Buy-Nothing: The Gift of Community

January 24, 2023

With her rescue dog Charlie slung over her hip in a crossbody bag (she says, “my passion is, I love dogs”), Cilla Lee was hard to miss at the Stonestown Pop-up Pantry where we met. And as she talked, three things became apparent: Cilla is a woman with a lot of ideas, a lot of drive, and a lot of herself to give. A San Franciscan since the age of five, she says that the pandemic “made [her] step up” when it came to supporting her community.  

Buy-Nothing: Where It All Began 

She’s underselling it a bit: Cilla took a leave of absence from her airline job so that others with less seniority could keep their jobs during the pandemic, which led her to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank as a participant. Early in the pandemic, with nowhere to go and not much to do, she stumbled upon the concept of “Buy-Nothing Groups,” virtual and occasionally in-person communities where immediate neighbors exchange all types of goods, services and information– all for free, all from their own abundance, all as part of a “gift economy.”  

“There wasn’t a Buy Nothing in my area, so I went ahead and started one up. I went through a crash training course and kind of figured it all out on my own. This whole thing about paying it forward was just because my mom was always helping people growing up. So, I just said, ‘This would be something my mom would do.’” 

From Pastries and Prep Meals… 

Cilla became the admin of the Outer Richmond Buy Nothing group on Facebook. While food isn’t often the primary focus of Buy Nothing groups, in the early pandemic, food donations started rolling in. At first, she started out by making baked goods and offering them up to add a little sweetness to her neighbor’s days.  

“I started making prep meals to show people like, hey, it really wasn’t that hard — come on by and grab a couple of prep meals and pretend it’s a home dining experience. I was also trying to help my neighbors grab groceries. And now I have some volunteers, and they’re just amazing.”  

Since those early days, it’s blossomed into something much bigger.  

…To Neighborhood Pantry!

On the day we met at Stonestown, having already picked up groceries for her and her boyfriend, Cilla was salvaging extra items that other neighbors didn’t want and shuffling them into cooler bags she had brought. Cilla and other volunteers in her neighborhood will pick up extra food from local food pantries, including pantries run by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which can’t always keep extra items due to both logistical and food safety constraints. Cilla and her team of volunteers will often find homes for groceries that same day by sending out alerts in the Buy-Nothing group, but they also set up a small farmer’s market style distribution in their neighborhood. That distribution happens every Friday, plus two extra Saturdays a month for folks who can’t pick up during weekday hours.

“We’ll have bins of different things. I have people RSVP, so they line up, and then they just understand that you only take what you need. And then if you want to wait till the end when everyone has picked up what they need, you’re welcome to take whatever extras we have.” 

Personal Touches Make the Difference 

As a small pantry operation, there’s a community building aspect inherent to the way it operates. Cilla says it’s not just her neighbors’ names and faces she’s come to know.  

“I’ll remember which family likes what. There’s a Moroccan family that likes certain items; there’s a Ukrainian family that likes rye bread. And I do a group chat for the regulars that come pick up and for the volunteers. I’ll say, ‘Hey, this is what we got this week. Here’s some [recipe] ideas.’” 

A Slice for You, A Slice for Me 

This colorful distribution van helps Cilla and volunteers make deliveries, too!

And neighborhood businesses even got in on the pantry distribution, with a local pizzeria offering fresh pies up to the Buy Nothing Group.  

“As soon as my driver is on the way to go pick it up, I post it. That way people can claim the pizza as soon as it comes to my door,” Cilla explained. “Depending on how many people claim it, I’ll split it half and half, or I’ll split it three ways, so everybody literally gets a piece of the pie.” 

Food is Community  

At the Food Bank, we’re grateful to learn from and be in partnership with people like Cilla, who use their knowledge of their neighbors to find hyper-localized, community-specific solutions and novel ways to fight hunger. Ultimately, like Cilla says, at the heart of it all is the gift of connecting with our neighbors– and food is a pathway to do just that.  

“It’s uplifting, because you know that you have this community and that you have people that care about you,” Cilla told us, smiling. “Your family may or may not be here; they may be in the same neighborhood, or they may be out of state, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve got a support group.” 

 

Volunteering: A Family Legacy

January 23, 2023

Family legacies come in all shapes and sizes: they might entail a craft or trade that spans generations of family members, a treasured recipe passed down from elders, or even an inherited love of a favorite sports team. For Andrew Lam, his family’s legacy “might just be the Food Bank.” In memory of his late mother Alice Lam, Andrew and his father Harry sponsored this year’s volunteer match that brought in more than 3500 volunteer shift sign ups – and $25,000 to benefit the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. 

“My mother volunteered a lot, for different food banks and for her church. So, my father and I thought that [this match] would be appropriate and would honor her,” Andrew shared. 

Food is at the Heart of it All 

Andrew and Harry began donating to the Food Bank in 2020 through the Alice Lam Memorial Foundation, and they’ve remained dedicated supporters ever since.  

“We support arts, legal aid for undocumented farmworkers, all kinds of things. But food is such a basic need. What my father and I believe is: food is the most important thing. Nothing else can come unless people are fed.” 

Food is interwoven throughout Andrew’s memories of growing up, too. “It’s a huge part of our family. I have a binder with all my mother’s recipes. Food can bring people together and make people feel good, too. You know, it’s not just sustenance. It can really improve somebody’s day.” 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work 

Already on board with the mission of the Food Bank, Andrew shared that seeing the scope of the warehouse operations in-person opened his eyes to how crucial volunteers are. Speaking on that first warehouse visit, he told us: “It was great to see how people come out to volunteer. Obviously, money goes somewhere, but it doesn’t work without the volunteers doing the actual legwork.” 

After that experience, the Volunteer Match seemed like the perfect fit. Because, as Andrew knows, sometimes time is the most valuable gift one can give: “Everybody has different ways to give back, and it’s not just about money.”  

Volunteers are what power our entire operation at the Food Bank year-round, but during the early months of the new year, participation often wanes. That’s why we’re extra grateful to announce we met the match this year – thank you to every person who signed up for a volunteer shift!  

Ending Hunger, Together 

We’re also grateful for the partnership and generosity of caring neighbors like Andrew and his father, who understand that volunteering is an easy way to have a huge impact on the well-being of our community. Andrew hopes that he and his father can continue to rally their neighbors around volunteering for the good of all.  

“It’s direct aid to our community that we live in, so it means so much more to us. And it’s part of what you owe to your community – because you want to think that if you were on the other side, other people would help you, right?” 

What Food Means to Us

December 14, 2022

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather around a shared meal. Pantries are perused, cookbooks are cracked, and calls are made to relatives for their special recipes (if you missed it, check out our community cookbook with contributions from participants, volunteers, and staff!).

Here’s what we know at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank: in sharing a meal, we share our humanity. We’ve spent the last 365 days gathering stories from the community and asking: “what does food mean to you?”

“Food means nourishment”

One sunny February morning, we visited our partner Code Tenderloin in San Francisco and heard from volunteer Arielle: “Food means nourishment – of the mind, body, and soul. Food makes you feel good, gives you confidence and courage that maybe you don’t have when you’re hungry. Maybe best of all is you can share it with people – it’s the way to a person’s heart.”

Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director, Donna Hilliard, added: “I think, with our culture, food is everything. When we come together, we eat. When we celebrate, we eat. When we’re sad, we eat. Sharing meals especially means a lot. For the folks at Code Tenderloin, all of us have been on the ground, so we serve our food with love. That’s why so many people are comfortable coming back – we want them to feel like our extended family.”

Arielle, left, is a student, mom, and volunteer at Code Tenderloin. Donna Hilliard, right, is Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director.

CalFresh recipient Yurin told us how a balanced meal means wellness for her family. “It’s something fundamental to health,” she shared. “Having good food, healthy food, is vital to every person every day.”

And at a bustling Pop-up Pantry in San Francisco’s SoMa, participant Russ chatted with us after picking up his groceries. “It means everything,” he said, showing us a watermelon he was excited to slice into. “I’m learning how to eat healthier now that I can get more and better food from this pantry. I turn 65 next August. You can live a lot better as you learn how to cook, what to eat, and what not to eat.”

Yurin is a Marin resident, mom, and CalFresh recipient.

Making Space for Joy

“Food brings us together, you know? If you got a group of people together, bring a meal. Ain’t nobody fussing when you’re eating.” Cliffton is a longtime San Francisco resident and an artist – recently, he painted ‘Spirit of the Fillmore’ in the Buchanan Street Mall. He’s also a participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry. “Food is nourishment for the body,” he continued. “Your body won’t allow you to be negative in that moment, because it’s getting good food.”

That’s the not-so-obvious benefit of a full pantry: with no worries about where the next meal will come from, our neighbors can bring a little more sweetness into their lives.

Laura Cedillo, center, is a Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center. Cliffton, right, is an artist, longtime San Francisco resident, and participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry.

Laura Cedillo, Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center [https://www.nativehealth.org/], told us that “food means someone’s looking out for you and taking care of you.” Laura and her team pack bags of healthy groceries for anyone who needs them in a second-story space that’s part health clinic in the Mission. She views food as memories as much as sustenance. “When I think of food, I think of family, and I think of being cared for. It’s like, hey, how do I love myself? One of my best friends is Mohican from the New York area, and I remember on her birthday she was like, ‘I’m going to make myself some butternut squash.’ And now every time I make butternut squash, I remember my friend. I remember people I love when I cook.”

 

More than Just Calories

We heard loud and clear from almost everyone we spoke to that food is much more than something that fills your stomach for a few hours.

“I believe food means connection to others,” said Maria, who is both a participant and a volunteer at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the Mission. “You can meet someone at the food pantry and get to know them and also know they care about you. Because all the people volunteering here, they care about all of us – that’s why they’re here.”

Maria, left, is a resident of San Francisco’s Mission district, and is both a participant and a volunteer. Pastor Richard Roberts, right, heads our partner San Francisco Community Fellowship.

“To share food is to get to know people, right?” said Pastor Richard Roberts at San Francisco Community Fellowship  one of our partners in the Excelsior. “It’s not just feeding them physical food, it’s emotional support and understanding, and getting people to a space where they feel comfortable and accepted. That’s what food means to me.”

As he spoke, Pastor Roberts watched volunteers pack grocery bags while photos of churchgoers at weddings and service days smiled down on them. For him, creating a community and holding a food pantry are all part of the same spirit.

Partner Spotlight: Perspectives on Food Justice with TNDC

September 6, 2022

Four masked people smiling at the camera, holding a pre-made meal, a fresh pineapple and eggs - all available at the food pantry.
Pantry staff and participants take a moment to smile.

The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) has provided affordable housing and promoted equitable access to resources in San Francisco since its founding in 1981. Part of their mission is food justice – and that’s where our five-year partnership comes in.

Food programs span all sections of the organization. “There’s Tenderloin After School Program, Healthy Corner Stores, and Health and Wellness, which includes Healthy Aging, Food & Nutrition, and Urban Agriculture. Then there are our food pantries at our supported housing buildings. Food touches a lot of the work we do,” said Rebecca Barajas, Food & Nutrition Supervisor, TNDC.

Join us on a tour of three of TNDC’s programs to see how food justice means so much more than just providing food – and why community partners are integral to our mission to provide food for all.

Food Pantry

A participant and a pantry staff member hugging and smiling.
“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Our first stop is the food pantry on the bottom floor of TNDC’s Kelly Cullen Community, which provides supported living to seniors and people who were unhoused. We arrived to a frenzy of activity. Staff and volunteers packed grocery bags with cauliflower, milk, eggs, ravioli, and more for participants living in multiple TNDC buildings on the block.

“We open our doors to distribution at 9:15. We’ll set up tables and pack bags from heaviest to lightest – so chicken or rice would go on the bottom and something like a pear would go on top,” Rebecca told us.

“What I like is that everything’s convenient, and they have everything I need,” said a participant named Tony, grocery bag in hand.

Healthy Corner Stores

Fresh produce like cantaloupes, mangoes, bell peppers, and pears line refrigerated shelving in Dalda's Community Market.
TNDC’s Healthy Corner Stores incentivizes businesses like Dalda’s Community Market to stock unprocessed, nutritious food at affordable prices.

We made our way deeper into the Tenderloin to visit Dalda’s Community Market, a store that’s part of TNDC’s Healthy Corner Store Coalition. “We provide refrigeration equipment and business consulting services,” said John McCormick, Healthy Corner Store Coalition Program Manager, TNDC. “We ask the locations to limit alcohol and tobacco ads. We also promote the stores through community engagement activities, like tastings of the food.”

“People want healthy food. And we know that because people are buying it in the stores,” John told us. “Stores that aren’t part of our coalition are now selling produce because they know there’s a market for it. It totally changes the food apartheid we see here,” he said, referring to the inequitable access to nutritious food that neighborhoods like the Tenderloin have been subjected to. “Now there’s healthy produce in the neighborhood. There’s not as much of it as other places, but it’s better than it was 10 years ago.”

Urban Agriculture

A 3-story mural depicting the Tenderloin Peoples' Garden.
A mural marks the People’s Garden across from San Francisco’s City Hall.

Finally, we walked a few blocks away to the Tenderloin People’s Garden, one of 14 growing spaces TNDC developed across the city. “They grow a lot – hundreds of pounds of food get distributed to our residents from the food the gardens grow,” Rebecca told us.

A person smiles down at Swiss chard in the People's Garden.
Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator, picks some chard for our team to take home.

“Part of the cycle of gardens is once you start using them, they keep providing and then you have to keep using them,” said Thomas Abbott, Urban Agriculture Coordinator at TNDC. “There’s an abundance behind it.” The garden grows produce like chard, lemons, bok choy, and more alongside ornamental and aromatic plants like rosemary, jasmine, and nasturtium, which attract pollinators and predator insects that eat pests for a more natural kind of insecticide.

People who come to the gardens find an oasis. “I like when it’s like this, no trucks driving by, no ambulances. Bees and butterflies and bugs are flying around and you can hear birds chirping. Even in the middle of the city, you have some peace and quiet. It’s really a benefit for the mind. See, like that,” said Thomas as a bird broke out into song.

Pass the EATS Act

June 29, 2022

You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Yet, as many as 1 in 4 college students who struggle with food insecurity can’t receive CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Our Policy and Advocacy team is working to change this by lobbying Congress to pass the Federal EATS Act.  

CalFresh is one of the most important tools for addressing food insecurity and hunger. Recipients can shop for the groceries they want, when they want, by spending their monthly benefits at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Unfortunately, students from low-income backgrounds are largely unable to access CalFresh because of barriers like a 20 hour/week work requirement. “The work requirement is an archaic rule that requires students to be working hours that they don’t have,” explained Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.  

Eased Restrictions, Increased Participation

The current “work-for-food” rules are based on assumptions of a “typical” college student – upper middle class, with endless free time and family support. In reality, there is no typical student. Between required labs, rotations, and residencies, working to pay their bills, and even supporting families, many students simply don’t have 20 free hours in their week. School is work. Extra barriers to healthy groceries can spell the difference between obtaining a degree and halting their education. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 got rid of this “work-for-food” rule – temporarily – and the results were immediate. “During the pandemic, restrictions like the work requirement were lifted, and more college students were able to access CalFresh. So, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be so hard to get more students in the program,” said Meg.  

School is Work

However, expanded CalFresh eligibility for students is set to expire just one month after the federal Public Health Emergency is declared over. That’s where the Federal EATS Act – and you – come into the picture. The Federal EATS Act would permanently expand CalFresh access to low-income students by making attendance at an “institution of higher education” count as their work requirement. “The EATS Act recognizes that school is work,” said Marchon Tatmon, Government Affairs Manager at the Food Bank. “This bill will allow students to access the nutrition they need.” We need your help to make sure all students have access to healthy groceries that fuel their learning. You can sign up for Action Alerts and get involved through our email list: sfmfoodbank.org/advocacy. Let’s urge Congress to pass this permanent legislative fix for college hunger, together.  

“Not Part-time Employees”

June 28, 2022

CalFresh is supposed to be the first line of defense against hunger, but that’s often not the case for college students. For Dustin and Anthony, two among thousands of college students facing food insecurity, the Federal EATS Act would make a huge difference. Dustin is an LGBT Studies major and first-generation college student at City College of SF. Like many other students, Dustin turns to the Food Bank to stock his fridge and pantry. CalFresh isn’t an accessible option for him because of the work requirements and red tape in the application process. “I do not have the support of parents sending me through college, so I utilize the Food Bank when I don’t have funds,” Dustin told us at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry in March.  

School Comes First 

Anthony is a graduate student at UCSF, currently in his second year of the dentistry program. He’s been a recipient of CalFresh on and off since 2018. When we spoke on the phone, he laid out his simple problem with the work requirement for students. “When you’re in a rigorous academic program, you don’t really have much time to study if you’re working to make ends meet. It puts a lot of stress on students who are now focusing more on working instead of studying. We are full-time students, not part-time employees.”  

Not Enough Time in the Day 

For students who come from low-income backgrounds, a college degree holds the promise of less financial struggle in the future. Getting that degree, however, is not easy. And dedicating 20 hours of precious study time a week to a job, just so that you can buy groceries, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a vicious cycle that forces students to choose between their studies and their survival. That’s why students like Anthony are such strong supporters of passing the Federal EATS Act. “I know countless friends and family members who are college students and could greatly benefit from CalFresh. With the EATS Act, if we remove these barriers then people will have much easier access to food.” 

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. 

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.”