Hunger Action Day 2024

May 16, 2024

On April 30, our Policy and Advocacy team gathered in-person with the California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC) in Sacramento to raise their voices for Hunger Action Day! Hunger Action Day is the single largest anti-hunger advocacy day in California, bringing advocates from across the state to the State Capitol to speak face-to-face with our policymakers. 

Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy Marchon, Community Organizer Alex, and Community Builder Jesus all traveled to Sacramento to represent the Food Bank. After an energetic pep rally outside of the Capitol, where we saw neighbors from partner organizations like Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) representing their communities, advocates got down to business.  

Key Demands 

This year, we lobbied in coalition for some key funding requests:

  • Increased CalFresh benefits for Californians 
  • Continued funding for Market Match, which gives CalFresh recipients $10-$15 extra dollars at farmer’s markets 
  • $60 million for food banks to purchase California-grown produce and pantry staples 
  • Increasing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to keep pace with the cost of living 
  • …and many others! 

Together other CHAC members, Marchon, Alex and Jesus shared directly with our elected officials how dwindling government support is affecting our neighbors already struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area and stretching food bank resources thin – emphasizing the need to double down on and invest in proven anti-hunger solutions like CalFresh.  

Staff Takeaways  

Reflecting on a jam-packed day of collaboration, Food Bank staff came away feeling energized to continue pushing for impactful, equitable policy. 

On being able to build community with other advocates, Jesus shared: “We’re able to see how interconnected all our efforts are and advocate for CalFresh, Food for All and increased funding for food banks. All of our collective efforts have an impact on our communities.” 

“It was amazing to hear everyone’s stories, and the way that they are affected and connected to the policies,” Alex added, speaking to neighbors who showed up to drive home the personal aspect of these policy and funding asks. “I hope that people feel empowered to vote positively for these measures, and that legislators are empowered by our stories.” 

One such neighbor was Ms. Liu, who showed up to advocate for fully funding Market Match – a program that helps match CalFresh shoppers’ dollars at farmer’s markets, giving an extra $10-$15 to spend on farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Personal Stories, Passionate Advocates 

Ms. Liu is a San Francisco resident, Home-Delivered Groceries participant, and an active member of TNDC’s Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association.  

She spoke passionately about Market Match’s impact on her family, telling staff of our elected officials: “My husband and I are both chronically ill, and it’s vital that we have access to fresh produce. With the closures of many Tenderloin corner stores, we highly depend on the benefits of the Market Match for fresh food within our means.” 

Since the end of CalFresh emergency allotments, Ms. Liu’s health has declined – but even that couldn’t stop her from traveling to the Capitol to advocate for better CalFresh benefits.

“I showed up today because it is imperative that they see that we are the people who are struggling,” Ms. Liu told us, gesturing to her friends and neighbors who also came to advocate. “We are elders, and many of us are chronically ill with mobility issues. We need more sustainable resources that work for us.” 

Moving the Needle on Hunger 

Thank you to all the advocates, including Ms. Liu, who spoke truth to power about the resources and support our communities need. Everyone has a right to nourishment and the ability to thrive – and our Policy and Advocacy team will continue pushing for equitable policies that uplift and support our neighbors while addressing the root causes of hunger. 

In Marchon’s words: “Can’t wait to see what we continue to do to move the needle forward!” 

 

Volunteering: An Unexpected Gift

December 22, 2023

If you asked Nick his driving motivation to home-deliver groceries to neighbors during the pandemic, he simply felt it was the right thing to do: “I feel very strongly that people should not go hungry. I think that of all the things that humans confront, hunger is the worst. So, I just wanted to help make food available.” What he couldn’t have expected was to come away from his volunteering experience at the Food Bank with some new home décor — but more on that later. 

From New Neighborhoods to Familiar Faces 

After working in the warehouse and at different Food Bank pantries during the early pandemic, Nick signed up to home-deliver groceries to seniors, families with young children, folks with disabilities and other neighbors who weren’t able to make it to a traditional pantry but still needed food. His shift took him all throughout the city — including neighborhoods that he, after many years of living in San Francisco, had never been to before.  

Then, he got an email from the Food Bank, inviting volunteers to “adopt a building,” or deliver to the same building and neighbors each week. 

“That’s how I got into home-delivering groceries at an apartment complex in Japantown. And it’s been extremely fulfilling. I enjoy seeing the same people again and again. They have a true multinational force in that building, so it’s a huge variety of people,” Nick shared.  

Communicating Through Food 

“I’ve had all kinds of food given to me because people just want to acknowledge me bringing food to them,” Nick told us, highlighting how despite communication barriers, both volunteers and participants find a way to share their mutual care and respect. Though Nick is the one dropping off groceries, including 70% fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry staples like rice, and proteins like eggs and chicken, many neighbors reciprocate in their own way. 

“There’s one unit with an elderly couple, and the woman is a baker. She makes these palmiers that are so good! And then for example, this week, one person gave me a bag of raisins and date pieces.” Who knew volunteering could be such a sweet gig? 

A Heartfelt Gift 

But of all the moments he’s shared with other neighbors, one memory with John and Yihung, an older couple on his delivery route, sticks out for Nick above the rest. 

“John asked me one time how old I am [75]. I told him, and he just was blown away. He wound up making me a scroll, which is in English and in Chinese characters. It’s just incredible that he took this effort to prepare that scroll, as a way of saying thank you. I almost choke up thinking about it,” Nick shared.  

The hand calligraphy of the beautifully ornate scroll reads: Mr. Nick: Seeing you at this age, you still working hard to serve our elderly. I can’t help but say: the world would be more beautiful if there were more people like you! 

In Nick’s words: “It’s really a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” 

Just the Delivery Boy? 

Nick was immensely touched by John and Yihung’s gesture and hangs the scroll in his home to this day. But he was quick to point out that it takes a whole community of people to make delivering groceries possible, week in and week out. 

“I am humbled by all the effort behind me, by all the people at the Food Bank who make this happen. That’s the extraordinary part of this. The people who are out there on the curb in all kinds of weather, loading groceries into people’s cars, people who are working in the warehouse day after day, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I’m just the delivery boy.” 

Nick’s right: transformative change takes collective action. But that’s exactly why the hard work of volunteers or “delivery boys” like Nick is so critical to ensure that fresh groceries can reach neighbors across San Francisco and Marin. Thousands of families, including John and Yihung, depend on home-delivered groceries to put food on the table and keep up with the ever-high cost of groceries, rent, medical bills, gas and more.  

We can’t promise you a handmade scroll of appreciation. But here’s what volunteering WILL deliver: greater connection with your community, a critical service for our neighbors, and an opportunity to help provide Food For All. Join Nick and sign up to “adopt” a route – fill out this form of interest to get more details.   

Technology That Makes an Impact: Q&A With Cruise

September 19, 2023

Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG) is one of the flagship services our Food Bank offers, serving thousands of participants every week. HDG fills critical gaps in the food assistance landscape: it means that people who find it difficult or impossible to attend food pantries, like seniors or adults with disabilities, can still receive the fresh, nutritious groceries they need. “The produce is just wonderful,” shared Violet, a resident of the Richmond district and HDG participant. “It’s hard for me to lug vegetables home – they’re heavy, you know? And I don’t want to be a burden on my sons and their families.”

But HDG wasn’t always as robust as it is now. Thanks to partners like Cruise, we were able to quickly scale the service when shelter-in-place began in 2020. Their commitment to serving the community is moving us closer to providing food for all. We sat down with Cruise to hear more about our partnership.

Food Bank (FB): When and how did the partnership with the Food Bank come about?

Cruise: When the pandemic hit in early 2020, food insecurity skyrocketed across San Francisco. The number of people who needed support from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank nearly doubled.

At Cruise, we started by simply asking how we could help. After talking with the Food Bank’s leadership, we committed part of our all-electric fleet of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to quickly scale the HDG program and aid in delivering groceries to those in need. What initially started as a crisis response program in 2020 has grown into a long-term community partnership – to date, we’ve delivered millions of meals with our AVs – and more than three years later, we’re honored to continue delivering these meals six days a week.

 

FB: What benefit have you seen to giving back to the community in this way?

Cruise: Our Cruise for Good partnerships have provided benefits for our community and our company. We’ve delivered over 2.5 million meals to local residents in need, particularly in underserved areas. We’re proud to directly be partnering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in a robust way – our teams work together on a daily basis to ensure we’re utilizing the best of our technology to meet a community need in bringing nutritious food to people in a way that fosters equity and dignity.

We’ve also learned through this process. Community partnerships have allowed us to tangibly see how our technology can be harnessed to directly meet the needs of our neighbors – and as a result, these partnerships have been a significant source of employee pride as well as provided operational learnings for our business.

 

FB: Cruise took the 1% Pledge, did your partnership with the Food Bank influence that decision in any way?

Cruise: Absolutely! Serving our communities is core to our mission, but it was this partnership that started in the pandemic that was pivotal for us in realizing our potential to meet urgent challenges in our community even while we were pre-commercial.

While this began organically, it is now core to how we operate. Cruise for Good is a formal program anchored by our Pledge 1% commitment to dedicate at least 1% of our fleet to serving the needs of our local communities.

 

FB: Cruise isn’t just working with the Food Bank, are there other ways you are engaging with the community?

Cruise: The hunger crisis also sits at the intersection of a climate crisis, with over 30 million Americans facing food insecurity, while food waste reaches record highs. Recently, we partnered with food rescue nonprofit, Replate, to launch a first-of-its-kind driverless, all-electric food rescue initiative to combat food insecurity, food waste, and climate change. Cruise’s AVs now deliver recovered meals from local restaurants and business to nonprofits serving those experiencing food insecurity.

In addition, millions of Americans don’t have access to reliable transportation, which in turn creates barriers to economic mobility. That’s why we extended our partnership with nonprofit SF New Deal to provide free rides to late-shift service workers here in San Francisco. In the first few months of this ridehail partnership, Cruise has provided hospitality workers with thousands of rides to workers who often have limited safe or affordable ways to get to and from work.

 

FB: September is Hunger Action Month, a time for people to step up to take tangible action to end Hunger. How would you encourage other companies to take action?

Cruise: Hunger Action Month is an important reminder: it’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger.At Cruise, social impact is in our DNA and embedded in our mission to build more sustainable, equitable, and accessible communities – so it’s natural that our employees have shown genuine enthusiasm for this partnership and many teams across Cruise have volunteered and even led fundraising campaigns for the Food Bank. Volunteering with San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is a simple but effective way for individuals to take action to combat food insecurity. We’d also love to see other companies at One Big Table, where we’ll come together as a community to fundraise to end hunger.

We encourage companies of all sizes to leverage their resources (employee time and talent, in-kind and financial donations) to support critical organizations like San Francisco-Marin Food Bank – and consider joining Pledge 1% to institutionalize these commitments.

A Familiar Face

August 24, 2023

Ring twice. Leave it at the door if there’s a note. Knock once, but loudly, he’s hard of hearing. She’ll get the door; it just takes her a while to get up.

By now, Home-Delivered Groceries volunteer Gideon has these quirks down pat. A freelance journalist by trade, he had just started remote work when the pandemic hit. Three weeks into lockdown, his friend posted on Facebook about a volunteering opportunity with the Food Bank, delivering groceries to homebound neighbors. Gideon was in: “There are things you miss doing, being work from home the whole time. This kind of fills in some of those gaps,” he told us.

Volunteering: A Social Exercise

Gideon loads grocery bags into his car for delivery.

After trying different routes, Gideon eventually chose to “Adopt a Building” or make regular deliveries to the same apartment complex each week. For three years, Gideon’s Saturday mornings have looked very similar: roll up to the Food Bank warehouse, pack his sedan with 20 grocery bags, knock on his neighbors’ doors, and deliver fresh produce, proteins, and grains from the Food Bank wagon in tow.

It’s at this apartment complex where he first met Victoria, who we met in the previous story, along with 19 other neighbors he’s come to know in the years since. For Gideon, volunteering is equal parts exercise – “a trainer once told me the best workouts are the ones that are repeatable!” – and socializing. At one apartment, he goes in to chat with a 94-year-old woman and her daughter offers him a taste-test of the noodles they’re cooking. At another, he shares that they gifted him caramel popcorn after the Warriors were in the finals last year. Even in these passing interactions, it’s clear how food and care go hand in hand.

Showing Up, Every Week

Gideon waves hello to one of the participants along his route.

“It creates a sense of membership,” Gideon said of delivering groceries each week. “You know you’re part of a community, and seeing familiar faces, there’s a type of connection. It’s made [this time] a lot less grim and lonely, without a doubt.”

As we head to make the last delivery of the day – Victoria’s apartment – Gideon shares he’s excited to sit in on the interview and learn more about her life. With 20 deliveries to make, it’s not every day he gets to sit down for a conversation with one of his neighbors. “I look forward to this,” he told us. “I have a stressful job where I don’t interact with people, and volunteering is kind of the opposite. We don’t really have that much time to talk to any [neighbors] individually, but we want to be there for them. We want to show up.”

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

Be Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy Life

August 24, 2023

As a retired nurse and home health aide of 25 years, Victoria knows the importance of staying active and eating healthy. In early 2020, she “started going to the YMCA – they have a lot of activities for seniors. There’s bingo, exercise [classes], and every Tuesday they give us food,” she told us at her apartment in the Mission, where she’s lived alone for the past 10 years.

When the pandemic hit, everything at the YMCA shut down – along with the food pantry across the street where Victoria would pick up groceries each week. “I can stand for a couple of minutes, but if the food I get is too heavy, it’s hard for me to get to my apartment,” she shared. “So, when the program was changed, and they delivered it, I was very happy.”

Home-Delivery Makes a Difference

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

That new program was Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG), which was greatly expanded by the Food Bank during the pandemic when many neighbors like Victoria were homebound and hundreds of neighborhood food pantries were closed. Once a week, HDG participants get a knock at

their door, and a bag full of leafy greens, seasonal fruits, proteins, and grains are delivered to their doorstep with a smile.

“That’s why I’ve known Gideon for a long time. He always comes and delivers the food every Saturday, which I appreciate so much,” Victoria shared with us, gesturing to Gideon, her regular HDG volunteer of three years. “He’s working every weekend – we should give him some award, signed by the governor,” she proposed, earning a laugh and a “I’ll take it!” from Gideon.

Convenient, Consistent Food Access

Gideon lifts a bag of home-delivered groceries.

Victoria is very health conscious, especially since getting diagnosed with glaucoma. With ingredients from HDG, she can make the nutritious meals that help ward away what she calls the “three brothers and sisters” that visit you as you get older: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

“I have to watch my diet sometimes. [The Food Bank] gives mostly everything – bell pepper now, mushroom, ground beef, turkey, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges… so, mostly the food that [I] eat every day. I’ll use that in a stir fry, or sometimes I make sinigang, sisig, adobo, or lumpia shanghai. I enjoy it.”

Convenient, consistent access to healthy food helps take a huge stressor off Victoria’s plate, especially as a retiree on a fixed budget. Her income of $850 per month from Supplemental Security Income has to stretch to pay for her utilities, rent, and various medications and medical bills – a nearly impossible task in San Francisco. “Because of [my] age, I cannot go back to work. This is what I get. And the prices of commodities are going up. With the help of the Food Bank, at least I have something to eat.”

Until Next Saturday!

In the coming months, Victoria is focused on attending checkups for her glaucoma, and looking into attending a friend’s Episcopalian church community – she says the bingo is a big draw. And, of course, she’ll be looking forward to Saturdays, both for her grocery delivery and chatting with Gideon. After showing us the bounty in her bag and contemplating what she’ll make for dinner – “maybe some omelet” – she leaves us with a few parting words that Gideon’s already familiar with.

“When I see him, I say, ‘I cannot repay you for all these sacrifices that you are giving to us.’ So I say, ‘Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy life.’ That’s the thing I tell [him] every Saturday he comes and delivers my food.”

Victoria shows off her grocery haul.

Meals on Wheels, Supply Chain Challenges, and Home-Delivered Groceries

February 9, 2022

It was 6am on a chilly Wednesday morning. Most people are still asleep in their beds at this hour, but in the parking lot of Meals on Wheels’ San Francisco headquarters in Bayview, the day had already begun. We came to tell the story of one of their main programs, a weekly sendoff of home-delivered groceries to participants across the city. Not only did we learn a lot about Meals on Wheels and the incredible work they do in San Francisco, but we also came away with an understanding of how the supply chain challenges that affected the Food Bank also impacted our partners.

As the black of morning slowly lightened to gray, about a dozen volunteers trickled in and gathered around a table to grab coffee and donuts before their shift. A Food Bank refrigerated truck slowly backed into the parking lot, and with a little direction from a woman in a Meals on Wheels fleece, the volunteers started dragging a few tables out of the warehouse and into the parking lot to form two assembly lines. Soon, pallets of carrots, onions, asparagus, and rice made their way to the assembly lines.

The last pallet unloaded off the truck had a surprise delivery of frozen high-grade fish. When we approached the woman directing the volunteers, she introduced herself as Stephanie Galinson, Volunteer Programs Manager at Meals on Wheels SF. “We pretty much know there’s going to be onions, apples, and carrots all winter long and we’re used to that,” she told me. But in the last two years, there’s been a lot of changes to what type of food we receive for our clients. “At the beginning of COVID, I guess the Food Bank had a sudden spurt of donations from restaurants that had to close down. So, we received some crazy wonderful stuff – the Food Bank called us one day and said, ‘Guess what you’re getting? Wagyu steaks.’ We said, ‘You’re joking, right?’ That Wednesday we carefully bagged up the gourmet steaks,” she laughed.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes for Home Delivered-Groceries and More

The pandemic threw Food Banking into chaos as we scrambled to find innovative solutions to unusual problems. But nearly two years in, we’re able to get enough context on how COVID impacts programs like home-delivered groceries that we can make some generalizations about how our work will be affected in the short-term future. The same goes for our partners like Meals on Wheels, who are starting to expect the unexpected. “We get unusual stuff – we’re getting more non-animal proteins, which is great. For example, we’ll get plant-based tuna substitute, or a lentil and rice package meal. We even had Impossible Burgers a couple weeks ago. The volunteers are excited about the increased variety, and it’s always interesting to get feedback from clients and learn whether they enjoy the new items. Some folks are excited to see something that’s not chicken or eggs, because it’s something different.”

Partners like Meals on Wheels, as well as our own food pantries, have seen such a change in the type of food they distribute for a few reasons. During the early days of COVID-19, we saw a spike in the number and type of donations we received. Our community has been incredibly generous during these hard times, whether it be through monetary donations that let us turn $1 into two meals or through the giving of food. In the first few months of the pandemic, we even saw some donated caviar pass through our warehouse on its way to participants.

But as the months of COVID have turned to years, we’re starting to see the effects of long-term disruption to industry, especially the global supply chain. “We’ve worked hard to overcome the barriers caused by supply chain challenges to meet the increased need for food assistance since the pandemic, but it puts tremendous strain on our financial resources,” Barbara Abbott, our Food Bank’s Vice President of Supply Chain, told me. Writ large, this means that we have to pay a lot more money for the food our neighbors need.

Not only are the Food Bank and our participants spending more money on food, but much of the available product is being bought out first by retailers. We’ve had to buy food from unusual places to replace what we lost due to cancelled or delayed shipments, like the frozen fish and Impossible Meat that partners like Meals on Wheels receive from us instead of the more typical seasonal food. The same goes for fruits and vegetables. Stephanie at Meals on Wheels, as well as many other partners, are seeing less-common produce like asparagus and pears replace the now harder-to-find regulars of onions, apples, carrots, and more for their home-delivered groceries.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Just as we’ve had to change the way we work at the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels had to transform their program to adjust to the realities of COVID-19. But the impact our food pantry programs have on the community is still as important as ever.

Volunteer Meals on Wheels driver Michael picks up some bags of home-delivered groceries for his rounds.

“I have a fixed route in the Tenderloin,” a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver named Michael told us while loading packed grocery bags into his car. “I bring the groceries to my clients, and we look forward to seeing each other. It’s much more than just the food delivery – it’s talking with my clients, and respecting them, and empathizing with them.”

It takes a community to meet the challenges posed by food insecurity, COVID-19, and supply chain uncertainty. The Food Bank is committed to supporting Meals on Wheels and other partners by supplying fresh, nutritious food for home-delivered groceries, and volunteers like Michael are with us every step of the way. “My clients can always depend on me on a Wednesday morning, to come with a bag of groceries and a good word,” he said.

Booker T. Washington Community Center Transforms for Good

January 26, 2022

You notice Booker T. Washington Community Center as soon as you round the corner of Presidio Avenue near the Fillmore – amongst the classical Victorian architecture of San Francisco, Booker T. is a modern structure of sleek steel and glass. Its left side stands a little taller than its right to accommodate the community center’s fifty Affordable Housing Units, and a pop of cheerful poppy-red marks the entrance to the building.

Booker T. serves the Fillmore and Western Addition neighborhoods in many critical ways. Among those fifty Affordable Housing Units are twenty-four apartments specifically designated for youth transitioning out of foster care, and the community center is also home to after-school programs for kids, classes for families, COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, services for seniors, and a food pantry program that the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank helps supply.

Pandemic Response

COVID-19 has changed not only how the Food Bank operates, but also how our partners like Booker T. Washington distribute food to their communities. “Our food pantry program, we’ve been doing it for a while,” said Ryan Babbitt, Director of Programs at Booker T. Prior to the pandemic, their pantry operated very differently. “We had it in person – we had it more personal.”

When shelter-in-place was instituted, Booker T. had to transform their food pantry program. Shutting down during the pandemic or only offering in-person service would have severely impacted the seniors that depend on their services. Seniors make up a significant portion of participants at the Food Bank and our partner pantries. That’s a trend we see at the state and national level, too – in 2019, 12% of seniors in California are food insecure. What’s equally concerning is that 63% of those hungry seniors have had to make the choice between paying for food and paying for their medications. according to a study by Feeding America. These statistics are from 2019, before COVID reared its head.

We don’t have data on senior hunger in the time of the coronavirus yet, but a look at how the virus changed daily life gives some clues. Those over 65 are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, which made going to a neighborhood food pantry a very risky option. That’s why Booker T. adapted their program. With help from the Food Bank and Project Open Hand, another food security nonprofit in San Francisco, seniors and other homebound neighbors in Western Addition and the Fillmore have access to either home-delivered groceries or a healthy frozen meal every day of the week.

“You receive food, and you also help out. It’s amazing,” confirmed an elderly participant/volunteer at Booker T. named Phillip.

Looking Forward

Though new coronavirus variants have complicated the reopening many of us hoped for in the summer of 2021 – and seniors have remained cautious about coming to the Booker T. pantry – vaccines and routine masking mean that a few seniors have begun to trickle back through the community center’s doors. “We had one elderly lady come in yesterday. Her name is Ms. Blanchard, and she’s been a staple at Booker T. for over 30 years. And yesterday was the first time we’ve seen her and got to give her a hug, you know?” one staffer said with a smile. “She runs our bingo programs too. She’s so important to the neighborhood.”

Partner Spotlight: Q&A With The Richmond Neighborhood Center

June 18, 2020

With three neighborhood food pantries serving more than 800 Richmond District residents each week, a home delivered grocery program that reaches 150 seniors, and a CalFresh application assistance program, The Richmond Neighborhood Center is one of our largest Community Partners.

Before COVID-19, The Richmond Neighborhood Center created a thriving community around its food programs. Pantry volunteer shifts created an atmosphere similar to a family gathering. Even among the participants, weekly pantries were a place to gather and catch up with one another. And with Home Delivered Groceries, the volunteers and seniors were paired individually to have a chance to get to know each other and build a long-term relationship.

COVID-19 changed all of that. While The Richmond Neighborhood Center remained open and continues to serve their community, they had to shift the way they operate. We caught up with Program Manager Yves Xavier, to hear more about how things are going now.

(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.)

Food Bank: How have the last few months been for The Richmond Neighborhood Center?

Yves Xavier: They’ve been going well. The first three weeks of the shelter in place ordinance were pretty zany for lots of reasons. I think we were all a little nervous for our own health. We had to quickly redesign our programs to meet these constantly changing guidelines. Every day it seemed like there was either a new guideline or fear of what this pandemic could bring. So, those first three weeks were tough, but we adjusted and reshaped all our programs.

Specifically, for the pantry, we made quick changes that we wish we didn’t have to make but certainly were better for health. For example, one of the coolest pantry experiences, or at least what we really love about our pantry, is that people from the neighborhood gather together. You make friends or you come over with your friends to sit and talk and wait for your group to line up. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we had to get rid of all of that.

FB: How is volunteer recruitment?

YX: It was a really cool, unexpected shift – for both home delivered groceries and the pantry, we lost probably half of our regular volunteers. But within a day or two, we had a huge influx of new people from the neighborhood. So, our volunteer corps has been strong since the pandemic began. There just seems to be an outpouring of people who want to help, even though there was a large loss at the same time.

FB: One of your pantries was at George Peabody Elementary. Do you still have access to the school?

YX: Unfortunately, no. We don’t have access to the school, so we moved our pantry operations to The Neighborhood Center. We still run three pantries, but we saw a decrease in participation from participants who lived in the Inner Richmond for lots of reasons – including the fear of getting on a bus, buses not running etc. – who couldn’t make it out to our 30th Avenue Outer Richmond headquarters to get their food. But the Food Bank has helped us deliver to many of them through Pantry at Home.

We’ve also been slowly recruiting volunteers to take over those deliveries. We’re up to making 105 deliveries on our own and we’re hoping to take over all the deliveries to free your staff up to serve more people in the city who need it.

FB: Are you serving more people now?  

YX: We’ve definitely seen an increase in participants, but it was similar to the way that the volunteer corps worked. There were some folks in our pantries who stopped attending. And then we also saw an influx of new people. We didn’t talk to everyone about the reasons for coming, but we took a general poll of those in line and heard from many new people who lost jobs their recently.

FB: Aside from the pantries, how has the rest of your programming been going?

YX: Our grocery delivery programs that we do in partnership with the Food Bank and the Richmond Senior Center have carried on. We took about 25 people off our waitlist and served them. It stretches us a bit thin, but it is doable. So that program hasn’t been impacted in a negative way.

But changes had to be made. One of the things that made our home delivery so unique is we did a one to one volunteer match – one volunteer goes to one senior and it’s the same senior and the same volunteer each week. We have seen really cool relationships grow out of that where people get connected and just go over for other things like helping their senior change light bulbs, shop for them, or take them to a doctor’s appointment. There are endless stories like that. But COVID-19 has made people get creative in the way they connect. We stopped asking volunteers to connect in person. Instead, we’re asking people leave bags in front of doors, ring the doorbell, stand six feet away, and wave.

That hasn’t felt great because that social connection is such an important piece of the program. But the bottom line is people are continuing to get their groceries every week. And that’s what we really wanted to make sure is continuing to happen. We’ve encouraged our volunteers to make calls to their seniors, or teach them how to use Zoom, or write emails and pen pal letters. So, folks have been creative, but it’s definitely been a change.

We also saw a huge increase in CalFresh application assistance – more than any other time in my five years working with the food programs at The Neighborhood Center. Now we are taking as many as six appointments a day, which is pretty significant.

FB: How are you planning to adapt programming as the city reopens? Do you anticipate new challenges?

YX: It’s a really good question. I can’t say we’ve thought about it as much as would probably be helpful, but that’s partly because we’re pretty much set on keeping things the way they are for the foreseeable future. Even as things start to reopen throughout the city, we’re not expecting to change much. We’re going to keep people lining up, disallowing congregating, ensuring that everyone is wearing masks, pre-packing bags for participants, etc., until phase four, when mass gatherings are allowed again by the city.

FB: That makes a lot of sense. Was there anything else that you wanted to share about how you’ve adapted to COVID-19?

YX: I’m just really impressed by everybody who helps make these partnerships happen. Our staff and volunteers have been incredible with all their flexibility and dedication. Same goes for the Food Bank staff. Gary, our point person for the pantry, is always professional and friendly. During a difficult time, he was great – always keeping us up to date, helping make sure that we had what we needed, and just overall supportive; as was Jillian who supported us with Home Delivered Groceries.

I’m also impressed with how everything shifted for everyone across the city who does these programs and how people can keep a positive attitude, keep the collaboration going, and work really hard to serve more people and get creative. It’s been really cool to see all that happen.

Partner Spotlight: Q&A with United Playaz

April 21, 2020

In the weeks since we first learned of the region-wide shelter in place order, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has rapidly adjusted the way we operate to meet the ever-increasing need in our community. Last week, we served 18K more households than we did four weeks ago, and this number is only growing. 

None of this would be possible without the support of countless Food Bank partners, donors, and community volunteers. 

We recently had the opportunity to see one of these dedicated partners, United Playaz, in action. Every week, United Playaz, a youth-led violence prevention organization, helps staff the pop-up food pantry at Bessie Carmichael Elementary school. Members of the group not only help pack up and distribute food at the pantry, but they proactively stepped up to deliver groceries to 100+ seniors in their community. These are all seniors 65 and over who used to pick up groceries at our weekly pantries. 

We spoke with United Playaz Executive Director, Rudy Corpuz Jr about the group’s support of the Food Bank. 

Food Bank: What is your role at this food pantry?  

Rudy Corpuz Jr.: We are here because this is our community, we were doing this before the crisis started. We want to make sure we play our part and help out in the community for the most vulnerable population and just provide some support and help to make sure everybody is eating. 

FB: Has it been hard to recruit your members during these times?  

RC: Absolutely not. You know we want to give back. Our motto is: It takes the hood to save the hood. It’s our way of giving back. We’ve got different community-based organizations that have come together in solidarity under one umbrella, with no pride, no ego, just to make sure we take care of the community and the people. 

And all walks of life, you know what I mean. We’ve got ex-convicts, we’ve got college students, we’ve got developers, we’ve got tech people, people who went to school, who didn’t go to school – everybody who wants to help out and put their life on the line for others. 

FB: Are you concerned about your health being out here during COVID-19?  

RC: Absolutely, of course, I am. I have kids. I want to make sure I’m safe, and my kids are safe, and my community is safe. But I know there is a bigger need. Somebody’s got to do it. And so, what better way…I don’t want to die, or even get sick…but what better way to put your life on the line for others in this way. 

FB; Can you tell me a little about how you’ve been helping get food delivered to those who can’t come to the pantry?  

RC: During this crisis, everybody knows that the most vulnerable population is the senior citizens. You have a lot of seniors in this neighborhood – South of Market District 6 – who live in their apartments and live in the hotels, the SROs, and they are scared to come out. So, what we do as service providers for the community is to find out what their need is and what they want. We go out there and ask them if they need groceries, which they do, and boom, we deliver it to them. 

FB: How are you in touch with these individuals?  

RC: In our community, there are already organizations that are working with seniors. We are youth-led and there are senior groups. So what I did, I brought us all together and said, “hey look here, we’re in this crisis together. You know, service providers that serve seniors, we serve kids, some people serve reentries, the Food Bank gives food, let’s all work together in solidarity to make sure we are hitting the most vulnerable population.” 

So, the senior organizations will tell us who needs what. We provide the muscle and the leg power and energy, and we go out and do it. 

It’s like a basketball team, everybody has to play their part on the basketball court. You have the center who is in the middle and gets the rebounds, you have the guards who bring the basketball up. And so, if everybody plays their part, we’re successful, we win. 

During this crisis, these are the times that you have to stand for something that is greater than you. What a greater way to work with the food bank who provides those services. We don’t do it, they do it. 

FB: But you are out here making it possible – being the arms and the legs.  

RC: But I think that’s what I’m saying. You guys are like bringing up the ball. We get the ball, we put it in the hoop. 

Food Bank partners and volunteers like United Playaz are making it possible for us to continue our mission. Sign up to volunteer here.