Partner Spotlight: Q&A with Casey Federico

May 13, 2020

When schools closed in March, parents and caregivers were immediately left figuring out how to balance work, childcare, and homeschooling their children. For the families who relied on the Food Bank every week, there was an added layer of stress – where would they get their groceries? Prior to shelter-in-place, many families could pick up the fresh groceries at their school pantry during drop-off or pick-up. Across San Francisco and Marin, school closures caused 46 of the Food Bank’s Healthy Children food pantries to stop their weekly distributions 

One such pantry was at Dolores Huerta Elementary School in San Francisco’s Mission District. When the school closed teachers and staff quickly worked to identify and contact families to let them know where they could access foodEven with new available pop-up pantries opening nearby, with vulnerable relatives at home, some families could not attend nearby Pop-up pantries. The school’s Family Liaison, Nataly Terrazas; Elementary Advisor, Luis García; School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, and school parent and pantry coordinator, Casey Federico quickly sprang into action matching families who couldn’t leave their house with volunteers who could pick up and deliver food to them. They now have 30 volunteers who trade off delivering to 13 families.  

Last week we caught up with Casey to learn more about what is happening in their community

(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.) 

Food Bank: How did you start partnering with us and what have you been doing since the start of the pandemic?   

Casey FedericoAt Dolores Huerta, which is both of my daughters’ elementary school, there was an established food pantry every Monday morning. Another parent had coordinated it before me, but their son graduated, so I took on the job of being the pantry coordinator this fall. Even before shelter-in-place, we were seeing a huge expansion in need for the pantry. We grew from a 50person pantry last year to a 70- or 80-person pantry in November.  

When the shelter-in-place happened, I was in communication with Edith, our neighborhood representative from the Food Bank, and knew everything was shifting. At the same time, I was getting all these texts and messages from families at the school saying, ‘we are about to be out of food’ There were lots of different challenging situations. And so, from discussions with the school team – Sarah, Luis, and Nataly – we found out who couldn’t leave their home for whatever reason and identified 12 families who needed food delivered. We started with a group of volunteers –families who did have transportation and could go to a food pantry and pick up a box and then deliver it to those people’s homes.  

Our School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, is such an inspiration. She was just so careful and thoughtful about confidentiality. Sarah asked families who they’d be okay being paired with, because to have someone know you are receiving food from the Food Bank and then know where you live, that is a big deal. She was just super thoughtful about that and got everybody’s permission all along the line. 

FB: What are you hearing from people in the community now? 

CF: I’m still hearing a lot of people saying, you know, we got this [food], but it isn’t really enough. That is the hard reality. So many families that are part of our community are hospitality workers, etc.  

Another amazing thing that happened is one of our teachers, her fiancé owns a restaurant and every time somebody from the community buys a meal in his restaurant, Toma, he’s donating a meal to a family in need. He’s also delivering meals. So, families are getting additional support from that too.  

But what I just heard from Sarah last week, is just the numbers are increasing so much. So, we are talking about how to meet new needs. It’s really challenging. 

FB: Do you talk to the families you deliver to? How are they doing?  

CF: One thing that’s been really good, is a lot of relationships have been built between the families who are delivering and the families who are receiving. I know everybody’s been sending texts like, I’m going to drop it off. They text, I got it, thank you.  

There’s also been some specific communication around needing health items like toothpaste and soap and tampons, and that kind of stuff. A few volunteers who have the capacity have also been sharing those types of items with families. Many of the families who are delivering are also out of work or running low on food themselves.  

FB: We see this too, it’s incredible how many of our volunteers say, ‘oh yeah, I’m out of work right now and so I have free time and I’m going to do this.’ 

CF: I know, it just takes my breath away. One of the women who is helping deliver said ‘oh yeah, we both lost our jobs last week, but this is just so important, it’s the one trip I have purpose around. I have to do this.’  

FB: Is there anything else that you wanted to share about the experience? 

CF: I think the one thing that the Food Bank really does is bring together a community of people. Almost everybody who volunteered at the weekly food pantry at Dolores Huerta is also receiving a box of food. And so, I think our, our community of folks who really view themselves as part of the system were ready to jump in. The group of parents who help us to set up, fold up boxes, and do all that kind of stuff are really jumping up again to help out, which is cool. 

That sort of friendly, joyful mood that was at our Monday morning pantry translates over and made people feel comfortable to be both asking and giving. I’m so proud to be part of this community! 

 

School Pantries Make a Difference in a Family’s Life

February 12, 2020

Walking into any elementary school at the end of the day is filled with lots of hustle and bustle as kids run to the playground to greet friends and their parents or guardians. That’s certainly the case at Paul Revere Elementary San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. Although, there is a difference with this school’s day end and that’s the long tables in the entrance filled with brimming baskets of colorful fresh produce and stables like lentils and rice. That is our Healthy Children’s Pantry.

Since 2004, we started the Healthy Children Pantry Program to make it easier for parents to get healthy food by having pantries at their children’s schools. It was a simple but powerful innovation: By bringing food to busy families in a location they already visit daily, we’ve been able to serve more families than ever before. Now with 58 pantries, parents and guardians throughout San Francisco and Marin can take home healthy groceries once a week when they pick up or drop off their children without having to make any extra stops.

Lilian is one mom who greatly appreciates the Paul Revere pantry. She works full-time cleaning houses and her husband works full-time in construction. With two young children, they struggle to keep up with the rising costs of the city. Finding time to get food is an additional challenge. Some of these time and budget constraints are reduced by having the pantry located at their children’s school. “It’s so convenient. I am so thankful to the Food Bank and their supporters for helping to keep our family healthy,” said Lillian.

Food for Brain Power

Although the Healthy Children’s Pantry has been very successful in helping fight hunger, we don’t stop there. Time after time, principals and teachers tell us the same thing: kids can’t learn when they’re hungry. That’s why we started the Morning Snack Program back in the early 2000s. Through this first-of-its-kind program, 21 high-need public schools throughout San Francisco and Marin receive daily deliveries of healthy snack items such as fresh fruits, whole grain crackers, and string cheese.

Many low-income children don’t eat enough food outside of school to support their growing bodies and minds. Snacks give students a healthy boost mid-morning when they need it most. Teachers report morning snacks give students additional energy to learn and to stay focused during the school day. Over 4,800 kids a day can start school with nutritious food that helps keep hunger at bay and learning in the forefront.

Cousins Estrellia and Luz, students at Paul Revere, are budding math geniuses powered by morning snack. Addition and subtraction are no challenge for this dynamic duo. Every day, between breakfast and lunch, the girls look forward to enjoying a healthy snack. Estrellia loves apples the most while Luz prefers kiwi. They are grateful to the Foodbank for these snacks, “Thank you for the good food. It helps us learn.”

Paul Revere Healthy Children's Pantry

Blanca’s Story | SF Survival

June 6, 2019

Monday mornings have a reputation for being kind of a drag.  Many of us rush around in an effort to get the work week – or school week – off to a good start, and things can sometimes get hectic.

Food Bank participant Blanca certainly does her fair share of rushing around, getting her kids off to three different schools in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood. But Monday has become a day she enjoys because after dropping off her daughter at Dolores Huerta Elementary School, Blanca heads straight for our weekly food pantry, located right on campus near the school’s playground.

“My oldest eats a lot – he’s 6 feet tall – so it’s hard to keep him happy and full,” Blanca says. “The other kids are big eaters too.  But we manage, partly because of the groceries we get here every week.”

Blanca is a stay-at-home mom for now.  Her husband is a painter and makes what she describes as a decent wage – but not necessarily enough to get by in San Francisco. Some months are harder than others, but Blanca’s family always seems to get by with a little help from the Food Bank.

“Oh my goodness!  It’s not even a joke how hard it is to survive in this city right now,” she exclaims. “There is enough food here every week to provide several days worth of meals, allowing us to save our money to pay for other things that are important, like clothes and medicine.”

As Blanca walks through the pantry, she finds several items that she likes and puts them in her bag.  As she holds up a package of fresh asparagus, she explains, “We bake this in the oven so they stay crunchy. We also really like the potatoes; we turn those into baked potatoes and fried potatoes.”

Blanca is certain that her family, and many more in the neighborhood, would suffer greatly if it weren’t for the Monday morning pantry offerings.  “Thank you for helping all low-income families in this neighborhood and this city…it really does make a difference.”

 

Ana’s Story | For The Children

February 21, 2019

The early morning sun was just starting to shine through the windows of the multipurpose room at Daniel Webster Elementary School in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, but that couldn’t hide the smile on Ana’s face. The mother of two was picking up groceries at the Food Bank’s weekly Healthy Children Pantry at her daughter’s school when she came upon something she didn’t quite expect.

“Take a look at this honey – there’s fish today!” she said to her youngest daughter, 4-year-old Genesis. “Yes, fish! Bring it on!”

Ana has been coming to the pantry at Daniel Webster since her 7-year-old older Xochitl was in kindergarten – not out of choice, but out of necessity. “Especially living in a place like San Francisco with high rent, sometimes it’s like ‘if we pay rent we don’t eat’ … and unfortunately, that shouldn’t be that way. But that’s how things are right now.”

WORKING LONG HOURS

Not being able to get ahead isn’t for a lack of trying.  Ana’s husband puts in long hours as a construction worker. She’s working hard too, volunteering at the school in the mornings before heading off to her full-time nonprofit job, then returning to school to get her girls. She spends many evenings volunteering with the school’s PTA and ELAC – English Learners Advisory Committee.  “I do it all because I don’t care about just my children, but all children in the school and the district,” Ana says.

SAVING FOR KIDS’ EDUCATION

She hopes for a day when rents aren’t so high in the city, allowing all families to thrive.  Until then, she’s glad for the little things, like finding fresh fish at our Healthy Children Pantry and fresh fruits that make her young daughters smile when they bite into them.  To her, it’s about making sure her kids live a better life than hers.

“This pantry helps us save money, especially with the housing crisis. I mean look at this milk,” she says, pointing to the gallon she’ll take home today. “It would probably cost $6, and the fish would probably cost about $20.  We know this all adds up every month to big savings that I hope I can use for a healthier future for my kids.”

Morning Snack Program Reaches Far in West Marin

December 26, 2018

When the Food Bank truck pulls up to Tomales Elementary School in western Marin County each week, a group of 7th and 8th graders help the principal, Amanda Mattea, distribute food to all the classrooms. It’s part of the Food Bank’s Morning Snack Program which serves nearly 4,700 wholesome snacks to 20 schools throughout San Francisco and Marin each day — foods such as fresh fruit, carrots, and string cheese, giving kids the fuel they need to learn.

Additionally, the Food Bank’s Healthy Children Pantries provide low-income parents with fresh produce, lean proteins, and pantry staples to prepare nutritious meals at home. These pantries are conveniently located in public schools, giving parents easy access to nutritious food as they drop off or pick up their children.

With these two programs, the Food Bank is making a dent in childhood hunger. Hungry children are often tired, have trouble concentrating, and are likely to fall behind in class. They tend to have weaker immune systems, putting them at greater risk of illness. And studies show that kids who grow up hungry or malnourished are not as well prepared for success.

Healthy Snacks Spur Conversations about Healthy Eating

Educators see a big difference when students have enough to eat. “Children’s basic needs must be met before we can even talk about learning,” says Principal Mattea. “Your body needs to be taken care of, and you need nutritious food to eat.”

For the Tomales Elementary children, their bus ride home can take as long as an hour in this rural area of west Marin. So instead of being distributed as a morning snack, Tomales Elementary School distributes snacks from the Food Bank in the afternoon so kids can stay full on their long bus rides home.

Having a filling snack tides them over until dinner so they can do homework and play. “Our kids’ favorite snack is fruit,” says Principal Mattea. “The other day, they were very excited to get oranges, and we talked about all the ways to eat an orange, from orange juice, to fruit salad. It spurred some great conversation about different kinds of snacks and healthy eating.”

Princess’ Story | Healthy Food Helps Bond This Family Together

March 28, 2018

As a parent, Princess can think of nothing more important than giving her kids a healthy future, despite challenges her family faces every day as they struggle to make ends meet. We met Princess recently at the Food Bank’s Healthy Children pantry at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood.  It’s here where this dark-haired woman with the radiant smile shared her story of struggle, and how the Food Bank helped her family move forward.

Out of love and also out of need, Princess shares clothing with her wife, Dina, an army veteran who suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and a host of other physical injuries after multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her mental and physical challenges, while improving, have taken a toll on the family.

“There is very little income to speak of…we’re depending on V.A. affordable housing as well as the Food Bank to get by,” said Princess. She recounts the time, not too long ago, when the family was homeless and moving from shelter to shelter, sometimes spending nights in their car when shelter beds were full. Princess would hide her pain and tell their kids, “It’s like camping. We are going to have fun.”

While the family was grateful for shelter, Princess said the meals served at temporary housing facilities were often small and not very nutritious. Princess and Dina worried that their three young children weren’t getting the food they needed to grow and thrive.

That changed when one of Princess’ kids told her about the food pantry at school. She was delighted to discover she could get free, fresh vegetables and groceries every Thursday morning when she took the kids to school.

“It was a relief to be able to get good, healthy food for the kids,” said Princess. “The doctor said they need fruits and vegetables for their bodies, and now I can give that to them.”

Dina says the food “is a big part of family bonding and that’s a part of the equation of why our family works.”

Soon after joining the food pantry, Princess and Dina’s gained confidence to move forward. With perseverance and a little luck, they secured an affordable apartment on Treasure Island through the Veteran’s Administration. In their new home, Princess can cook for her family. With groceries from the Food Bank, she prepares home-cooked meals including a family favorite – steamed vegetables with rice and chicken.

Now the family is able to focus on the future.  Dina has gone back to school, while Princess cares for their children and runs the household.  They are hopeful that they will tackle their many struggles so their family can thrive in the long run. “The nutrition helps a lot,” said Dina.  “When your belly is full, you can better manage the troubles in life.  This food is helping to keep my family together.”

Princess and Dina are so grateful to the Food Bank donors. “We hope they never tire of giving because they are really making a difference for families in need,” said Dina. “It’s more than putting food in kids’ bellies. Instead of paying for food, we can pay the bills, like rent, and clothes, and medical expenses. It’s really a big help to families like ours. Thank you so much for making such a big difference in our lives.”

If you would like to help families like Princess and Dina’s, please consider making a donation today.

David’s Story | Security Alert

January 22, 2018

As a security guard in San Francisco, David’s job is to protect life and property.  It’s somewhat ironic that at home, he and his family face another serious threat: hunger.

“My salary is decent,” said the 62-year-old father of three. “But with kids and living in this city, where it’s so expensive, I’m finding more and more that it’s simply not enough.”

High Cost of Living

David’s story is one told all too often in this city.  A recent report from the California Budget and Policy Center finds that San Francisco tops the list of most expensive counties in California when trying to support a family.  For example, a family of four, with two working parents, needs to earn about $111,000 a year to simply cover the basics of rent, food, healthcare, transportation, child care and taxes. Marin County ranks second at $110,000 a year.  Both figures far outweigh what David is taking home in his paycheck.

“My wife is unable to work right now, so it’s up to me to support her and the kids,” he says.  Two of those kids are high school boys. The third is David’s 13-year-old 8th grade daughter, Shreena, who attends James Denman Middle School in the city’s Balboa Park neighborhood. It’s here where he and his family find a little bit of relief. For the past several months, they have been accessing the Health Children’s pantry on campus, picking up a bag filled with fresh produce, protein, and staple grains every week.

David is most impressed with all the fresh produce they are able to get at the pantry. “The kids love all the fruit – the apples, pears, and oranges. I like the fresh vegetables,” he says excitedly. “The best part is that some of the food lasts for several days. Some of the items, like the chicken, I’m able to freeze when I get home and cook it a couple of days later.

A Better Community

In the end, David figures the Food Bank is saving him and his family a couple hundred dollars a month.  With teenagers who are constantly growing out of clothes and shoes, that money seems to disappear quite regularly. Still, it’s a comfort for him knowing that every Thursday afternoon he’ll be able to get a grocery bag filled with healthy food if he needs it.

“Some people say that it’s a waste of time to help the people of this city who can’t afford to feed themselves. I say that’s not right,” David says. “We are all making this community better in our own way, and it’s important to protect that.”

Healthy Children | Monday is Pantry Day

July 28, 2017

Later this month, it’s back to school for thousands of children all over the Bay Area.  A great many will likely groan when they hear the “Brapp! Brapp! Brapp!” of the alarm clock, but 9-year-old Za’niya is quite the opposite.  The incoming fourth grader at John Muir Elementary School in San Francisco actually looks forward to getting up early – especially on Mondays.  You see, Monday is pantry day at her school.  It’s when Za’Niya rises at 6am and helps her Great Aunt Jeanette, and her two cousins, Jayden and Jamire, set up the Healthy Children Pantry in the school’s cafeteria. Serving about 50 families every week, John Muir is one of 46 schools in San Francisco and Marin that partner with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to host pantries for students and families throughout the school year.

“Six o’clock is kinda early, but it’s okay because I know we’re helping out a lot of people who don’t have enough food at home to eat,” says Za’Niya, as she maneuvers a box of produce on a table in the school’s multi-purpose room.

Za’Niya is partial to the apples that find their way to the pantry: “They’re sweet and I really like it.  I put them in my backpack or my jacket pocket and eat it at recess.”

Jeanette has volunteered as the pantry coordinator for a few years, motivated by the need she sees among the families who attend John Muir. Almost 90 percent of the students are eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Now that she’s retired, Jeanette finds it increasingly difficult to stretch her budget to cover living expenses. “It used to be that I would pass on taking food from the pantry. I would leave it for other families because I felt like they needed it more,” she says. “But now, I’m finding that my own Social Security checks aren’t covering all the bills. My family is also struggling, so I take a box of food from the pantry too – some for me, but mostly to make sure Za’Niya and her cousins have good food to eat at home.”

For busy families, accessing fresh, healthy food right on campus, just before the bell rings on Monday mornings, is a great help.

Ryan Lawler, Kindergarten teacher says, “It’s hard for a lot of our families; some work two or three jobs. They’re trying to get their kids ready in the morning, to get them on the bus, to get them here to school on time. So with the pantry right here at school, our parents have a convenient, reliable source of food to sustain their families all week long.”

Last year, about 4,000 families were served by Healthy Children Pantries like the one at John Muir Elementary. These farmers’ market-style pantries provide low-income parents with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein such as chicken or eggs, and pantry staples like rice and beans.

Please give today to help parents provide their children with the food they need to stay healthy and thrive.