Hunger Action Day 2024

May 16, 2024

On April 30, our Policy and Advocacy team gathered in-person with the California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC) in Sacramento to raise their voices for Hunger Action Day! Hunger Action Day is the single largest anti-hunger advocacy day in California, bringing advocates from across the state to the State Capitol to speak face-to-face with our policymakers. 

Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy Marchon, Community Organizer Alex, and Community Builder Jesus all traveled to Sacramento to represent the Food Bank. After an energetic pep rally outside of the Capitol, where we saw neighbors from partner organizations like Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) representing their communities, advocates got down to business.  

Key Demands 

This year, we lobbied in coalition for some key funding requests:

  • Increased CalFresh benefits for Californians 
  • Continued funding for Market Match, which gives CalFresh recipients $10-$15 extra dollars at farmer’s markets 
  • $60 million for food banks to purchase California-grown produce and pantry staples 
  • Increasing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to keep pace with the cost of living 
  • …and many others! 

Together other CHAC members, Marchon, Alex and Jesus shared directly with our elected officials how dwindling government support is affecting our neighbors already struggling with the high cost of living in the Bay Area and stretching food bank resources thin – emphasizing the need to double down on and invest in proven anti-hunger solutions like CalFresh.  

Staff Takeaways  

Reflecting on a jam-packed day of collaboration, Food Bank staff came away feeling energized to continue pushing for impactful, equitable policy. 

On being able to build community with other advocates, Jesus shared: “We’re able to see how interconnected all our efforts are and advocate for CalFresh, Food for All and increased funding for food banks. All of our collective efforts have an impact on our communities.” 

“It was amazing to hear everyone’s stories, and the way that they are affected and connected to the policies,” Alex added, speaking to neighbors who showed up to drive home the personal aspect of these policy and funding asks. “I hope that people feel empowered to vote positively for these measures, and that legislators are empowered by our stories.” 

One such neighbor was Ms. Liu, who showed up to advocate for fully funding Market Match – a program that helps match CalFresh shoppers’ dollars at farmer’s markets, giving an extra $10-$15 to spend on farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Personal Stories, Passionate Advocates 

Ms. Liu is a San Francisco resident, Home-Delivered Groceries participant, and an active member of TNDC’s Tenderloin Chinese Rights Association.  

She spoke passionately about Market Match’s impact on her family, telling staff of our elected officials: “My husband and I are both chronically ill, and it’s vital that we have access to fresh produce. With the closures of many Tenderloin corner stores, we highly depend on the benefits of the Market Match for fresh food within our means.” 

Since the end of CalFresh emergency allotments, Ms. Liu’s health has declined – but even that couldn’t stop her from traveling to the Capitol to advocate for better CalFresh benefits.

“I showed up today because it is imperative that they see that we are the people who are struggling,” Ms. Liu told us, gesturing to her friends and neighbors who also came to advocate. “We are elders, and many of us are chronically ill with mobility issues. We need more sustainable resources that work for us.” 

Moving the Needle on Hunger 

Thank you to all the advocates, including Ms. Liu, who spoke truth to power about the resources and support our communities need. Everyone has a right to nourishment and the ability to thrive – and our Policy and Advocacy team will continue pushing for equitable policies that uplift and support our neighbors while addressing the root causes of hunger. 

In Marchon’s words: “Can’t wait to see what we continue to do to move the needle forward!” 

 

“Help Repair the World”

February 28, 2024

Volunteering with the Food Bank in May 2020 was really a no-brainer for Mitchell. As a retired government worker for various public health agencies, he already had a deep knowledge of epidemics and health outbreaks. Combined with the driving force of his faith, Mitchell knew he wanted to help his community out during a difficult and pivotal time. 

“I come from a Jewish culture that mandates we help repair the world. I heard that the Food Bank needed volunteers, so I went down, I signed up and that’s where I’ve been,” Mitchell told us. 

Community: An Antidote to Isolation

Today, Mitchell is a regular fixture at four pantries a week, with more than 1300 volunteer hours under

Mitchell stops to chat with Mike, Senior Pop-up Supervisor at the Food Bank

his belt. Though he has some ambitious ideas for getting more folks involved with volunteering – “get influencer people, the ones with the hot names to plug the Food Bank. Maybe Taylor Swift, I understand she’s an influencer” – we think his own testimony is pretty convincing. 

“A lot of seniors isolated themselves during the pandemic. Being at the Food Bank allows you to be with real-life people. So it’s very good for the psyche, the mental health,” Mitchell shared. And aside from the social component, “going to the Food Bank is like going to the gym. I can lift a 60-pound bag of rice from a pallet and put it on the table. And I will be 80 years old in July!” 

Outside of his busy Food Bank shift schedule, Mitchell is active in Lao and Burmese communities in the Bay, a longtime affinity and connection that stems back to his college days. He also became interested in Legos during the pandemic, dedicating his entire living room to elaborate Lego sets: “my living room is a museum!”

Join Mitchell

In addition to his extensive volunteering, Mitchell also donates to the Food Bank each month – a crucial way to ensure we can continue meeting the immediate needs of our neighbors while strategically planning for more long-term, holistic solutions in the future. Thank you, Mitchell, for your dedication to ending hunger in San Francisco and Marin! We can’t do this work without supporters like you.

Becoming a monthly donor or a regular volunteer are two of the best ways you can support neighbors facing hunger. Make a gift or sign up for a shift to make a difference today! 

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

January 4, 2024

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

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

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

Stephanie and George volunteering at a Pop-up Pantry

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

How did volunteering help you get to know them better? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteering: An Unexpected Gift

December 22, 2023

If you asked Nick his driving motivation to home-deliver groceries to neighbors during the pandemic, he simply felt it was the right thing to do: “I feel very strongly that people should not go hungry. I think that of all the things that humans confront, hunger is the worst. So, I just wanted to help make food available.” What he couldn’t have expected was to come away from his volunteering experience at the Food Bank with some new home décor — but more on that later. 

From New Neighborhoods to Familiar Faces 

After working in the warehouse and at different Food Bank pantries during the early pandemic, Nick signed up to home-deliver groceries to seniors, families with young children, folks with disabilities and other neighbors who weren’t able to make it to a traditional pantry but still needed food. His shift took him all throughout the city — including neighborhoods that he, after many years of living in San Francisco, had never been to before.  

Then, he got an email from the Food Bank, inviting volunteers to “adopt a building,” or deliver to the same building and neighbors each week. 

“That’s how I got into home-delivering groceries at an apartment complex in Japantown. And it’s been extremely fulfilling. I enjoy seeing the same people again and again. They have a true multinational force in that building, so it’s a huge variety of people,” Nick shared.  

Communicating Through Food 

“I’ve had all kinds of food given to me because people just want to acknowledge me bringing food to them,” Nick told us, highlighting how despite communication barriers, both volunteers and participants find a way to share their mutual care and respect. Though Nick is the one dropping off groceries, including 70% fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry staples like rice, and proteins like eggs and chicken, many neighbors reciprocate in their own way. 

“There’s one unit with an elderly couple, and the woman is a baker. She makes these palmiers that are so good! And then for example, this week, one person gave me a bag of raisins and date pieces.” Who knew volunteering could be such a sweet gig? 

A Heartfelt Gift 

But of all the moments he’s shared with other neighbors, one memory with John and Yihung, an older couple on his delivery route, sticks out for Nick above the rest. 

“John asked me one time how old I am [75]. I told him, and he just was blown away. He wound up making me a scroll, which is in English and in Chinese characters. It’s just incredible that he took this effort to prepare that scroll, as a way of saying thank you. I almost choke up thinking about it,” Nick shared.  

The hand calligraphy of the beautifully ornate scroll reads: Mr. Nick: Seeing you at this age, you still working hard to serve our elderly. I can’t help but say: the world would be more beautiful if there were more people like you! 

In Nick’s words: “It’s really a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” 

Just the Delivery Boy? 

Nick was immensely touched by John and Yihung’s gesture and hangs the scroll in his home to this day. But he was quick to point out that it takes a whole community of people to make delivering groceries possible, week in and week out. 

“I am humbled by all the effort behind me, by all the people at the Food Bank who make this happen. That’s the extraordinary part of this. The people who are out there on the curb in all kinds of weather, loading groceries into people’s cars, people who are working in the warehouse day after day, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do,” he said. “I’m just the delivery boy.” 

Nick’s right: transformative change takes collective action. But that’s exactly why the hard work of volunteers or “delivery boys” like Nick is so critical to ensure that fresh groceries can reach neighbors across San Francisco and Marin. Thousands of families, including John and Yihung, depend on home-delivered groceries to put food on the table and keep up with the ever-high cost of groceries, rent, medical bills, gas and more.  

We can’t promise you a handmade scroll of appreciation. But here’s what volunteering WILL deliver: greater connection with your community, a critical service for our neighbors, and an opportunity to help provide Food For All. Join Nick and sign up to “adopt” a route – fill out this form of interest to get more details.   

2023 California Policy Wins

October 17, 2023

Here at the Food Bank, our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. On its face, the solution might seem simple: provide nutritious food so people facing hunger can thrive, not just survive. But while providing food on the ground is an essential part of our services, we know it’s not enough to simply address the hunger we see today – we must also work to address its root causes and change the policies that allow hunger to continue in our communities and plan for long-term solutions.

That’s why, in partnership with our community and other supporters, our Policy and Advocacy team works to promote proposed laws and create new policies that benefit everyone (check out our policy platform). We advocate at all levels of government, from local to state to federal – and we’d like to share with you some key wins we’ve achieved in the California legislature.

“Changing policy is a marathon, not a race,” said Marchon Tatmon, associate director of policy and advocacy at our Food Bank. “Nonetheless, we’re proud of how we’ve worked together with other advocates to achieve some pretty audacious goals. Our strength is that we’re always in conversation with our community to inform our policy priorities.”

California Anti-Hunger Policy Wins in 2023

 

  • CalFresh: According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about one in eight Californians relied on CalFresh (also known as food stamps) in 2022. The state adjusted this existing program to make it more effective, including:
    • Allocating $15 million to fund a pilot program raising the minimum CalFresh benefit to $50/month (currently, minimum benefits are $23/month).
    • Funded increased summer benefit amounts at $47 million, providing families with school-age kids more money to spend on food – a critical lifeline when free school meals disappear during summer vacation.
    • Secured $40 million to speed up the implementation of California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) benefits, which are similar to CalFresh benefits for undocumented immigrants.
    • Legislated reimbursement funds for skimmed CalFresh benefit dollars and increased benefit theft protection.
    • Secured $9.9 million for a broader Fruit and Vegetable pilot program giving extra CalFresh money for purchasing produce.
  • School Meals for All: Chances are, more kids are hungry than you think: according to the same report from PPIC, roughly half of the children in our state will participate in CalFresh by the age of six. Together with other activists, we successfully lobbied for more than $300 million to fully implement free school meals for all kids in California.
  • Social Security: Many older adults and adults with disabilities rely on this safety net to pay most or all of their expenses, including buying food. We helped secure a grant increase of 8.6% to raise the incomes of these vulnerable groups.
  • CalFood: Secured $60 million in funding for food banks across the state to buy California-grown produce, strengthening our local economy while also providing fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors facing hunger.

These policy wins over the last year bring us another step closer to ending hunger – but our work isn’t done yet. In coalition with partners, participants and other activists, we’re determined to continue advocating for just, compassionate and equitable public policy that truly makes a difference for our communities.

A Familiar Face

August 24, 2023

Ring twice. Leave it at the door if there’s a note. Knock once, but loudly, he’s hard of hearing. She’ll get the door; it just takes her a while to get up.

By now, Home-Delivered Groceries volunteer Gideon has these quirks down pat. A freelance journalist by trade, he had just started remote work when the pandemic hit. Three weeks into lockdown, his friend posted on Facebook about a volunteering opportunity with the Food Bank, delivering groceries to homebound neighbors. Gideon was in: “There are things you miss doing, being work from home the whole time. This kind of fills in some of those gaps,” he told us.

Volunteering: A Social Exercise

Gideon loads grocery bags into his car for delivery.

After trying different routes, Gideon eventually chose to “Adopt a Building” or make regular deliveries to the same apartment complex each week. For three years, Gideon’s Saturday mornings have looked very similar: roll up to the Food Bank warehouse, pack his sedan with 20 grocery bags, knock on his neighbors’ doors, and deliver fresh produce, proteins, and grains from the Food Bank wagon in tow.

It’s at this apartment complex where he first met Victoria, who we met in the previous story, along with 19 other neighbors he’s come to know in the years since. For Gideon, volunteering is equal parts exercise – “a trainer once told me the best workouts are the ones that are repeatable!” – and socializing. At one apartment, he goes in to chat with a 94-year-old woman and her daughter offers him a taste-test of the noodles they’re cooking. At another, he shares that they gifted him caramel popcorn after the Warriors were in the finals last year. Even in these passing interactions, it’s clear how food and care go hand in hand.

Showing Up, Every Week

Gideon waves hello to one of the participants along his route.

“It creates a sense of membership,” Gideon said of delivering groceries each week. “You know you’re part of a community, and seeing familiar faces, there’s a type of connection. It’s made [this time] a lot less grim and lonely, without a doubt.”

As we head to make the last delivery of the day – Victoria’s apartment – Gideon shares he’s excited to sit in on the interview and learn more about her life. With 20 deliveries to make, it’s not every day he gets to sit down for a conversation with one of his neighbors. “I look forward to this,” he told us. “I have a stressful job where I don’t interact with people, and volunteering is kind of the opposite. We don’t really have that much time to talk to any [neighbors] individually, but we want to be there for them. We want to show up.”

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

Be Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy Life

August 24, 2023

As a retired nurse and home health aide of 25 years, Victoria knows the importance of staying active and eating healthy. In early 2020, she “started going to the YMCA – they have a lot of activities for seniors. There’s bingo, exercise [classes], and every Tuesday they give us food,” she told us at her apartment in the Mission, where she’s lived alone for the past 10 years.

When the pandemic hit, everything at the YMCA shut down – along with the food pantry across the street where Victoria would pick up groceries each week. “I can stand for a couple of minutes, but if the food I get is too heavy, it’s hard for me to get to my apartment,” she shared. “So, when the program was changed, and they delivered it, I was very happy.”

Home-Delivery Makes a Difference

Gideon (left) and Victoria (right) in Victoria’s building lobby

That new program was Home-Delivered Groceries (HDG), which was greatly expanded by the Food Bank during the pandemic when many neighbors like Victoria were homebound and hundreds of neighborhood food pantries were closed. Once a week, HDG participants get a knock at

their door, and a bag full of leafy greens, seasonal fruits, proteins, and grains are delivered to their doorstep with a smile.

“That’s why I’ve known Gideon for a long time. He always comes and delivers the food every Saturday, which I appreciate so much,” Victoria shared with us, gesturing to Gideon, her regular HDG volunteer of three years. “He’s working every weekend – we should give him some award, signed by the governor,” she proposed, earning a laugh and a “I’ll take it!” from Gideon.

Convenient, Consistent Food Access

Gideon lifts a bag of home-delivered groceries.

Victoria is very health conscious, especially since getting diagnosed with glaucoma. With ingredients from HDG, she can make the nutritious meals that help ward away what she calls the “three brothers and sisters” that visit you as you get older: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

“I have to watch my diet sometimes. [The Food Bank] gives mostly everything – bell pepper now, mushroom, ground beef, turkey, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges… so, mostly the food that [I] eat every day. I’ll use that in a stir fry, or sometimes I make sinigang, sisig, adobo, or lumpia shanghai. I enjoy it.”

Convenient, consistent access to healthy food helps take a huge stressor off Victoria’s plate, especially as a retiree on a fixed budget. Her income of $850 per month from Supplemental Security Income has to stretch to pay for her utilities, rent, and various medications and medical bills – a nearly impossible task in San Francisco. “Because of [my] age, I cannot go back to work. This is what I get. And the prices of commodities are going up. With the help of the Food Bank, at least I have something to eat.”

Until Next Saturday!

In the coming months, Victoria is focused on attending checkups for her glaucoma, and looking into attending a friend’s Episcopalian church community – she says the bingo is a big draw. And, of course, she’ll be looking forward to Saturdays, both for her grocery delivery and chatting with Gideon. After showing us the bounty in her bag and contemplating what she’ll make for dinner – “maybe some omelet” – she leaves us with a few parting words that Gideon’s already familiar with.

“When I see him, I say, ‘I cannot repay you for all these sacrifices that you are giving to us.’ So I say, ‘Be healthy, be safe, and enjoy life.’ That’s the thing I tell [him] every Saturday he comes and delivers my food.”

Victoria shows off her grocery haul.

CalFresh Ripple Effects: Miguel’s Story

June 14, 2023

Miguel's artwork hangs in front of his window: 3 black and white cubes made from Venetian blinds.
Miguel’s recent artwork

At Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, Miguel lights up when he starts talking about his art. He sets down his grocery bags and whips out his phone to show us his latest creation, hanging in front of his second story window: a mobile made entirely of syringes (with the needles removed, of course), that blows and gently spins in the breeze, while explaining: “I used to work for the opera, until I retired five years ago. I also made costumes for theatre groups, foundations and drag queens. I have a program going after I retired, [making] mobiles and artwork with the recycled materials I [find] on the street, thrown away.”  

A Loss for the Community 

Miguel is a longtime member of the arts scene in San Francisco, a gay man who’s been HIV+ for nearlyMiguel is smiling, with his handlebar mustache, red scarf/necktie and maroon sweater. 40 years, an activist, and a pantry participant since 2020 in his neighborhood of the Western Addition. He’s also one of roughly 101,000 CalFresh (known as SNAP federally) recipients in San Francisco who saw their grocery budget decimated overnight. This is due to the federal government’s decision to cut emergency allotments, which boosted CalFresh benefits by an average of $160 for recipients in San Francisco during the pandemic. That’s a loss of nearly $12 million a month in food assistance for our neighbors. 

“I applied for the [CalFresh] benefits at the beginning of COVID. I was having a hard time with money. And it was very nice, especially when they started putting the extra funds in it,” Miguel told us. Miguel says he was receiving close to $200 during the pandemic, but after speaking with a CalFresh representative that same morning we met, he learned he’d be receiving just $23. That’s why the Food Bank Policy & Advocacy team is advocating to raise the minimum benefit to $50 in the state Senate this year – because for Miguel and many others, “it’s not worth going through all the [paperwork] trouble for $20.” 

Meals are Best Shared 

Miguel poses in front of his artFor Miguel, his CalFresh benefits were a supplemental support that helped him stretch his budget and extend a little kindness to other friends who were struggling during the throes of the pandemic. “I was able not only to get things for myself, but I was able to invite friends to get food with me so we can have dinner together. I did it with two friends, maybe every two weeks. Eating alone is not really the best thing. Having company and being able to provide something a little extra, that was very nice. It really made a difference for me and my friends.” 

In addition to dinners with friends, Miguel finds support through groups like the 50 Plus Network from the SF AIDS Foundation, which connects long-term HIV survivors through meetups and events. Miguel and his current housemate also stop by the Rosa Parks Senior Center most days for lunch, and utilize the Food Bank’s weekly pantries, where Miguel picks up groceries for them both: “The sweet potatoes are for my roommate, because he can’t come to the pantry – he’s disabled. So [the pantry] not only helps me, it helps someone else.” 

A Positive Ripple Effect

As federal lawmakers strip proven poverty-fighting programs and safety nets from our neighbors, andMiguel waves goodbye from his apartment window. leave food banks to pick up the slack, it’s essential that the Food Bank maintains access to the fresh produce, proteins, and grains that 53,000 neighbors rely on weekly to nourish themselves. “The benefit is greater than just food,” Miguel explained to us. “At my age, I don’t think there’s any stigma – I encourage other people to apply for these services. I have diabetes, so I have to be careful about what I’m eating. And besides the food, I can use the money [I save] on other things that are beneficial for my health or enjoyment. It’s a ripple effect; it magnifies your life in all these positive ways.” 

Growing Food Sovereignty in the Bayview

May 24, 2023

Earth Day at Florence Fang Community Farm (FFCF) was a feast for the senses: blue skies and verdant greens offset by blooming wildflowers, the smell of soil, and the conversation of food pantry participants and farm volunteers mixing with bird calls and Chinese folk songs. 

Nestled in the heart of the Bayview, FFCF is a “community center, outdoors,” in the words of Director Ted Fang. In addition to cultivating the land, FFCF runs a farmer’s market-style food pantry that opens at 9 a.m. each Saturday to serve the community with fresh fruits, leafy green vegetables, and proteins, provided by the Food Bank. The farm also provides the harvests of the season to pantry participants! 

“A Community Center”  

As one of the most productive urban farms in the Bay Area, we’re not surprised to see swaths of volunteers showing up throughout the morning in response to FFCF’s call for an Earth Day volunteer workday. Many of the longtime volunteers arrived earlier in the day, some stopping to pick up groceries at FFCF’s food pantry, and others heading directly over to the farm to begin tending to the land.  Woman in face mask standing in front of garden plots

Some regular volunteers like Ms. Chang, who we met after picking up her groceries, have a multifaceted relationship with the farm. As a retiree, she first came to the farm in search of socialization and something to do with her free time. Since then, she’s brought her sister, daughter, and grandchildren into the fold: “I enjoy volunteering at the farm because it is a community center, but for growing food! I get my exercise through this endeavor, bring home delicious harvests, and have a lot of fun along the way. You’ll have to come visit us when we put on talent shows. We love to sing and dance.” 

Another of FFCF’s longtime volunteers, Mrs. Li, offers to take us on a tour of the farm. As we draw closer to the community plots, scattered groups of elders are hard at work watering, thinning out crops to provide adequate space for growth, and weeding the beds. True to Ms. Chang’s word, several women working on the same plot join in singing Chinese folk songs, their harmonies joyfully carrying across the farm. One volunteer is nonchalantly placing some of FFCF’s bees on the flowering pea shoots with his bare hands, so they can pollinate the crop. 

Unifying Roots  

FFCF was originally founded as a gathering space for Chinese immigrants moving into the Bayview neighborhood – a historically Black neighborhood in San Francisco. Over the years, it morphed into a space to serve the broader Bayview community. In 2020, it was renamed from the “Asian Community Garden” to “Florence Fang Community Farm” to reflect that intention, while honoring Ted’s mother and her history of civic contribution.  

Additionally, FFCF houses a Black Organic Farmers program, started by Bayview born and raised Farmer in Charge Faheem Carter. Through this model of self-directed organizing and programming of different Bayview communities, volunteers at FFCF cultivate crops native to their culture and heritage. As Ted says, “It’s important for everyone to be comfortable with the food they want to eat and have control over their food. Food sovereignty gives people control of their food, and that’s what we’re doing.” 

Food sovereignty is a radical shift for this neighborhood, as the Bayview has historically been subject to food apartheid due to racism, redlining, city neglect and disinvestment. That’s why the farm is such a critical resource for neighbors – and why the Food Bank is honored to support FFCF’s mission of bringing in even more healthy, fresh foods to the neighborhood via their food pantry.  

The Farm, Beyond Food 

The impacts of the farm go well beyond fresh vegetables to take home at the end of a workday. For many at FFCF, including many of the Chinese elders present at the Earth Day workday, volunteering has led to fruitful friendships. Some volunteers were even inspired to buy smartphones for the first time and download WeChat [a Chinese messaging app] to stay in touch after leaving the farm.  

Farming is networking: you put green onions in one plot, napa cabbage in the other, and the byproducts make the soil richer for the other crops, building networks of nutrients. And this is also reflective of communities above the ground. At its heart, this is the definition of community building. You might come to volunteer or harvest vegetables and end up also reaping the rewards of a thriving network of relationships.  

Like Mrs. Li explained to us of the abundant plant tong ho [chrysanthemum greens], “you’ll see it everywhere in the plots, because it keeps volunteering itself,” or self-seeding. In this same way, the volunteers who continue showing up, tending to the land, and making connections are creating their own abundance. 

The F-Word (Not That One!)

December 9, 2022

With the holidays in full swing, there’s a lot of talk about family. But what does family truly mean?   

As our community shares below, it’s not just blood ties, and it’s not just the relatives you see twice a year. Family can really be found wherever you look: in senior housing, at a food pantry, down the street, and at your table. And unsurprisingly, food and family intersect more often than not.  

Building Relationships after Retirement

Cui Juzhu (left) and Hui Yu (right)

Cui Juzhu and Hui Yu are both retirees with a penchant for feeding others. Not only are they volunteers at the same SoMa food pantry where they pick up their groceries, but both women find a way to spread the love to neighbors who live in their senior housing building. “Some of my friends have disabilities, so they can’t come and walk to the pantry. So, I pick up my groceries, cook for my family, and then the rest I share with [my friends],” explained Hui Yu, who is a retired restaurant kitchen worker.  

Cooking for others is an act of love; it’s saying, “you are family to me.” And it’s this kind of care that stretches to nourish whole families, friend groups, neighbor networks, and communities.  

Found at a Pantry: “Second Family” 

In sociology, there’s something called a “third place,” that describes a social environment outside of work or home where folks can congregate, see familiar faces, and build community. For María, the Friday food pantry in the Mission where she’s volunteered and picked up groceries for the past 10 years is a little of all the above. 

“I learn their names and their families. Some of them bring me food or coffee when it’s cold, and that’s really heart-touching. It feels good to know that someone else is watching over you. That someone cares about you, even when they are not even close-related, or cousins. They are like my second family.” 

We often say that good food transforms lives. María shows us it’s no exaggeration — good food is a pathway to building community and building family.  

Friends, Neighbors, Pantry Partners

Janet and Bob are obviously close friends and neighbors: they finish each other’s sentences, tease each other, and laugh together. And as many folks can attest, friends are really chosen family. Both born and raised San Franciscans and retirees, Bob began giving Janet rides to their neighborhood food pantry in Stonestown where they pick up groceries together.   

When we spoke in late October, Bob told us how he “fixes things for the neighborhood. I do all types of repairs – I worked in Silicon Valley for 30 years, so I know all about it.” Fences, wall dividers, you name it: folks in the neighborhood know to come to Bob for a repair. Janet, a retired caregiver, chimed in playfully: “I call Bob the house doctor.”  

When folks don’t have to guess where their next meal will come from, it’s a lot easier to devote energy to investing in your community and friendships – something that Bob and Janet clearly do in equal measure.    

Sharing Space, Creating Memories 

For Sharon, who we met at her neighborhood pantry in the Fillmore, it’s no sweat if the people gathering for her holiday feast are biological kin or not – it’s the act of coming together in a shared space to prepare a meal that creates family.   

“Family is everything, you know? I’ve raised a pretty considerable amount of kids. I have four biological kids; I also have two foster children. And depending on my circumstances, I may accumulate a few more children at the table, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been a parent for a long time. After two kids, it doesn’t matter how many people sit at my table. It’s a joy, it’s a blessing. It’s a chance for us to connect when we all sit down together and eat, and I love that. The holidays are always great. It just feels good, when you and your family can sit down to a healthy meal and something that you enjoy. These memories are going to last a lifetime. It makes it all worthwhile.”  

Happy Holidays and New Year

With that, we at the Food Bank would like to wish you happy holidays and a joyful start to 2023! We hope you’re able to take some time this month to sit down to a delicious, home-cooked meal that’s prepared with love. And we hope you can celebrate with family – whoever that may be. 

See you in the New Year!