Finding Joy with Ms. Chang

February 28, 2024

As rain drizzled down on an early Saturday morning at Florence Fang Community Garden (FFCF), Ms. Chang finished loading up her cart with groceries and beckoned us over to view her most recent crop: a bountiful patch of cauliflower! Each plant boasted a still-growing cauliflower head, already larger than an outstretched hand.  

Ms. Chang is an eight-year volunteer and five-year food pantry participant at FFCF, a Food Bank partner and beautiful one-acre community center located in Bayview-Hunters Point. “It’s a really diverse space, with all kinds of people,” Ms. Chang told us. “I live in Hunters Point, so I walk here. My motivation to come out was that I’m retired, and now I have free time! This is an opportunity to find some joy, and it’s just really fun to socialize.”  

Return of the Food Pantry 

It’s not only social hour at the farm: Ms. Chang, along with around 15-20% of other farm volunteers, stops by FFCF’s Saturday morning food pantry before beginning her farm workday. Though it was forced to close because of pandemic precautions, the pantry reopened with the support of the Food Bank back in February of 2023.  

Now, FFCF provides pantry essentials and fresh produce each week to mainly Chinese elders. It’s a much-needed service, especially as high prices persist and safety net programs are rolled back – because neighbors like Ms. Chang and her eldest daughter, whom she lives with, are already feeling the impacts. 

Ms. Chang shared her experience: “I have CalFresh, it helps me with getting groceries. It was definitely easier during the pandemic with their extra funding [emergency allotments]. But it barely holds me over now. I cope by just not buying as much – I have retirement (SSI) too, so I’m not completely depleted. It does feel like not enough sometimes, though.” 

Saturday (Farm)er’s Market 

Neighborhood pantries like FFCF help fill the gap with fresh, healthy food for thousands of neighbors across San Francisco and Marin who are facing similar difficulties. On the Saturday we visited, volunteers laid out items like rice, bok choy, beets, carrots and celery farmer’s market-style, so each participant could take or decline items as they wished. 

“It’s great to see all of the offerings and get to choose what I want to bring home. I tend to like everything, though,” Ms. Chang told us. “With today’s offerings, I’d throw together the carrots, celery, bok choy, throw some sort of meat in and make a lovely soup. It is great for bringing down inflammation in the body!” 

A Joyful Space 

Upon immigrating to San Francisco from Guangzhou, China in the 80s, Ms. Chang worked as a sewist in San Francisco Chinatown’s garment factories. Now retired, the farm offers a different, more enjoyable kind of work: “I get to do some work on the farm, grow green vegetables and romaine lettuce. I grow really big winter melons. It isn’t too strenuous, and we get to pick whatever jobs we want. Plus, I like the exercise!”  

As we talk, she helps another volunteer carry a basket of recent harvests up the hill, where they’ll be divided among the volunteers – “we all get to share our harvests with one another,” explained Ms. Chang. That’s not all they share, because food and fun go hand in hand at FFCF. Typically, Ms. Chang will volunteer with her two younger sisters, but her daughter and grandchildren also stop by occasionally: “There’s a lot of events and activities at the farm, and my family enjoys coming to these events. We throw parties, sing, dance, everything. You’ll have to come visit us when we put on talent shows!” 

After marveling at the beauty and vibrancy of the farm and learning what Ms. Chang is planting for spring (tong ho and yao choy!), we finally wave goodbye. The rain has stopped, the sun is beginning to peek out, and Ms. Chang heads back to her fellow volunteers. From the smile on her face, it’s safe to say that FFCF has built not only a flourishing farm or food pantry, but a true community on this plot of land.  

As Ms. Chang put it so succinctly: “I have a lot of friends here. Being here makes me happy.”  

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

January 4, 2024

Ask a regular volunteer at our Pop-up Pantries, or any Food Bank Pop-up staffer, and they’ll smile at the mention of Stephanie Chin and her dad, George. Stephanie and George started volunteering in the early days of the pandemic, and their friendly and fun presence has been a fixture at multiple weekly pantry sites ever since.  

But it’s not only other volunteers and staffers who look forward to seeing them. Through their consistent dedication to volunteering, Stephanie and George also get to know many participants – and on top of social connection, these friendships can help build a stronger safety net, too. Case in point: Stephanie shared the story of how she became friends with “Grandpa,”* a participant she first met at Roosevelt Pop-up Pantry over a year and a half ago.  

Tell us a little about how you first met Grandpa and his family.  

Stephanie and George volunteering at a Pop-up Pantry

Grandpa stood out because he was accompanied by a young girl, who I later came to find out was his granddaughter. I struck up a conversation with them both his granddaughter is one of the sweetest, most polite, and mature kids you’d ever meet. I watched as she helped Grandpa push his cart and get his food. Grandpa, who’s quite independent himself, just seemed very kind and had a gentle demeanor. Seeing the two together reminded me a lot of the times when I would help and spend time with my Grandpa when he was alive. 

How did volunteering help you get to know them better? 

 In subsequent weeks, I kept seeing the duo. I would greet them, and then check in with Grandpa to make sure he was doing okay, and with his granddaughter to see how school was going. His granddaughter and I bonded over “girly things” and our love for stickers (something I used to collect when I was her age), so one day I brought her a few to share.  

She was so gracious, and the following week, she brought me a lovely handmade and handwritten card. It was also at this point that I met the rest of the family (Grandpa’s son and daughter-in-law, aka the granddaughter’s parents). We chatted and from then on, we saw each other on the regular and became friends. 

In late 2022, you stopped seeing Grandpa and his family for several weeks. What happened? 

There was one week when his daughter-in-law and granddaughter showed up at the pantry just to come see me. That’s when I found out that Grandpa had an accident at home he had fallen in the kitchen and broken his leg. He underwent surgery, and was in the hospital with quite a long recovery road ahead.  

Dealing with a family health issue like that isn’t easy – and often comes with medical bills that can put a strain on budgeting for other necessities like food. How did your relationship with the family support them through this difficult time? 

About two months went by, and I still hadn’t seen Grandpa return to the Pop-up Pantry. I was worried about his health and also wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose access to the pantry’s services if he was still in need of the food. That’s when I remembered that included in the handwritten card that his granddaughter had given me, was her mom’s contact info.  

So, I reached out to see how Grandpa was progressing and to support them in finding ways to help Grandpa get back on his feet (including maintaining his access to food from the pantries). That’s where the whole community pitched in his kind neighbors picked up his groceries for him, while his daughter-in-law became the primary caretaker to look after him at home.

Have you been able to speak with Grandpa since his accident? 

After about nine months, I finally saw Grandpa return to the pantry with his daughter-in-law. It brought my dad and I so much joy to see Grandpa up and about, walking, and looking healthy and strong. We chatted for a bit, and both thanked us for just always sending good thoughts and checking in on them. For me personally, this was honestly one of the most rewarding days at the pantry. Not to mention, it was the first time that Grandpa got to see for himself the farmer’s market-style in action!

Double cause for celebration there! That’s amazing. We’re glad that Grandpa made a strong recovery, and that he got to see the switch from pre-bagging groceries to a farmer’s market-style pantry! Thank you for sharing this story with us  and thanks to you and your dad for being such superstar volunteers, neighbors and advocates.  

Breaking the Cycle with Homeless Prenatal Program

June 29, 2023

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are life-changing challenges even at the best of times. But for pregnant people staring down the barrel of poverty and homelessness, paying for rent, food, medical care, and everything a growing baby needs to thrive is a near-insurmountable task. That’s where Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) comes in. Located in the Mission District, HPP offers a staggering breadth of services for low-income families. We spoke with Linda Huerta, the distribution coordinator for HPP’s weekly food pantries.

Food Bank (FB): How did you get involved with Homeless Prenatal Program?

Linda Huerta: I learned about HPP first through our Community Health Worker program, which is a 16-month, paid, accredited job training program that prepares clients and other women from the community for careers in community health. I make sure our 400 families can get nutritious food – this week, we had broccoli, tomatoes, bananas, eggs, and more. I’m always thinking about how we can make the distribution more equitable.

Pacifiers are just one of the host of family items that participants can pick up at HPP

FB: Does HPP provide any other services to the community?

Linda: Absolutely – folks don’t just get food when they visit us on Fridays. It’s also diapers, pacifiers, and teething crackers; housing assistance and CalFresh application help; legal services and other family support. These things are available all week, but it’s so accessible to be able to offer more help or sign people up at the same time as the food pantry. And if we can’t help them, then when they come to get food, we can let them know if there’s another organization that can work on their problem.

FB: How does HPP break the cycle of family poverty and homelessness?

Linda: There are so many ways we work towards ending poverty, and a big part of that is food – it allows families to budget their money; maybe dollars that they were gonna spend on food can go to something else that supports them, especially with how expensive food is getting. It makes me feel good inside, honestly, to know that I can do this for my neighbors. Food means nutrition. Food means energy, food means love. And then we can build off that to offer even more services.

Linda smiles after our conversation in HPP’s back garden

Linda closed our conversation by telling us, “It really does take a community. We can’t all do it alone, we need partnership.” Our Food Bank is proud to be a part of the solution by joining hands with organizations like HPP to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives.