A Coalition of Trust

April 28, 2022

When COVID hit, many folks looked to their place of worship for resources and guidance. This came as no surprise to Guillermo Reece, Lead Liaison for the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition (SFAAFBC). The reason? As a faith-based advocate for his parish, he’s seen firsthand the trust and responsibility that community members place in their churches.  

“Instead of calling their social worker, or contacting the city, they’ll contact the liaison in the church: ‘I have this issue going on. Where do you suggest I can go to get help?’”  

Addressing Existing – and Worsening – Food Insecurity 

The SFAAFBC is a coalition of 22 churches that works to end health inequity in San Francisco’s African American community. Founded in 2015, their mission — addressing “Health, Hunger, and Homelessness” in San Francisco — became even more urgent as the pandemic began affecting all three.  

As research continues to point out, health gaps and food insecurity rates have increased for many of our Black/African American neighbors over the past two years. And as Guillermo says, “there was always food insecurity” in the parish, even before COVID began. 

Luckily, SFAAFBC isn’t an organization that waits for a solution. When they recognized the rising need in their community during the early stages of the pandemic, SFAAFBC leadership approached the Food Bank.  

“Through that conversation, we developed a relationship with them centered on responding to what their community needs,” said Irene Garcia, Program Manager at the Food Bank. “SFAAFBC has been critical in reaching San Francisco’s African American community and we’re constantly learning from them.”  

It’s More Than Just Food 

To better reach their parish, SFAAFBC and the Food Bank use a food hub model to get groceries out to the community. First, the coalition splits into two groups of 11 churches, so each church receives groceries every other week. Every Saturday, the Food Bank drops off pre-packaged boxes of food at SFAAFBC’s joint site with TogetherSF. Each church sends volunteers and support staff to the site to bring back their allotted number of boxes for their parish. Families can then swing by their respective churches and pick up their groceries. The rest of the food boxes are home-delivered to parishioners, often seniors, who can’t come by in person. 

Currently, SFAAFBC serves 840 families every Saturday through this mix of home delivery and distribution from different church locations. Over the past two years, food has become a vehicle for delivering more than nutrition to their parish. SFAAFBC’s holistic approach allows them to target the root causes of food insecurity by caring for the whole person. 

“During the pandemic, the food we were receiving from the Food Bank was very important to deliver to people who were positive for COVID. It’s developed into such a wonderful program to reach the community. When they come to the church, they can get food help, spiritual help, referrals to housing, mental health, education, and other agencies. It’s a one stop shop,” said Guillermo.   

Beyond Crisis Support: What the Community Needs 

 As Guillermo notes, food can open the door to other services. So, both SFAAFBC and the Food Bank are looking for ways to build and expand the scope of the program as the partnership continues growing.  

“This has evolved into a very pivotal and important part of our service to the community. It’s also created a conversation of what the community needs,” said Guillermo. He is quick to point out that certain dietary needs and preferences, health conditions, and medications can affect the foods folks can eat.   

“When I think of SFAAFBC, I think of a group of people who are committed to advocating on behalf of their community and sharing what is and isn’t working. This feedback loop helps us partner to provide better access for parishioners who may have trouble attending a pantry. I’m excited to be a part of the next phase of our partnership,” said Irene.  

Irene is also looking forward to the potential of creating similar programs with other community partners: “Providing home deliveries, or implementing a food hub model that’s super flexible, are on the horizon for more food pantries.”  

Guillermo is hopeful for what the upcoming year will bring, in part due to ongoing conversations with the Food Bank about making the program healthier and more equitable for the community.  

“With more communication and more partnering, I believe we will be able to continue this successful program in the future.” 

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.”  

Providing Hope and Joy with Food

December 22, 2021

Soup. Soap. And Salvation. Since 1865, The Salvation Army has taken a holistic approach to serve those with the greatest need in our community. According to Diane Shatto, a Lieutenant and ordained minister at San Rafael’s branch of The Salvation Army, you can’t nourish people’s spirits until you nourish them with food. “That’s why our food pantry and home-delivered groceries are key activities for us.” 

The Salvation Army, the Food Bank’s partner agency, serves about 300 people every week at its San Rafael facility. Most are either families from the neighborhood or seniors from the 55+ apartment complexes nearby. The weekly pantry is centrally located, next to the Canal Area and other food bank partners – Marin Community Clinics and Canal Alliance making it accessible for many in the community. The surrounding area is home to many new immigrants and young families – 22% of the Canal population is under the age of 18. 

“The partnership with the Food Bank is, well, magical,” said David Shatto, who manages the site along with his wife Diane. “The weekly deliveries of fresh food from the Fresh Rescue program, that comes from your warehouse just down the street on Kerner, keep the pantry well-stocked.” The community-centric approach is the key to our partnerships with organizations throughout San Francisco and Marin. Diane added, “we have the physical space, but we didn’t have the material resources to serve the community, but the Food Bank’s weekly deliveries help. It’s one big piece of the puzzle.”  

Carol Gotti has been volunteering with the Salvation Army’s food program for over ten years, and the participants are a lot more to her than names and numbers. “I’ve gotten to know about people’s lives, and you get a feeling about the things that bring people joy,” she said.  

“One of the senior participants I deliver to has a lot of health issues and allergies, and since I have the time, I give her items that she requests like fruits that won’t interact with her medication or upset her stomach. People feel bad to waste, so it makes her happy that someone is looking out for her.” 

When Covid hit and people lost their jobs or hours, many joined Carol as volunteers. “A few are teachers, a few are retirees, and others worked in restaurants,” she said, “It’s important to be doing something so that you feel like you’re thriving, and these volunteers have stayed with us beyond the initial panic of the pandemic.”  

“Our model is servant leadership, and though it’s a good feeling to help people, it’s frustrating we can’t do more,” said Diane. “We wish people didn’t have to get creative about feeding their families. What really gets me are the children who walk around hungry, and no one knows or asks them. I was one of those kids. 

“I was the second youngest of five children with three older brothers who were always more aggressive than me about grabbing the food at dinnertime. I had hunger pains all the time, and other kids at school would make fun of me because I was skinny. It makes you feel inferior, you lose motivation, and you lose hope. And that’s how the cycle of poverty continues.”

“Ending hunger is about more than just giving food, it’s about providing hope. That’s why our volunteers create such strong relationships with the participants. When you give people food, you build trust, and you can help them in deeper ways. Ultimately, it’s about hope, and when you have that, you can improve lives.” 

Carol agreed, “Food is a wonderful way to bring people together, and once you’ve done that, you share life, and you have the sheer joy of being in community with others. For our participants, it’s then an opportunity to pass that on to their families and spread more joy. It’s a perfect 360-degree relationship.” 

A Place for Food and a Place for Community

December 15, 2021

If you take a walk down 16th Street in the Mission on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll see a steady stream of people going into an unassuming terra cotta-colored building and leaving with a full bag of groceries – and often a smile as well. That building is Grace Fellowship Community Church, and every Saturday, a rotating duo of coordinators lead a group of volunteers to pack seventy-plus bags of groceries. This week, Karen Seth and Cindy Peterson are spearheading the food pantry. 

The church has been doing this every week for over five years, and the Food Bank has been proud to be their source of groceries throughout. The half-dozen volunteers that showed up to help this particular Saturday unloaded, packed, and distributed enough food for about seventy grocery bags. “We love when we get all the produce,” said Cindy. Eggs and bags of onions and green beans were stacked, rice was apportioned, bread was sorted, and music played from someone’s portable speaker. The energy in the room was clearly upbeat. 

But it’s not just food that Grace Fellowship is passing out – they also provide a community, even in the time of COVID. “One thing that we have really treasured through the five years is the relationships that we build with our participants and that they see us week in and week out, and they’ll tell us what they’re going through,” said Karen. “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 these things, and we can be here and hear them and see them and receive them, and this can be a safe place for them.” 

Pantry coordinator Karen Seth opens a box of green beans.

It’s Not Just Food 

At the backbone of Grace Fellowship’s food pantry is its volunteers. Though it takes just a few hours per shift, the work volunteers do at Grace and beyond is vital to food pantries staying in operation. They lift heavy bags of produce, protein, and grains after they’re dropped off by the Food Bank truck, sort produce into assembly lines to make sure a soft pear doesn’t end up crushed in a grocery bag below a heavier squash or melon, and hand out full bags to participants as they come down the line – which lots of volunteers say is the most rewarding part of their work. Many come week after week to serve their community. There’s no one-size-fits-all description for volunteers at the Food Bank and at our partner pantries; they are young and elderly, regulars and non-regulars, from all walks of life. Some are exclusively volunteers, but others both receive food assistance and volunteer. Take Rashmi, a future nursing student who first came to Grace Fellowship in 2017. 

Rashmi packs grocery bags for participants alongside other volunteers.

When Rashmi moved from Nepal to San Francisco, she was a high schooler with parents that each worked two jobs. Her neighbor used to share the food she received from Grace Fellowship with Rashmi and her family, and eventually Rashmi tagged along: “She took me here one day, and I signed up that day. It was my way of kind of being responsible for the household, since my parents both worked full time, two jobs.”  

The food and community Rashmi received from Grace Fellowship not only allowed her to help provide for her family, but also freed up her time and mental space to concentrate on her studies. “It’s just kind of like, ‘oh, one burden off my shoulders,’ in a way,” she said. “I can go about my week without having to worry about what to get for lunch or think about how much to spend, because budgeting is one of my big challenges right now.” Giving back to Grace Fellowship is important to her, too. “I look forward to coming here, then giving food to elderlies and I feel happy when I give them extra food because I know them, and they are using the food.” 

One of the other volunteers helps an elderly participant, Patricia, load a bag of groceries onto her walker as her small white dog jumps down to give space.  

“This place, it’s so nice,” said Patricia with a big smile on her face. “They’re so kind to you. They always have extra food and offer it. And they remember your name, and you just feel blessed.” 

 

Honor Black History Month

February 19, 2021

February is Black History Month and this year more than ever we have the opportunity to rethink how we acknowledge and affirm this month. Not only in the month of February but all year round, it is essential we recognize that our Black communities, neighbors and friends face food insecurity differently. The disproportionately high numbers for food assistance and lack of food access are a result of systemic racism. 

We at the Food Bank will continue to work to reduce barriers to food access for our BIPOC neighbors in need of food assistance. We will work with various local Black community members, organizations, faith-based groups and our local partner agencies to improve our programming and to increase food access.  

This month, in honor of Black History Month, consider donating to any of our partners who is doing the work to address this disparity head-on. The below is a selection of our community partners who serve the Black community.

Our Community Partners

In the coming weeks and months, we will also be spotlighting many of these partners on our channels so stay tuned.

 

Partner Spotlight | Treasure Island Fosters a Strong Community

February 10, 2021

When you cross the Bay Bridge by car or bus, you’ve probably noticed an exit right before the I-80 freeway continues to the East Bay, one that heads toward Treasure IslandIf you took that exit, you’d find yourself on a human-made island that’s less than a mile wide and comprised of a few thousand residents.

What folks may not realize is that due to the island’s isolation, it has dealt with many issues, such as a lack of transportation, health issues from radiation exposure given the island was historically used as a dumpand limited food access.

“If you live here and you don’t have a car, you’re really restricted with taking a bus or paying for an Uber,” said Amanda Scharpf, a resident for seven years. “One of the biggest restrictions is if you can’t find something at the only market we have here, then you kind of have to haul it yourself all the way from downtown San Francisco.”

Limited Food Access 

Treasure Island didn’t even have a grocery store until 2012 when the Island Cove Market opened. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to purchase food there.

To address this lack of food access, the nonprofit One Treasure Island, with the help of the Food Bank, has hosted a neighborhood food pantry at the Ship Shape Community Center for more than 20 years.

Every Tuesday, both volunteers and staff members come together in front of the community center and pack bags with fresh produce such as apples and lettuce, as well as meat or eggs and loaves of bread to give out to the participants who live on the island. Once the pantry opens, over 200 participants (up from over 85 participants before the pandemic)arrive by car or walk on over from their homes, and are enthusiastically greeted by the volunteers and staff. Some of the participants even stay to catch up and hear what others have been up to after grabbing their weekly bags of groceries.

Since the start of the pandemic, Amanda, who also manages the pantry, has seen an increase in the number of people using One Treasure Island’s services. Previously, many pantry participants worked in the restaurant industry; an industry heavily impacted by COVID. With many restaurants closing their doors temporarily or for goodaround 117,000 jobs in the hospitality industry were lost in California during December alone. 

“We’ve had people come to sign up for the pantry and they’ve even said, ‘I used to work for this restaurant, and they just completely closed down, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ This has impacted many people, shared Amanda.

Providing Access for All  

Dave, a participant for over ten years, previously worked in landscaping and was barely getting by on his salary when he started coming to the pantry. He now works for the city and knows everyone at the pantry.

“The food pantry really saved my life,” he said. “[Otherwise] I’d be eating a lot more noodles.”

For some newer residents of Treasure Island, like Rickey, formerly incarcerated, coming to the pantry is the only choice for fresh food.

“This makes it a lot easier for us. Right now, we don’t qualify for benefits like food stamps, so it means a lot to us,” said Rickey.

Others like Mike, a long-time volunteer and participant who knows everyone living on the island, see the pantry as a tight-knit community that continues to be resilient during unprecedented times.

“I used to like the closeness; everyone on the island is my friend,” he said. “Now, you can’t get close [due to COVID]. It’s sad.”

Staying Hopeful

While the pantry is still the only option for many, Amanda stays hopeful for the future.

“At the beginning of COVID, we had lines around the block, and it was just nice to see that we can provide families with something that meant a lot to them,” said Amanda. “It’s always heartwarming when people show up with their kids because you get to know the kids too. It’s been very helpful, especially for the families. Living here on this island, I really felt like the community has come together a lot more in the last few months.