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.” 

Parenting in the Pandemic

April 25, 2022

For many in our community, March 2020 is when “the village collapsed.” Over two years later, this is still the reality for countless parents across our counties. Financial hardship and food insecurity, among other things, have made it hard to get back on their feet – much less return to the “normal” others may be experiencing.  

Sarah is a single mom of two, who lost her job as a civil engineer shortly after shelter-in-place went into effect. She soon began coming to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry for groceries to feed her then 4- and 6-year-olds. When we met with her a few weeks ago, she carefully loaded groceries into a stroller before stopping to talk about her experiences parenting during the last two years. “It’s very difficult to juggle a career, especially when there’s instability. You’re just on your own. My own family was too afraid to help.” 

Challenges of Pandemic-era Schooling  

A lack of support characterized the last year and a half of online school for both kids and parents. Caretakers across the globe can empathize with the constant balancing act Sarah describes: “It was very challenging to have two very young kids at home. I spent all my time figuring out remote schooling and food and taking the kids out to grassy fields to play.”  

Luckily, the recently passed Universal School Meals (USM) Program, which targets school children K-12, is already making a difference for Sarah’s children since they returned to in-person school in late 2021.  “It’s very helpful. It can cover breakfast and lunch for the kids, so it’s huge.” 

However, preschoolers are not covered by USM, so parents like Arlesia are left to pick up the slack and pack lunches. Arlesia and her 3-year-old daughter Juliana have been coming to Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry for about 3 months, following a rough 2021 for the entire family. Arlesia, her husband, and Juliana all dealt with serious health scares last year, and Arlesia has been unable to find work since losing her job as a restaurant server and event planner in 2020. Preschool tuition is a financial strain while the family relies on her husband’s income, but for Arlesia, the impact school has had on Juliana is priceless. Her face glows with pride when describing Juliana’s progress in the last 10 months. 

“Tuition is rough, but it’s for my daughter. Especially in the past few years when kids haven’t had that much interaction with other kids, it’s really affecting their development. Just from August to now, I can’t believe how much she grew and developed.” 

Father and son pose with toy car and groceries on playground.Other parents are more hesitant to let go of remote or homeschooling. Farzad is the single dad of 3-year-old Mehdi, as well as a musician, small business-owner, and participant at Cesar Chavez Pop-up Pantry. Farzad watches his son drive a toy car around the playground and sighs, shaking his head when asked about in-person preschool. He doesn’t “want Mehdi to go until COVID is over,” citing health concerns like maskless and unvaccinated children.  

Self-Care and Systemic Change 

Despite the struggles and uncertainty of the past two years, parents seem generally hopeful about the future – and a chance to tend to their own needs and wants, as well as their children’s.  

Arlesia pauses when asked what she would do with some free time. “I haven’t focused on my health because I’m making sure the rest of the family is taken care of. I love doing crafts and photography, things with my hands. It drowns out all the concerns because you’re focused on making something beautiful.” She smiles. “I try to keep it positive because at the end of the day, we’re going to make it.”  

Farzad is similarly optimistic, and excited for the revival of live music. “I play guitar, and I’m known for Persian flamenco — I pioneered it. I’ve been playing in the Bay Area since ‘85. I’ll be starting to gig again soon, hopefully. Things are changing. I’m seeing it already.”  

For Sarah, hope lies in systemic change and providing safety nets for caretakers.  

“COVID took more mothers out of the workforce than has ever happened since World War II. It really opened my eyes as to how the US doesn’t support caretakers. And if we can’t feed our kids, what kind of society are we, right?” 

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.” 

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.” 

 

Home-Delivered Groceries Foster Connections, Community

January 25, 2019

It’s a chilly Thursday evening when Samantha and her 7-year-old son, Taye, are climbing the stairs in a multi-story apartment building in San Francisco’s Richmond District. They’re here to deliver a bounty of fresh food to the Pham family – part of the Food Bank’s Home-Delivered Groceries program. And yet, the food is just part of the equation. Their knock on the front door is followed by a warm greeting, smiles, and hugs all around.

Longtime San Francisco residents, Mr. and Mrs. Pham have come to think of Samantha and Taye like family. The Phams grew up in China and Vietnam and moved to the United States after the Vietnam War. The couple settled in San Francisco, and Mrs. Pham says she has always enjoyed how welcoming and accessible the city has been for them.

Long retired, Mr. Pham has limited mobility and rarely leaves their second-floor apartment. Mrs. Pham also has trouble moving around, after suffering a debilitating back injury during the war. Despite these hardships, the Phams stay positive, and appreciate the friendly conversations and nutritious food that Samantha and Taye bring to their doorstep every week.

“For me, it’s very hard to get outside and go to the store, so we are very thankful that this food is brought to us. And, we always look forward to seeing Taye and Samantha every week,” said Mrs. Pham, beaming at Taye, who during this evening’s visit had joined Mr. Pham in his favorite chair.

Major Milestone for Home-Delivered Groceries Program

In December, the Food Bank’s Home-Delivered Groceries Program made its 250,000th delivery. To mark this milestone, San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Fewer joined us and our partners from Richmond Neighborhood Center and Richmond Senior Center to pack groceries for the Pham family and many other HDG recipients.

“Food security is a critical part of what makes and sustains a healthy neighborhood,” says Supervisor Fewer. “This dynamic Home-Delivered Groceries program allows seniors, the fastest growing population in the Richmond District, to age-in-place with community support.”

Founded in 2011, the Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG) Program serves 1,998 homebound seniors and 467 adults with disabilities in San Francisco every week. The program aims to provide nutritious food to vulnerable neighbors, as well as reduce loneliness and foster connections among community members.

“For thousands of homebound residents in San Francisco, a weekly knock on the door brings not only a delivery of fresh groceries but a friendly visit and some human contact with people who don’t get outdoors very much,” says Jillian Tse, Program Coordinator for the Food Bank.

The Power of Partnerships

The HDG program is funded by San Francisco’s Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS). Fourteen faith-based and community-based organizations coordinate volunteers and staff to make weekly deliveries. The Food Bank provides nearly 25 pounds of food (on average) for every recipient weekly, including chicken, pasta or rice, and fresh, seasonal produce. The food is tailored to the nutritional needs of seniors and people who are less active because of mobility challenges.

This program is needed now, more than ever, as the population of seniors in San Francisco continues to grow. In 2016, older adults comprised 20% of that population but are projected to rise to 26% by 2030.

Food Bank Helps Furloughed Workers, Coast Guard Families

January 21, 2019

As the government shutdown continues, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is stepping up to assist furloughed workers, including U.S. Coast Guard members and their families who have gone weeks without a paycheck. The Food Bank operated a pop-up pantry on Saturday morning at Hamilton Field in Novato and provided free, fresh groceries to about 150 Coast Guard families.

Meghan and family

“The food being available here – such great food! – is just amazing. We are overwhelmed with thankfulness,” said Meghan, who came to the pop-up pantry with her husband, who serves in the Coast Guard, and their two young children. “With our kids being so young, I work just a few hours a week, so we rely on my husband’s income to cover most of our bills. Not getting his paycheck last week has already caused us a little bit of hurt. And the prospect of not getting the next paycheck is really scary. Because we’re saving some money on food, we’re able to cover our bills this month. Right now we are just hanging on to every dime, because we’re not sure how long this shutdown is going to last.”

Read thank you letters we received from the U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Gautier and the Coast Guard North Bay Spouses Club.

Click here to view photos from Saturday’s pop-up pantry.

Fresh Food for Families

The Food Bank delivered seven pallets of fresh food on Saturday morning- including whole chickens, fruits & veggies, and pasta and sauce – to help the Coast Guard families get through these lean times. In addition, our CalFresh (food stamps) enrollment team was on hand to help eligible families sign up for benefits. Because they have missed paychecks, many Coast Guard members could now meet income requirements for CalFresh.

The Coast Guard families in Novato held their own community food drive last weekend and collected thousands of pounds of nonperishable items, diapers, and cleaning supplies. The fresh groceries from the Food Bank’s pantry supplemented the distribution of these items.

Get Help

Are you a furloughed government employee who needs food assistance because of the government shutdown? We can help! Call 2-1-1 or visit www.sfmfoodbank.org/find-food to get connected with food assistance in San Francisco and Marin.

Give Help

With your support, we can continue to help furloughed workers and their families. Make a donation now.

In the News

CNN

San Jose Mercury News/East Bay Times – Food banks fill in for paychecks as shutdown drags on

Newsweek Magazine – Government Shutdown: Unpaid Federal Workers Are Now Turning to Food Banks To Feed Families

San Francisco Chronicle – Editorial: Crippled Government is the Threat Within

KQED – Bay Area Food Banks prepare to help feed local furloughed federal workers

Marin Independent Journal – Coast Guard Families Tread Water

SF-Eater – Food Bank Hosts Massive Mobile Pantry for Unpaid Coast Guard Workers

Tackling College Hunger | Annie’s Story

December 20, 2018

Some college students talk about the “Freshman 15,” and gaining weight when starting school. But for other students, the financial burden of tuition and books often means going hungry.  In fact, the US Government Accountability Office released a report recently that quantifies how large a problem college hunger has become.

Annie is one such student who struggles to feed herself many weeks out of the year. She’s studying at UCSF for a health care career and utilizes the Food Bank’s campus pantry. “The market has revolutionized my routine,” says Annie. “I exclusively get my food here. I’m eating healthier and wouldn’t be getting my fruits and veggies otherwise.

“Food insecurity is very real if you don’t come from a family that can provide you with a weekly stipend. Having all this debt, you’re kind of in crisis mode all the time. Many students only eat one meal a day. You can’t study; you’re stressed out all the time; and it has traumatic effects on your body.

“I am undyingly grateful to the Food Bank donors. Because of your generosity, I’m able to eat healthier, take care of myself, and give back by caring for patients. Thank you for investing in my health, so I can invest in the health of others.”

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.”