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.” 





Nutrition Education: Six Tips for Shopping on a Budget

November 29, 2016

by Nalleli Martinez, Senior Nutrition Education Coordinator

At the Food Bank, our work doesn’t end once food is delivered to our pantries. Our Nutrition Education Team provides recipients with tips and tools for how to best use Food Bank ingredients to prepare healthy and filling meals. And, we strive to offer information in a culturally relevant way so that participants can find ease and comfort in connecting to the nutrition messages that we share.

In our “Shopping on a Budget” class, one topic that brings a smile to everyone’s face starts with the question, “Who could use a little extra money in their pockets?” The answer is almost always a unanimous chorus of agreement.

For most people, groceries are the second largest monthly expense after housing.
The good news is that people who use a food spending plan and shop carefully can cut their food costs by 20%. Yes, you read that correctly, 20%!

Here are six tips to help you save on groceries:

  1. Set a budget; it can be daily, weekly, or monthly.
  2. Make a shopping list, which will help you stick to purchasing only what you need.
  3. Freeze and store produce as space allows for later use in smoothies, stir-fries, soups, stews and much more.
  4. Don’t shop while hungry!
  5. Shop during sales. Find out when sales happen at your local markets or grocery stores. Typically, sales begin on Wednesdays.
  6. Visit your neighborhood food pantry. We’re here to help! If you are struggling to make ends meet, our food pantries in San Francisco and Marin can provide staple foods and produce to supplement your grocery purchases. Learn more here.

Our goal in Nutrition Education is to provide resources and information that everyone can use to improve their quality of life. In addition to the tips above, our workshops cover the “ins and outs” of navigating grocery stores and markets to facilitate healthy, cost-consciuous choices. What I love about these techniques is that they apply to everyone and anyone who steps into a grocery store, ready to brave the many aisles, shelves, and brands of food.

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