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.”

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