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.” 

 

Our Community Cookbook: Holiday Recipes and Stories

November 15, 2022

How many of our favorite holiday memories revolve around food? Spanning different cultures, regions and families, food is at the center of our tables and our traditions, especially during this time of year. So, inspired by the season, we set out to ask Food Bank staff, volunteers, and our community what some of their favorite holiday recipes and food-related memories are. Please enjoy this collection of stories and tasty treats – and let us know if you make any!

Hui Yu’s Soy Sauce Turkey and Potatoes

We met Hui Yu at her neighborhood pantry in the SOMA district, where she volunteers regularly and picks up groceries for her and her husband as well. Prior to retirement, Hui Yu worked in a restaurant kitchen, so she’s no stranger to feeding others. Now, she often cooks meals for friends in her senior living facility who can’t make it out to the pantry. Poultry was at the top of Hui Yu’s list as a holiday main: “With chicken, sometimes I’ll roast or fry it. Or, we’ll have the whole family over and then celebrate together with a turkey. On the outside, I’ll use Chinese soy sauce, put it all over the skin, massage it, and then inside, put some potatoes.” Sounds delicious!

Katherine’s Pfeffernüsse

Katherine, Donor Database Coordinator at the Food Bank, shared a Pfeffernüsse recipe (German spiced cookies) that brings back the memories of a winter trip with friends years ago. “One of the joys of food for me is that it can so easily evoke memories and sensations from good times with those I love, or on adventures in places I love. Pfeffernüsse will always remind me of the Christmas I spent in Berlin visiting friends. One bite and I’m suddenly coming in from the biting cold to have a small treat of the spiced cookie and a cup of hot tea after my daily ritual of wandering through the neighborhood Weihnachtsmarkt. The glazed version is common, but I also like them with a dusting of powdered sugar or just plain.” Keep scrolling for her full recipe!

Barbara’s Okra, Cornbread, and Sweets

Barbara, a senior living in the Fillmore who picks up groceries at her neighborhood pantry, sees the holidays as an opportunity. “My favorite recipes for the holidays are things you don’t make on a regular basis, traditional recipes that comes down from your family. My favorite recipe that was passed down to me is my mother’s okra.” At first thoughtfully pondering what else makes up her usual holiday table, Barbara began quickly listing other favorites: “I’m a dessert person, so I make lemon pies, coconut pineapple cake, peach cobblers and banana puddings. Oh, and cornbread dressing! Because there’s no recipe for that – it has the basics, the trinity: onion, pepper, celery. But it’s more of a feeling. So, the trick to that is to make a scratch cornbread.” We agree. Often, the best recipes aren’t written down or in a cookbook – they’re a feeling, or a memory.  

Steve’s Turkey Dinner

“I think holiday meals are always a way of coming together with family,” Steve told us at his neighborhood pantry. He’s a military retiree and a volunteer at his local pantry, where he also picks up groceries for him and his wife. For his family, the holidays are about the joining of different traditions. “I have a traditional turkey dinner, where I usually go up to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving. And then I host a turkey dinner for my wife’s family. My wife’s Chinese, so we tend to do Chinese vegetables, mashed potatoes and cranberries [on the side].”

Kim’s Naw Mai Fan

As Program Manager at the Food Bank, Kim is around good food quite a bit! But nothing quite compares to her family recipe for naw mai fan. “This is my mom’s recipe. She learned how to make this from my grandmother, an immigrant from the Toisan region of China in Guandong province. My grandmother came to San Francisco’s Chinatown right after World War II, where she raised my mother. We make naw mai fan every Thanksgiving and Christmas and it is my all-time favorite food.” Full recipe is included below, so please let us know if you give it a try!

María’s Ponche con Piquete

Sharing is caring! María is a mom, volunteer, and pantry participant in San Rafael. She told us that her family embraces potlucks during the holidays, but also for camping trips and other gatherings throughout the year. “Our tradition for Christmas is to get the whole family together, and everyone brings a little something. Someone brings the pozole, someone else the tamales, the champurrado, the ponche. We make ponche con piquete, like we call it back home – it’s made from fruit, and you add wine to your liking.” 

 

 

This is just a small sampling of the wide variety of food traditions in our community – a huge thank you to all who shared with us! To neighbors across San Francisco and Marin, we wish you a happy holiday season. We hope some of these recipes and stories inspire your next culinary adventure!

Detailed Recipes

Thank you to Katherine for sharing her Pfeffernüsse recipe. Here it is, in full: 

 

Thank you to Kim for sharing her family’s naw mai fan recipe. Here it is, in full:

 

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. 

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.”