everything to me.” 

A Legacy of Nourishment 

Recently, Carolyn decided to include the Food Bank in her will — because if there’s one thing she’s learned, it’s that food security is critical year in and year out. Thanks to her legacy commitment, Carolyn’s support of the Food Bank will continue even after she’s gone. But someday, she hopes the Food Bank will be obsolete. 

As she put it: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the Food Bank had to go out of business because there was no need?” 

We agree – and thanks to dedicated supporters like Carolyn, the Food Bank and our partner network can keep working towards that nourishing future for all our neighbors. To join Carolyn and add the Food Bank to a will for you or a loved one, please visit