A New Kind of Pantry: Kain Na Community Food Hub

June 1, 2022

If you’ve ever walked through San Francisco’s Mission Bay, you know the district is new and modern, home to Bay views, public parks, and the iconic Chase Center. Much of the neighborhood is recently developed, and adding to the spirit of transformation in the district is a new kind of food pantry: Kain Na Community Food Hub, which opened its doors on February 4 this year. 

Kain Na was informed by the Mission Bay community and is operated by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) to provide free nutritious and culturally relevant food in an open market space. Food is provided by the SF-Marin Food Bank and the Deep Medicine Circle. 

Local artist ChiChai included an acknowledgement of the Ohlone land Kain Na occupies in her mural for the space.

“TNDC has a successful and powerful legacy of engaging the community and taking direct action to meet people’s needs,” said Maurilio León, TNDC CEO. “Kain Na is an example of our values and the impact we can make in advancing food and health justice.”

Walking into Kain Na, which means “Let’s Eat” in Tagalog, it’s clear that the space was designed to welcome people inside. The name itself pays homage to the Filipino community of San Francisco and celebrates the universal language of food. Local artist ChiChai covered the walls with murals, including a prominent acknowledgment of the Ohlone land the building occupies. Paintings show people coming together and sharing platters of food, mirroring the abundant selection of fresh produce, meat and eggs, and pantry staples filling the food hub’s aisles.

Kain Na is a multifunctional space, and the rows filled with produce during market hours can be reworked into tables where food and nutrition classes are held. Cookbooks and pamphlets fill some of the shelf space. The space is bright, clean, and welcoming – much like the Mission Bay neighborhood it occupies. Located on the ground floor of TNDC’s supportive housing 626 Mission Bay Boulevard, Kain Na serves many building residents and is part of a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of food insecurity. 

A Shift to Empowerment 

Kain Na builds on the concept of a food pantry to offer even more choice and flexibility. Many food pantries are open for only a few hours once a week. For many participants, having a set appointment time is convenient – parents know they can grab groceries when they pick up their kids from school, or people who work during the week can depend on their Saturday time slot without needing to wait in line while doing their weekend errands. Kain Na, on the other hand, takes a flexible approach by staying open all day for several days a week, a better option for someone who has a more unpredictable schedule.  

“If a participant can’t make it one day to get their weekly food, they can visit the hub on the other days it’s open,” said Tina Gonzales, the Food Bank’s Director of Community Partnerships. “This reduces anxiety and fear of scarcity, making the food hub a positive shopping experience.” 

Participants are free to select their own food items.

The food pantries run by our partners like TNDC are committed to serving people with dignity, and one of the key elements of that is offering choice. Before the pandemic, all our pantries were set up like farmers’ markets, where participants were free to select the amount and type of food they received. For the last two years, we’ve had to pivot to pre-bagging groceries for our participants – but we’re working to bring back the empowerment inherent in folks choosing their own food in a farmers’ market setting. Kain Na is a great example of how to offer food options safely going forward. 

“It gives participants the choice to pick the food they need to feed themselves and their families,” said Tina. “Participants grab a watermelon when they are in season because their kids like the fruit. If they want to skip receiving 10 potatoes one week, they can choose the four potatoes they need instead.” This allows pantries and hubs to adjust their offerings to include foods they see their community wants.  

Kain Na also serves as an information center with free food and nutrition workshops. “It offers other community resources to improve participant wellbeing,” said Tina. “Things like CalFresh (food stamps) outreach, eviction defense resources, tax assistance, and summer programming for kids make Kain Na a community resource as much as it is a food program.”  

At the Food Bank, we’re looking to Kain Na Community Food Hub as an example of what some food pantries could look like in the future. It is offering yet another kind of service to help meet people where they are at. The food hub’s insight into what strategies work best to solve food insecurity in a post-COVID world will be invaluable. We’re proud to support TNDC and Kain Na in trailblazing solutions to hunger in San Francisco. 

Volunteering is a Family Matter

April 20, 2022

Walking through their new neighborhood in early January, 19-year-old Jiakuang and his mother Cui Wei noticed a group of volunteers busily preparing bags of food in the parking lot of Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in Bayview. Salsa, rap, and pop music blared from a speaker, and the sun beamed down on volunteers as they packed bags, broke down boxes, and handed out groceries. The pace was quick, and the bags were heavy, but the mood was decidedly upbeat. 

“We live near here, and we saw them delivering the food. And we saw the [volunteers] were very tired because many people need to come here to get their food. So, we came to volunteer and help them,” said Jiakuang.  

They soon came to realize that this busy bustle of activity is routine for Cornerstone on Thursday mornings; Food Bankers and volunteers start to gather at 11am, chatting while waiting for the trucks. Once the trucks arrive, everyone springs into action: staffers expertly unload pallets from the trucks and volunteers coordinate assembly lines amongst themselves, quickly sorting rice before filling bags to the brim with fresh produce like broccoli, sweet potatoes, and oranges, and proteins like chicken breast. 

Meeting Their Neighbors 

This Pop-up Pantry, which is hosted by Cornerstone in partnership with the Food Bank, recently began inviting participants who had time to volunteer. Every Thursday, Jiakuang, Cui Wei, and often his father Mother and son duo volunteer at a food pantry.Wei Zong join other participant-volunteers in providing healthy groceries to their neighbors while also receiving food assistance themselves. For Jiakuang and his family, Thursday mornings at Cornerstone have been a time not only to receive and distribute food, but to mingle, talk, and laugh with other volunteers and food bankers.  

“We come here to make friends with others, and we tell our neighbors to come here and volunteer as well.” 

Thanks to other volunteers, Jiakuang was introduced to a non-credit course at the City College of San Francisco, which he is now enrolled in. He and his family have also been learning more about their new neighborhood by chatting with other neighbors, both volunteers and food bankers. “I’m new here, so I didn’t know too much about the US. I came to the pantry, and they told me about the City College. And when we talk with each other, I can practice my English, which is the most important [to me].” 

Rising Costs and Supply Chain Challenges  

Jiakuang and his parents first applied to come to the US in 2008. Just as they were making plans to finally secure visas in 2020, COVID-19 hit and caused the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China to close, forcing Jiakuang and his parents to delay their plans to immigrate to the US for two more years. In January 2022 they made the long-awaited trek from Guangzhou to San Francisco. While Jiakuang and his family continue looking for new jobs, the pantry has helped offset high food prices caused by inflation and supply chain issues.  

“We get food here, so we don’t have to get too much from the market. This [food pantry] reduces the burden because we are new here, and food is expensive.”  

Grocery prices in the Bay have increased by nearly 4% since December 2021, and the USDA predicts that prices will continue to rise throughout 2022. The chicken that Jiakuang looks forward to has been especially impacted by inflation – the price consumers are paying for poultry is predicted to rise another 4-7% in 2022. “My favorite meal is [chicken] drumsticks – my mom can make them really delicious with soy sauce and Coke.”  

You Can’t Learn When You’re Hungry 

For Jiakuang, an aspiring IT engineer whose current focus is preparing for the credit course in the fall, receiving food from Cornerstone gives him more time to dedicate to his studies. And he isn’t alone; as he notes, “many students are in the same situation as me.” 

Evidence backs this up: a recent study found that college students were 6 times more likely to experience food insecurity during the pandemic than their fully employed counterparts.  

It Takes a Community 

We know that healthy food is essential to student success, both in and outside of school. But we can’t underestimate the value of a healthy community. The participants, volunteers, and pop-up staff at Cornerstone all play a critical role in communicating, listening to, and meeting the needs of the neighborhood; it’s this kind of collaboration that is so vital towards building a hunger-free community.  

For Jiakuang, volunteering alongside his new neighbors means being part of the solution. 

“I think it’s meaningful. I wish more people would come here to volunteer because many people need to get food, and they can also contribute to the Food Bank.”  

Senior Stories: Patricia at Grace Fellowship

December 28, 2021

Every Saturday morning, Patricia, a longtime resident of San Francisco, walks or busses with her Chihuahua to our partner food pantry at Grace Fellowship Community Church. Sometimes her friend Lester joins her, but when we met her last month, it was just her and her dog. Patricia has been receiving food from Grace Fellowship for four years now, and the pandemic made her situation even more challenging. “When I couldn’t come to the pantry, oh, I was heartbroken. We [in my senior facility] were sharing food… I had to look in my cabinets for things that my dog could eat. It saves me so much, because I can’t afford things. I have to pay for my electricity and things, so there’s a lot of expenses.”  

The Senior Hunger Landscape

Everyone needs a little bit of help as they grow older, whether by asking a grandkid or a neighbor to mow your lawn or having a friend pick up a few things at the store. But as everyone in the Bay Area knows, living in San Francisco or Marin is expensive. High housing prices and a steep cost of living mean that balancing expenses can be challenging, especially if you’re living on a fixed income such as Social Security disbursements like many seniors are. The unfortunate reality is that seniors are at a high risk of being forced to choose between food, bills, and medical expenses. Feeding America recently reported that California’s senior hunger rate has hovered at 8.4% in 2018 and 2019. We don’t have official data yet on the impact of COVID-19 on senior hunger rates, but we can infer that affording food hasn’t gotten any easier. We recently surveyed over 7,000 participants and learned that more than 80% of them have yet to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, and recent problems in the global supply chain have made the prices of food rise in recent months.  

By getting food assistance, Patricia can pay her expenses while also improving her health. She, like many seniors, has a few health issues that poor nutrition makes more complicated. It’s the variety and type of food Patricia gets from Grace Fellowship that Patricia really appreciates. “I make smoothies out of the fruit and juice the celery. It’s really good for your intestines. And out of the rice, I make congee [rice pudding], or I make rice and I put whatever vegetables and chicken I got from the pantry in there. So you can make a lot of different things.” 

Our Partners Serving Seniors

Patricia is one of a community of seniors that the Food Bank, and our partner Grace Fellowship, serve. “We have quite a span of ages, though I think it probably leans towards seniors,” said Karen Seth, a pantry coordinator at Grace Fellowship. “One thing I think that we have really treasured is the relationships that we build with our guests and that they see us week in and week out. They’ll tell us what we’re going through. Some people have struggled with cancer, some people have struggled with losing their jobs, some people have been in and out of the hospital. And so, they tell us those things and we can be here and hear them and see them and receive them, and this can be a safe place for them.” 

It’s thanks to our supporters that we’re able to help our community and provide them with food that nourishes them and makes their lives better. This benefit extends beyond our participants. Rashmi, a volunteer at Grace Fellowship, told us, she loves coming to our partner pantry every Saturday. “I look forward to coming here,” she said. “I like giving food to the elderly and I feel happy when I give them extra food because I know them, and I know they are using the food.” 

New Pantries Open to Serve Even More Neighborhoods

February 5, 2020

In the last couple of months, we’ve opened two pantries expanding our San Francisco Neighborhood Grocery Network.

Finding a new pantry partner is not always an easy task. Ask Ashley Wong, one of our Pantry coordinators, “A potential pantry partner needs to have a lead volunteer coordinator and a consistent volunteer team that can dedicate hours of their schedule every week to support the pantry–and that’s a lot to ask.” It’s not only a time investment and physical commitment (those bags of potatoes are heavy!), but also an emotional one because creating a supportive pantry with excellent welcoming service, although rewarding, can also be heartbreaking. Ashley added, “We also need a pantry that is inclusive to people of all abilities. To meet that critical need, we require locations that have sizable storage space and, importantly, easy, safe access for all the pantry participants and volunteers.”

The Father’s House Pantry

We typically find pantry partners through outreach to community organizations, some of which are introduced to us by one of our existing partners. That’s how Ashley connected with one of our latest partner, The Father’s House in the Outer Sunset/Lake Merced area. The organization’s team was looking for ways to further serve their community and was reaching out to its partners. We connected and three months later, last December, they opened the doors to a new pantry.

“This pantry has steadily grown due to the continuing outreach in the community and the Father’s House team’s commitment to providing great customer service to everyone who comes by. Their endless dedication and energy continue to awe me. I look forward to the many years of partnership ahead of us,” said Ashley.

The Father’s House pantry is open Thursdays from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm and is located at 269 Herbst Road at the Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center. All San Francisco residents in need of food assistance are welcome to enroll in this pantry. We ask only that they bring a photo ID with a current residential address, or photo ID and a piece of mail with a current residential address.

Serving the Richmond Neighborhood

In early January, we also opened a pantry in San Francisco’s Richmond neighborhood. With more than 19,500 Richmond District residents at high risk of food insecurity—nearly 25% of the entire population of the neighborhood—we’re trying hard to close this hunger gap by looking for potential pantry partners. This time a long-time ally stepped up and is now in charge of three pantries in the neighborhood. “With the help of our dedicated community partners, Richmond Neighborhood Center, and our host, George Peabody Elementary School, we’re excited that we can expand our services in the Richmond neighborhood,” said Gary Lau, Program coordinator.

 

 

Healthy Food For People With No Place To Call Home

August 22, 2018

When you don’t have a stable roof over your head, getting enough nutritious food to stay healthy and take on life’s challenges can be impossible. As the Bay Area’s housing crisis has grown, so has our community’s homeless population. That’s why the Food Bank is committed to improving access to meet the growing need.

More than 8,600 people do not have a place to call home in San Francisco and Marin on any given night. The Food Bank reaches people who are struggling with homelessness in a number of ways, including our regular pantry distributions and community partners — many of which serve hot meals to people who are homeless.

We also partner with agencies such as CityTeam in San Francisco and the Ritter Center in Marin to distribute healthy food that does not need to be prepared in a kitchen. The special limited-cooking menu includes produce like oranges, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes; peanut butter and tuna; and a variety of snacks. Participants who have access to microwaves in shelters and single room occupancies (SROs) also receive food like potatoes and soup.

Several times a year, the Food Bank also participates in Project Homeless Connect where numerous agencies come together to provide a full spectrum of services. They include things like medical and dental care, clothes, foot washing, and of course, food.

PURPLE HEART VETERAN MANAGES DIABETES WITH HEALTHY FOOD

Maxwell is a Marine Corps veteran with a purple heart. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, and he became homeless when he returned to the U.S. He is currently moving from hotel to hotel, hoping he will soon have permanent housing.

Maxwell recently hooked up with the limited-cooking menu at the CityTeam pantry and says the food helps him manage his diabetes. “I feel good when I have food,” says Maxwell. “The week before last, I didn’t have it. I was in bed for three days feeling terrible. The food pantry is saving me.”

Once his housing is stabilized, Maxwell plans to finish his psychology degree at UCSF with support from veterans groups.

YOU CAN HELP THE FOOD BANK SERVE PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS

As the homeless population grows, the Food Bank must continue to innovate and expand our reach to make sure those who struggle to find shelter have enough to eat. We’ve convened an internal working group to improve our understanding of the problem and ways we can rally as a community to help our neighbors in need. If you’re able, please make a gift today to help serve our hungry neighbors, including people facing homelessness.

 

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.”