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?” 

Employment Plus: More than Job Opportunities

November 15, 2022

Samedi and Annette tying bags together

On the stage of Stern Grove, a historic natural amphitheater in the Sunset District, iconic R&B/funk band Tower of Power opened the 2022 concert series to a crowd of thousands this past June. The hills were blanketed in eucalyptus trees and nasturtium, and the vibe was electric. Dancing and grooving along in the crowd were three unlikely acquaintances: Samedi, an artist; Annette, a retired fundraiser for KALW radio; and Tiffany, a job coach. What brought this group together, you might ask? 

Employment Plus: Emphasis on the “Plus” 

Employment Plus (E+) connects adults with developmental disabilities with career and job training, as well as community engagement opportunities. Clients can opt-in to volunteer at Pop-up Pantries, where many of the activities – customer service, community interaction, bagging groceries, and breaking down boxes – offer just that.  

Javon poses while breaking down cardboard

E+ client Javon, a longtime Bayview resident and Food Bank volunteer since 2015, uses his volunteer experience while “mopping, sweeping, and double bagging” at Whole Foods Market. 

Samedi is another familiar face at Pop-up Pantry shifts: “Sometime I’m here so early, it’s even before the staff are here. I come and help them unload the truck.” E+ connected him to the Food Bank, and he’s since built several close relationships including his fellow concertgoers: Annette, who volunteers at pantries six days a week, and Tiffany, a job coach at E+. 

Pop-up Pantries Create Connection 

Lupita, Javon, Robin and Tiffany pose in front of a Food Bank truck after a Pop-up shift

Isolation and loneliness marked much of the past three years for many of us. But even in times of unprecedented separation, people will always discover ways to find companionship and to help others around them.

That’s certainly the case with the E+ volunteers. For three years, they’ve shared groceries with neighbors every week at our Pop-up Pantries, making connections along the way – but many were volunteering even before the pandemic. As a group they’ve dedicated more than 1852 hours of volunteer time since 2021 alone.  

Packing Bags in Partnership 

Robin heard about E+ through friends and has been a consistent Food Bank volunteer for a few years. Pre-pandemic, she was bagging rice in the warehouse, but now her “favorite part is tying the bags. And talking with people…I’ve met a lot of people through this,” she told us. 

Dana fills up grocery bags with fresh produce

It’s clear that beyond transferable skills, hundreds of hours of volunteerism, and the physical workout, the biggest benefit for all is the chance to connect.  

Marcel, a Community Support Coordinator who has worked closely with volunteers from E+ for more than a year, said “we often share laughs while working very hard. They’re very flexible when it comes to an assignment shift, always ready to help out with any task. Having the Employment Plus team onsite equates to a happy day at our Pop-up Pantries.” 

Straight-faced, Samedi told us: “They love me here,” as if to underscore Marcel’s point. Then he broke into a bout of laughter and headed back to continue sharing groceries and a smile with his neighbors.  

 

A Gift that Makes an Impact

June 28, 2022

Pauline Le and her husband Kiet Lam believe the best way to make a positive impact in their community is to commit themselves fully. That commitment includes supporting vital community resources with their time, sweat, and financial support. 

In living up to their commitment to helping their neighbors, Pauline and Kiet volunteer two to three times a week at several pop-up pantries in San Francisco. When asked how she and her husband feel about committing so much of themselves to help their neighbors, Pauline said “we found an extended family through volunteering with the Food Bank. We feel as if we are invested in the success of the community with our fellow volunteers and Food Bank staff.” 

Details Really Matter

For Pauline and Kiet, this calling to make an investment in their community doesn’t end at volunteering. Pauline explained that being a consultant has honed her skill at focusing on the details that are so important to a successful nonprofit program. Details like how an individual communities’ needs should be the central focus of the work a nonprofit does. No less important is the impact that is being made in the community, and how effectively that organization is using the resources and support they receive. The Food Bank’s success in meeting these measurements was vital in her and her husband’s decision-making process when choosing to commit their time and resources to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. When considering Legacy Giving, Pauline made it clear that they wanted to feel that any dollar they chose to leave behind in their estate would significantly impact the community. “This is why we decided to make a Legacy commitment a long time ago. The Food Bank is run so well, and it is an easy answer for us to support with a Legacy gift. We are confident that our gift will have a real impact.” 

Helping People Beyond Today  

“It is clear to see that there continues to be a great need for food security and working with the Food Bank is an efficient way to help the community. The city has so much need for food security, and together we can make a huge impact.” Pauline went on to say “it’s powerful to know that we will be helping people after we pass. It’s a strong trust that we have in the Food Bank. We know that our gift will be in the right hands and that gives us comfort and peace of mind.” 

A Lasting Legacy 

By including the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in your estate plan, you’ll create a legacy that will build a hunger-free future for our communities. We are partnering with FreeWill to make it easy for you to write a legally valid will or trust in 20 minutes or less. Begin your lasting legacy with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank today by visiting freewill.com/sfmfoodbank or contact Kera Jewett at kjewett@ sfmfoodbank.org to learn more. 

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.”  

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.” 

Raising a Glass to Pandemic Volunteers

October 25, 2021

With the closings and shutdowns starting in the early spring of 2020, everyone’s lives changed, some dramatically. This was especially true for people working in service industries, many of whom found themselves suddenly out of work and isolated at home. For people who like socializing and being with other people, being cooped up at home was especially challenging. 

Vince Toscano is a San Francisco-based Whiskey Guardian at Angel’s Envy so, naturally, he knows a lot of Bay Area bartenders. Even before the start of the pandemic, Vince periodically organized small groups of 5 or 6 bartenders to volunteer on various projects, such as beach cleaning, as a way of socializing and giving back to the community. Once shelter-in-place began, many more of his bartender friends suddenly had time on their hands. 

After talking with a friend who volunteers at the Food Bank on Thanksgiving, Vince put the word out to his bartender friends. Instead of the usual crew of 6 who would sign up for other volunteer gigs, 30 signed up, and they’ve been volunteering at the Food Bank ever since. 

For the last 15 months, Vince and his crew have continued regularly packing food at our warehouses on Pennsylvania and Illinois Streets, as well as distributing groceries at a Pop-Up in the Mission in San Francisco. They’ve enjoyed being together again and doing something meaningful for the community at the same time. 

A Sense of Belonging and a Drive to Help Others

For Vince and his bartenders, volunteering for the Food Bank has helped dispel some myths and misconceptions about San Francisco. “There’s this general belief about San Francisco that it’s all tech and homeless people and there’s really no middle class of any sort. I think what the Food Bank reintroduced me to was that there’s a lot of people that you don’t see.” Vince found himself working side by side with people from all kinds of backgrounds, ordinary people drawn together by a sense of belonging to this community and the desire to help their neighbors in need. 

“It was refreshing to see other people take the time and effort to help someone they didn’t even know.” 

He was impressed that so many came to volunteer even at the height of the pandemic. The Food Bank maintained very strict social distancing safety protocols, and Vince says, “everybody who volunteered knew the risk, but they did it anyway. You know the risk and you know what you’re doing, but at the end of the day people need to eat.” 

For these bartenders, helping at the Food Bank has felt immediate, tangible, and important. “There’s an instant impact. You know that the food we bagged at 10 this morning will be on somebody’s table tonight.” 

What’s Next?

Now that the Bay Area and the country is slowly coming back to normal, these bartenders are back at their jobs, but they plan to keep on volunteering. They’re already confirmed for next week! 

We count on volunteers and organizers like Vince to make a difference by volunteering in our warehouse or in the community. It only takes a few hours of your day to make a big difference. Sign up for your shift today at sfmfoodbank.org/volunteer, and if you aren’t able, please consider making a donation to support our efforts. 

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.”

Partner Spotlight: Q&A with Casey Federico

May 13, 2020

When schools closed in March, parents and caregivers were immediately left figuring out how to balance work, childcare, and homeschooling their children. For the families who relied on the Food Bank every week, there was an added layer of stress – where would they get their groceries? Prior to shelter-in-place, many families could pick up the fresh groceries at their school pantry during drop-off or pick-up. Across San Francisco and Marin, school closures caused 46 of the Food Bank’s Healthy Children food pantries to stop their weekly distributions 

One such pantry was at Dolores Huerta Elementary School in San Francisco’s Mission District. When the school closed teachers and staff quickly worked to identify and contact families to let them know where they could access foodEven with new available pop-up pantries opening nearby, with vulnerable relatives at home, some families could not attend nearby Pop-up pantries. The school’s Family Liaison, Nataly Terrazas; Elementary Advisor, Luis García; School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, and school parent and pantry coordinator, Casey Federico quickly sprang into action matching families who couldn’t leave their house with volunteers who could pick up and deliver food to them. They now have 30 volunteers who trade off delivering to 13 families.  

Last week we caught up with Casey to learn more about what is happening in their community

(This conversation was edited for length and clarity.) 

Food Bank: How did you start partnering with us and what have you been doing since the start of the pandemic?   

Casey FedericoAt Dolores Huerta, which is both of my daughters’ elementary school, there was an established food pantry every Monday morning. Another parent had coordinated it before me, but their son graduated, so I took on the job of being the pantry coordinator this fall. Even before shelter-in-place, we were seeing a huge expansion in need for the pantry. We grew from a 50person pantry last year to a 70- or 80-person pantry in November.  

When the shelter-in-place happened, I was in communication with Edith, our neighborhood representative from the Food Bank, and knew everything was shifting. At the same time, I was getting all these texts and messages from families at the school saying, ‘we are about to be out of food’ There were lots of different challenging situations. And so, from discussions with the school team – Sarah, Luis, and Nataly – we found out who couldn’t leave their home for whatever reason and identified 12 families who needed food delivered. We started with a group of volunteers –families who did have transportation and could go to a food pantry and pick up a box and then deliver it to those people’s homes.  

Our School Social Worker, Sarah Volk, is such an inspiration. She was just so careful and thoughtful about confidentiality. Sarah asked families who they’d be okay being paired with, because to have someone know you are receiving food from the Food Bank and then know where you live, that is a big deal. She was just super thoughtful about that and got everybody’s permission all along the line. 

FB: What are you hearing from people in the community now? 

CF: I’m still hearing a lot of people saying, you know, we got this [food], but it isn’t really enough. That is the hard reality. So many families that are part of our community are hospitality workers, etc.  

Another amazing thing that happened is one of our teachers, her fiancé owns a restaurant and every time somebody from the community buys a meal in his restaurant, Toma, he’s donating a meal to a family in need. He’s also delivering meals. So, families are getting additional support from that too.  

But what I just heard from Sarah last week, is just the numbers are increasing so much. So, we are talking about how to meet new needs. It’s really challenging. 

FB: Do you talk to the families you deliver to? How are they doing?  

CF: One thing that’s been really good, is a lot of relationships have been built between the families who are delivering and the families who are receiving. I know everybody’s been sending texts like, I’m going to drop it off. They text, I got it, thank you.  

There’s also been some specific communication around needing health items like toothpaste and soap and tampons, and that kind of stuff. A few volunteers who have the capacity have also been sharing those types of items with families. Many of the families who are delivering are also out of work or running low on food themselves.  

FB: We see this too, it’s incredible how many of our volunteers say, ‘oh yeah, I’m out of work right now and so I have free time and I’m going to do this.’ 

CF: I know, it just takes my breath away. One of the women who is helping deliver said ‘oh yeah, we both lost our jobs last week, but this is just so important, it’s the one trip I have purpose around. I have to do this.’  

FB: Is there anything else that you wanted to share about the experience? 

CF: I think the one thing that the Food Bank really does is bring together a community of people. Almost everybody who volunteered at the weekly food pantry at Dolores Huerta is also receiving a box of food. And so, I think our, our community of folks who really view themselves as part of the system were ready to jump in. The group of parents who help us to set up, fold up boxes, and do all that kind of stuff are really jumping up again to help out, which is cool. 

That sort of friendly, joyful mood that was at our Monday morning pantry translates over and made people feel comfortable to be both asking and giving. I’m so proud to be part of this community!