More Than a Food Pantry

April 19, 2022

Sharon Murphy looks forward to her weekly visit to the North Marin Community Services in Novato (NMCS). She knows that’s where she and her son, Rob, can get healthy, nutritious food, feel part of a welcoming community, and see friends.  

The North Marin Community Services in Novato is one of the Food Bank’s partners that exemplifies a holistic approach to caring for their community. They realize that many issues in our lives are interconnected, and that when we need help, it can be for several reasons. That’s why they offer assistance for food, financial aid, health and childcare. Every Tuesday they offer nutritious food through their Food Pantry and Childcare Healthy Food Program. They’ve been a life-saver for Sharon. 

Redefining Independence  

Sharon had lived an independent life and worked at a brokerage firm until she was 71. She also struggled with vascular difficulties. Sharon has had numerous surgeries for her medical condition, one of which required that her leg be amputated. Her life changed drastically, and tasks like shopping for groceries became very difficult. “I can’t do much with the loss of my leg, but I’m learning,” said Sharon. 

One of Sharon’s friends who volunteers at NCMS, recommended the pantry for food assistance for herself and Rob, who is now her caregiver. They had never gone to a food pantry before, yet from their very first visit, they felt welcomed by everyone there. “I think this place has really helped me in so many ways. The volunteers have made my experience enjoyable because they’ve all been friendly. I’ve made friends over the last six months–good friends. My son has made friends there too. 

When life brings unaccustomed changes, Sharon and Rob know that they can count on NMCS for food, friendship, and a bright spot in their week. As Sharon expressed, “The pantry has enhanced my life. Tuesdays are my pick-me-up days.” 

Students Volunteer During COVID | Leo’s Story

October 19, 2020

Volunteer after volunteer has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, it took 1,200 volunteers each week to run our operations. Now, with new COVID-19 programming, it takes 2,000. That is an unprecedented number of new volunteers.

One of the volunteers is Leo, who is 11 years old and starting middle school this year. Leo’s mom, Amber, works at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, and at the beginning of the pandemic, he started tagging along with her every week to volunteer at the Center’s Thursday Pop-up Food Pantry.

“I’ve just been coming along because I know that they need volunteers,” he said, adding jokingly: “and because she makes me.”

Leo and his mom have a good laugh over that. But despite any extra encouragement from Amber, Leo always has a good time when he volunteers.

“It’s pretty fun. I mean, it can get kind of exhausting because it’s really hot outside sometimes. But yeah, it’s pretty fun.”

A Strange School Year

For Leo, the Pop-up food pantry is not the only thing new in his life, he is starting middle school this year. And if middle school was not hard enough, he is doing it amid the pandemic.

“I’m excited, but I’m also not excited,” explained Leo. “I wish that I could actually start in the classroom in Middle School, but I’m going to have to be at home.”

Like many of his peers, Leo is navigating remote learning while trying to stay in touch with friends – a challenge many teenagers are currently facing.

At least he is not the only teen who volunteers at the pantry; there are several other students who regularly joined him on Thursdays in the summer. Though they aren’t his school friends, Leo says he likes meeting new people while helping out.

A Family Affair

The Food Bank has always encouraged young volunteers to join us, and we often see families volunteering together to give back while spending time together. This includes families delivering to seniors, families in our warehouses, and families like Leo and his mom, who volunteer at Pop-ups.

For other youths who are up for the hard work, it takes to pack bags and load trunks for several hours, “It helps a lot of people for the food pantry to have extra volunteers,” said Leo. “And even if you don’t like it, you can bring extra food home.”

“Game-changing” Expansion in Marin County

March 23, 2018

It’s no secret that the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is constantly on the lookout for new ways to expand in order to feed more of our neighbors in need.  We took one giant step in that direction with the purchase of a large warehouse in San Rafael in January 2018.

“This new facility is a game changer for us,” said Executive Director Paul Ash. “For several years, we have been looking for additional warehouse space that would enable us to continue growing our operations and serve even more neighbors in need. This new facility will enable us to do just that – to increase our food distribution, add more services, and engage with more Marin residents who wish to volunteer their time in our warehouse.”

Room to Bloom

The new building is 38,000 square feet, about three times as large as the Food Bank’s old warehouse in Novato.  It includes a vast, wide-open warehouse, plus ample office space for the Food Bank’s growing staff and programs.

The Food Bank will move out of our leased facility in Novato at the end of March. Our Marin Shop Floor, where partner agencies visit to pick up fresh produce and groceries, will be up and running in the new warehouse in early April. In a relatively short time, the Food Bank expects to increase services and food distribution in Marin through the new facility.  Another exciting benefit is considerably more space for volunteers and community events.

Marin Volunteer Program Temporarily Suspended

The only interruption expected by the Food Bank during the transition to the new space will be a temporary pause in the volunteer program in Marin.  “We are already in the process of constructing a Volunteer Welcome Center and work space in the new building,” said Volunteer Services Manager Cody Jang.  “We hope to invite all of our dedicated Marin volunteers – along with hundreds of new volunteers – into our new building in 3 to 6 months.”

Get the latest updates on Marin volunteering by joining our Marin Volunteer email list – click here to subscribe.

You can count Food Bank Board Member and Marin resident Chef Tyler Florence among those excited by all the possibilities.  “One of my goals is to reach out to more young people, and really expose them to the issue of hunger in Marin County,” Florence said while touring the new facility. “I envision school kids taking field trips here, volunteering their time, learning and immersing themselves in the fight against food insecurity and food waste in their communities.”

The building was previously owned by Food Bank supporter who not only sold the property at a favorable price, but who also made a generous donation to help facilitate the sale.  Ash says that kind of generosity helps fuel the Food Bank’s mission to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin.

“We’ll need more of that kind of generosity to really feel the impact that a building like this can provide,” he said. ” Right now, we need to make $2 million worth of upgrades to get the new facility  ‘Food Bank Ready.’ We will launch a capital fundraising campaign soon and asking the community to come together, give, and help make this dream property a reality property.”

Food Distribution Uninterrupted During Move

The good news is that even though the Food Bank is transitioning out of the old building and moving into the new building, services to Marin residents will not be impacted.  Our Operations team will still be hard at work, as usual, building orders for the nearly 50 pantries operating in Marin, with the San Francisco team filling in when needed.  The last time the Food Bank expanded was in 2011 when the San Francisco Food Bank merged with the Marin Community Food Bank.  Since then, the amount of food distributed in Marin County has nearly tripled, from 2.1 million pounds to 6.1 million pounds.

Hunger in Marin

In spite of the phenomenal growth and success that the Food Bank has achieved since 2011, there still remains a substantial unmet need in Marin. The latest data from the Food Bank’s Missing Meals Report shows that Marin residents missed out on approximately 9 million meals in 2015, a significant meal gap that persists even with the food provided by government programs and nonprofits like us.

Media Coverage

Click here to check out all the local news coverage generated by the purchase of this our new building.


Everyday Heroes at the Food Bank

January 13, 2017

Story and photographs by Marilyn Englander, Food Bank volunteer and founding head of REAL School Marin

Joe, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank Community Engagement Coordinator, fondly calls them “The Sustainers.” He explained to me how a loyal group of volunteers faithfully shows up every week to help in the warehouse.

There is the Monday gang, and the Tuesday gang, Wednesday and Thursday groups. But many Mondays are also Tuesdays, and some come all four days. Their volunteer efforts equal the work of more than two full-time paid employees. Without them, the Food Bank could never get so much food out to the neighborhood pantries for neighbors in need.

Andy drives all the way from Vallejo, and Kevin takes a 30-minute bus ride from Mill Valley, then walks two miles on foot. Sandy always brings mouth-watering cookies to share during the morning break. They secretly plot birthday celebrations for fellow volunteers, everyone joining in to serenade as the honoree blushes. Starting out strangers, slowly they have become the backbone of the Novato operation, and also a community to each other.

I had decided to volunteer on a whim, choosing a slot open on the Food Bank website calendar. I assumed everyone did the same: once in a blue moon, we’d consider giving our time. The first day I turned up, I had no idea I was sorting, packing and stacking food alongside real experts. But I certainly admired Bryan’s skill as he rapidly assembled and taped boxes. Betty had mastered sorting slippery packages of frozen meat, and Peggy tirelessly leaned over and over again into a deep bin to retrieve heavy cans of beans. Mary had the wash-and-sanitize station under strict control. Jacky was there five days a week running the “shopping” area where small nonprofits come to choose supplies for their pantries.

The Sustainers exude enthusiasm and drive as they tackle each three-hour shift. You would imagine they were competing in an Olympic challenge, they show such focus and efficiency. They chat a little, but mostly it is a joyful frenzy: bag 300 pounds of pasta before noon, label 1200 jars of instant coffee — and get those labels on straight! One time we dug through 20 bushels of green peppers in 30 minutes, checking for blemishes before boxing them up for the pantries. It’s grunt work, but with the Sustainers in the lead, it’s as if we’re kids playing in a sandbox. And they do it day after day, week after week — heroes guaranteeing everyone gets to eat.

Feeling inspired?  Learn more about volunteering and sign up >

Joe’s Story | Dedication and Spirit

January 5, 2017

From the first meeting, you know Joe has a background in performing comedy. Funny, quick with jokes and full of antics, his energy is upbeat and infectious. He emanates positivity.

So it is a big surprise to hear his story — the tough times he endured before he started to work at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, where he manages volunteers as well as food donations at the Novato warehouse.

Two decades ago, Joe was immersed in a successful career in computers, doing tech support and later testing sophisticated accounting software. Then, one day, the industry shifted, and Joe’s position was outsourced overseas. His career of 17 years came to a screeching halt.

Undaunted, Joe set out to find other work, first in his industry and later relying on the ingenuity every actor must have in his arsenal. But restaurants wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t speak Spanish, and service stations no longer employed folks at the pumps. It was 2008. The recession had just hit. Every job opening big or small was swamped with 100 applicants.

Things got rough for Joe and his wife. Every day he scanned Craigslist for jobs. Even with his wife’s salary as a registered nurse, expenses began to pressure them. Plunging from full-time employment to joblessness was a huge blow.

The demoralizing hunt for work crawled on for a year and a half, and the Food Bank became a lifeline. Never had Joe imagined how grateful he would be for the simple gift of walking into a pantry and being greeted with warmth as he filled a bag with groceries. So, before long, he too began volunteering at the Food Bank — to give back while he continued to look for work.

In a stroke of luck, a position in the Novato warehouse opened up. Joe jumped at the chance. At age 57, Joe had to learn a lot of new skills. There he was, a confirmed vegetarian, sorting donations of frozen meat every day! But he felt motivated by the contribution he was making, and thankful to be earning a living again.

Seven years later, Joe has moved up to be Food Bank Community Engagement Coordinator, and clearly loves his work. He makes volunteers howl with laughter as he plays air guitar or clowns around in his hair net. He inspires them with his dedication and spirit.

Story and photographs by Marilyn Englander, Food Bank volunteer and founding head of REAL School Marin