“The food I receive helps me get by.”

Joann Medeiros is a retired San Francisco native on a fixed income. She is a volunteer and program participant at the Hosanna Celebration pantry in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. We met her at the pantry when she was working and she kindly shared her story with us.

Volunteering is my way of giving back. I volunteer at the Hosanna Celebration Pantry, but I also get groceries too. It’s wonderful here. I know so many people and it makes me feel good to help, to recognize the faces and talk to people, to give people food who need it. I understand what that’s like because I need the help, too.

I have lived my whole life in San Francisco — I’m a real San Franciscan, born and bred. About eighteen years ago, after working as a janitor and an in-home caretaker, I retired. At that time I was making $7.49 an hour. Now I’m living on an even more fixed income and it’s not always easy.

I’ve been helping at Hosanna for the last four years and right now my job is to hand people their produce. I wake up every morning and I feel good knowing that I’m helping people because of my work here at the pantry.

Each week I take home a bag of groceries from the pantry and stretch it to last the whole week. To make it last, I’ll buy a whole chicken, put it in a pot, then add the veggies I get here and make a stew. Stews are a good way to eat well for days.

The food I receive from the pantry helps me get by, helps me keep my budget on track. It’s not easy living on a fixed income in San Francisco, but I’m working to make it work. Every once in a while I can even treat myself to an afternoon matinee at the senior price of $6.50, but that’s a very big splurge.  When I can, it certainly is a nice treat.

Selecting Food for the Pantries

“Sometimes we get kabocha squashes that most people don’t recognize but we know our Asian agencies love. It’s about knowing who you are serving and what foods we have available and making the best matches.” – Barbara Lin, Program Manager.

When the Food Bank sends food out into the community we thoughtfully consider who is going to consume the food. By ensuring the food fits the diets of those in need, the pantries avoid wasting food and the experience is respectful of program participants.

Over seventy percent of the 43.5 million pounds of food distributed last year went out to the community through our network of farmers’ market-style neighborhood pantries. The pantries are located in places such as churches, schools and community centers throughout San Francisco and Marin. Different locations serve different types of people – small families, large intergenerational families, individuals and seniors.

No matter where the pantry is located, the Food Bank works to make sure there is enough food to feed everyone in need, and that everything is appropriate for the culture, age, and cooking ability of the particular community being served.

Program Manager Barbara Lin says, “Each pantry site lets us know what their clientele eats. For example, we don’t send grapefruit to senior communities because so many seniors take medications that negatively interact with grapefruit. Sometimes we get kabocha squashes that most people don’t recognize but we know our Asian agencies love. It’s about knowing who you are serving and what foods we have available and making the best matches.” These relationships with our pantries allow for the creation of a menu of foods customized for each pantry location.

Emily Citraro, Inventory and Allocations Coordinator, organizes what food will go into each pantry order, paying close attention to what is available in the warehouse, what the pantry wants, and even the freshness of the product. “If we have a supply of red tomatoes, I know they will not be as high quality in a week’s time, so I work to get them distributed right now.”

While considering what we have stocked on the warehouse shelves, Emily also looks to provide equitable distribution of foods across all the pantries we serve. “I plan the menus based on what we have by the truckloads. If a truck comes in full of a certain type of produce or beans, I stretch the inventory of whatever is on that truck to meet the needs of as many pantries as possible.”

But all this planning means nothing unless you have someone to gather the food together. Having received the food menu, Lead Order Builder Richard Faafiu and his team look at the list of pantries and the various food items and gather the food from throughout the warehouse. The forklifts and pallet-jacks travel through the warehouse, quickly assembling neat piles of food on wooden pallets for each pantry. Rich works hard to make sure everything on the menu is accounted for and looks presentable, and says “This food is going out to people who are hungry, and to pantry coordinators that work hard. The whole package should look good so people know there’s great food inside.”

Market to Table

“It’s great to know that my produce is not going to waste — even better that it is going to be enjoyed by somebody who wouldn’t have had access fresh fruit or vegetables otherwise.” – Bob Pizza, produce vendor at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and donor to the Food Bank.

Thanks to the Food Bank’s sustainable partnership with the vendors of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, thousands of pounds of perfectly delectable food are saved from waste each week. Jason Chorney, the market’s Operations Manager, emphasized the mutually beneficial arrangement saying, “Donating unsold food to the Food Bank is both ethically and economically favorable for our merchants. They feel great about feeding people, and it saves them the cost of composting.”

The Produce Market, tucked away in the Bayview district, supplies produce direct from farms to upscale restaurants, hotels, and neighborhood markets.  From late in the night to the early hours of the morning, while most of the city is asleep, the market bustles with 650 employees, 25 merchant vendors and endless trucks moving in and out with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Cousins Jack and Bob Pizza are both produce vendors at the Produce Market, and both men participate in the market’s food donation program. “It’s great to know that my produce is not going to waste — even better that it is going to be enjoyed by somebody who wouldn’t have had access fresh fruit or vegetables otherwise.” Bob Pizza told us.

Bob Pizza, owner of What a Tomato, and a self-proclaimed “lifer” at the produce market, has been working there since he was a teenager. “I graduated high school on a Friday and came to work at the market that Monday!” A few docks down, his cousin Jack Pizza runs Washington Vegetable, a company started by the cousins’ grandfather Donte in 1931. Jack told us, “We try to sell all of our produce, but it’s not always possible. I’m glad the Food Bank has the ability to come and pick up what we can’t sell, so it doesn’t go to waste.”


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