Out of school – and minus a meal

“Imagine you don’t have a well-paying job. Imagine you don’t have a nice apartment, or your home. You have three kids. You’re working part-time at McDonald’s. Then you have another job on top of that. You have one child in childcare, two in school, and you’re paying more than half of your income for rent. But you know your child has food at school.

That’s the situation many of our clients face, as described by Venus, who runs a grocery pantry supported by SF Food Bank. It sounds bad enough – but this time of year, it gets even tougher:

“Now, imagine that the summer comes. You now have to find someone to take care of your children, and you need to make sure they have three meals every day. Can you imagine yourself working two more jobs, or another job just to barely make ends meet? Can you imagine yourself letting your children go hungry?”

While most of us are looking forward to camp, vacations and fun in the sun, thousands of children are at even greater risk of going hungry this summer – a staggering 38,000+ in San Francisco and Marin alone.

Summertime means that children who normally receive free or subsidized school lunches are suddenly minus a meal – in many cases, the one meal they could count on. The San Francisco Food Bank will make every effort to fill in that gap.

We’ve added an additional program to our plate, partnering with the Department of Children, Youth & Their Families to provide healthy snacks daily for 4,000 kids.

Our Programs Department also works hard to help keep our school grocery pantries open, or redirects school pantry visitors to other locations, as needed. And we make sure those pantries that serve an increased number of families have enough food to go around.

Through the coming months, we’ll distribute enough food for 93,000 meals every day, including fresh-picked summer produce: corn, tomatoes, peaches, plums, watermelon and much more.

So as we head into summer, please help us ensure that every child has enough to eat. Because for so many, in summertime the living is not easy.

“I just keep on truckin’ and try to survive.”

Lucille receives groceries each week through an SF Food Bank partnership with Meals on Wheels and Self-Help for the ElderlyLucille is struggling with myriad health issues and is on frequent dialysis. She receives groceries each week through our home-delivered groceries program.

I grew up in Wilson, LA and I moved out here to find a job in 1963. And I did get one. Fact is, I worked up until just two years ago. I had all kinds of jobs. I had a job at an advertising agency. After that, I worked part-time at the post office. I was the bartender at a little place down here on 3rd called Sam Jordon’s for 20 years.

Last place I worked was at the ballpark. That lasted until 2009. Then I got this kidney problem and I could no longer work. I have to be on dialysis Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It can be very tiring. Some days, it leaves you so weak, and some days it’s better. It’s an up and down situation, you know.

One day at a time is how I take it. I just keep on truckin’ and try to survive. I find the food from the Food Bank helpful. It’s very healthy. I cook peas, sometimes I cook stew. Sometimes I make chicken soup. And I also like to do spaghetti. I’m supposed to have the brown spaghetti, but I don’t eat it every day. I only eat it once every 6 months or so, so I might cheat and eat the normal spaghetti.

There are a whole bunch of different things I use out of the grocery bags that I find very helpful and useful. And it does last me the whole week.

I will tell you this: If I wasn’t on this dialysis, I would still be working. I like what I did. I worked the wine bar at AT&T Park. And it was a very, very, very fulfilling job. Oh, do I miss it! Not only for the money. I miss being around the people and the customers. I had such wonderful customers that I still talk to from time to time now. Some people called me from the ballpark just yesterday to wish me a happy birthday. I said, “God, I didn’t know I was that well loved!”

Lucille reminisces about the last job she had

Lucille reminisces about her last job. Next to her are some mementos: a photo taken at a promotional event, and an employee of the month plaque.

But sometimes, I get so down, I tell you, I could just walk away and leave it. That’s that dialysis and stuff. It’s going three times a week and letting somebody put a needle in you and you lay there for three hours. It’s not very pleasant.

In fact, it took me a very long time to decide to go. My doctor would call me, and I’d be right here and I wouldn’t answer the phone ‘cause I didn’t want to. I could hear him. He’d say, “I’ll tell you what, Ms. Lucille. One of these days, you’re going to call me and you’re going to say, ‘Doctor, I’m sick. Real sick.”

Just like he told me is the way it happened. I got so sick I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything. I was just a mess. And when I went down there, I was scared. But then the nurse came and said, “Hi, Lucille. My name is Lilian. We’re going to make you feel better today.” And all my fears just faded away.

“We’re really grateful.”

Rose Chang is 85. She lives at a senior citizens’ residence in the Tenderloin, and shared her story with us recently.

Rose participates and volunteers at an SF Food Bank pantry every week.I’ve lived here for 11 years, and I participate and volunteer at the pantry every week. There are usually five or six of us, and we really like to do the work. It gives us a way to contribute to our community. And our fellow tenants, neighbors and friends are really appreciative of it. We make sure that everyone gets the same as anyone else, and it’s a really good feeling. It makes me feel like I’m contributing.

Typically, we hand out fruits, vegetables and canned food. This was originally a hotel, so we can’t have stoves. We all cook with rice cookers and hot plates. And that’s fine. Because we’re all elderly here, we can’t eat fried stuff or stir-fry anyway. We need to keep it simple. We’re really grateful for having the food and don’t really feel entitled about it.

Maybe because I’ve experienced a lot in my life, including wars, leading a simple life is a huge value for me. I graduated from primary school around when World War II happened. That was 1937, and the Japanese were bombing China. My grandma, my dad, my mom and I all fled from the city to our ancestral village near the border between Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. We brought nothing with us but ourselves.

Rose points to the location of her ancestral village on a map of China

Rose points to the location of her ancestral village on a map of China

After that, I grew up in a typical way, nothing special. My father owned a rice shop, and that shop sustained us quite adequately. We were able to feed ourselves with two meals a day. We were commoners. So my dietary needs and preferences when I was growing up were that, if it’s simple and good, then it’s good. Food is food. My mom did the cooking, and she made really good food. I wasn’t picky.

Now, I like to keep it simple. I don’t have any strong preferences about anything. Though I will tell you that I don’t eat whole oranges – instead, I squeeze them into juice. That’s because once, I got my dentures caught in a piece of orange and then accidentally threw them out. I swept the rinds off my table, with the dentures (unbeknownst to me) and tossed that down the garbage chute. When I came back to brush my teeth, I realized, “Oh my god! Where are my dentures?? They’re in the trash!” I called the building manager, and luckily, I was able to recover them. And so that’s why I drink orange juice.

I just take pleasure in the small tasks I have. In the morning, I cook some oatmeal and add in whatever I have – usually, some cereal, apples, sesame flour and milk. Then I go for an hour’s walk. I like to talk with other people, I like to play mahjongg, and I can spend meaningful, quality time with others doing those things.

My heart is very still and my mind is very still. I feel like I lead a very happy life, a simple life. I don’t worry or ruminate on anything. And if I can help people, then why not? It helps me to let go of everything and maintain a sense of stillness.

“I try to have peace.”

Caridad is fighting to overcome depression. She is a survivor of domestic violence, and lives on a monthly survivor’s benefit and $16 in Food Stamps.

After my husband passed away, I don’t have anybody in my life. And I’m happy. I’m happy because I’m free. I’m happy and safe. Now, I try to have a better life. I try to have peace, but it’s very hard. Very hard.

I try to do everything for myself. That’s why I’m coming to the Food Bank. I pick up the spaghetti, potatoes, celery, carrots. If there’s a lot of beans – dried beans – I try to come back after all the people come and if there’s extra beans, then I take it. I come to the Food Bank and try to solve my problems. Because I need to pay the rent, the gas, the telephone, insurance and try to stretch my money.

What makes me happy? I like cooking. When I’m cooking, I listen to my music very loud. Different kinds of music. If I’m feeling sad, I listen to sad music. But you know the music for the young people? The reggaeton? I like it. When I’m cooking, I’m dancing. I’m dancing, and I chop-chop-chop the celery and the onions and I cry not because I’m upset, but I cry for the onions. I make chicken with tomatoes. I make rice with carrots. Veggies, pasta, meat, stew. I make stew, I make rice – I enjoy cooking.

Yes. I’m happy when I’m cooking.

“I’m blessed.”

Roscoe is 91 years old. Each month, he scrimps to cover his rent, health insurance and medicine on what he receives through Social Security and a small union pension. He visits a Food Bank pantry in Ingleside, where he shared his story with us:

I came out to California in 1943 to work in the shipyards. I worked at Hunters Point, then I worked at Bethlehem Steel. That was down the waterfront, on 3rd and 22nd. I was a welder and a cutter, see, repairing the ships and replacin’ out the metal. The ships came in from the Philippines, from the war zone, and then we’d fix ‘em up here.
When my wife was around, she did the cooking. We were together for 64 years! All those years, I was blessed. She passed in 2001 – she was 84 years old.
Losing her, well, it was pretty bad. She was sick for so long, and I stayed with her at home. And one day, we had my grandson over here and she told him, “You take care of your granddad now. I’m going home.” Within a couple of months, she was gone. She had cancer. She was 84 when she passed. That’s pretty good. It’s a pretty good long life.

Now that I’m by myself, I cook for myself. I’m not too great of a cook because I never did much cooking for myself, but it’s pretty good. You see these greens here? I like to cook those up. Just boil ‘em. You get some salt pork to give it that flavor, you cook it all together, put salt and pepper in and that’s about the size of it.

Stories that inspired us in 2010

5-year olds Ethan, Emily and Sophia taught us that you don't have to be big to make a big difference.

This past year, the need for food was staggering. We constantly broke our all-time monthly record for the most food delivered to hungry families in San Francisco and Marin, distributing millions of pounds of food every month.

How did we do it? With the help of amazing volunteers, donors and clients who constantly inspire us. Here are the people – and the stories – that will continue to inspire us to work even harder in 2011, not stopping until hunger in our community is truly a thing of the past:

Inspiration #1

There were a few tears shed in our office when this letter arrived…

Tamar and Ginger, thank you – and we’re so glad things are looking up for you!

Inspiration #2

Toan Lam, of GoInspireGo made this video about Herman Travis, who noticed that homebound seniors in his public housing community needed food and took it upon himself to see that they received it…

Read more about Herman and his good deeds here.

Inspiration #3

The pre-schoolers at With Care Child Care reminded us that, no matter how small you are, you can make a huge difference. See how they did it in this GoInspireGo video…

Read more about these amazing With Care kids and their teacher, Kathleen, here.

Inspiration #4

The story of pantry client “Ginny” and her teenage son reminded us of how important every single vegetable is…

“Ma, you got anything to eat?” And sad to say, a lot of times it’s like, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat.” That’s the worst thing, when your child is hungry and he can’t just get something to eat when he wants it. A lot of times, I eat less and sometimes don’t even eat so he can have something.

If we didn’t have the food bank, it would be a lot worse for my son. He’s a growing kid, he’s always hungry! And I’m always like, look, you gotta save something for another day. At our food bank here, we get vegetables and rice and a couple of things of juice. I appreciate it all, but you have to make it last. What I’ll do with certain kinds of vegetables we get – like onions, celery and bell pepper – is wash it off, soak it, cut it all up and freeze it. That way, it can stretch…

Read more of Ginny’s story here.

Inspiration #5

When we put out a call for people to write letters of hope and support that would go to our clients along with Thanksgiving groceries, thousands of letters flooded in, including one from San Francisco 49er Kevin Jurovich and a stack of letters and drawings from school children, some even in Spanish and Chinese… 

Read more about the Thanksgiving notes here.


Inspiration #6

Behind every one of our 200+ neighborhood grocery pantries are the volunteer pantry coordinators who take on the tremendous job of getting the food distributed every week. Here’s how a coordinator at one of our newest Healthy Children pantries sees the impact it’s making on a school in Marin…

A lot of people would probably be surprised to see the hunger and homelessness we encounter. It’s a wake-up call, especially here in Marin County. We discovered that we had between 100 and 110 homeless students at our school at any given time, and the only meals they ate were from our cafeteria. So not only were the students not getting a meal before or after school, the rest of their family wasn’t, either. That kind of instability, of constantly moving, of never living under your own roof or having enough to eat – that creates a tough environment for a child. These are some serious obstacles to learning. But I think our market is helping. It’s a small act with a big impact.

Read more about this wonderful new pantry here.  These are just a few of the people who inspired us this year. (There are a lot more stories here.) To all our many volunteers, donors, staff and clients, we give our sincere thanks – and our promise that we’ll work even harder in 2011, to make sure every family in our community has the food they need to thrive. If you’d like to help inspire us, please visit our website to learn more, donate and volunteer.

“It takes a lot out of you to be a grandma!”

Gloria visits a Food Bank pantry in the Fillmore, where she lives with her son and two of her grandchildren. In a recent conversation, she reflected on her role in holdiGloria visits a pantry in the Fillmore to help care for two of her grandchildrenng her family together.

I try to be supportive of my family. My son, well – he’s got baby mama drama. So he’s living here with me, and we’ve got his two children (my grandchildren) here, too. He works for the apartment building taking the garbage out, doing maintenance and that kind of thing. He gets about $400/month. That’s just enough to keep us going along with my money, which is $845. Sometimes a little goes a long way. We don’t get to have all those special things in life, but we’re together.

And my daughter’s going through a divorce now. She went to school to be a nurse, but she still hasn’t gotten a job because it takes a year for the internship. And with the children and everything, it’s a little hard for her. So I’m helping her out with the food and stuff like that.

Then, you got to try to keep the neighborhood safe and that’s another thing. I had to fight for my children not to be in the gangs. We went through that, and now it’s a whole new crew of guys coming up. So I got to keep an eye on my grandchildren, too. And they always say, “oh that’s that nosy old lady over there.” It’s a steady fight.

We are blessed to have a food bank that helps us out so much. When I get home from the pantry, I’m really, really happy. All those vegetables! And the bread! The bread is really important to us because decent bread is like $2.99 a loaf, and I can get whole grain bread from the Food Bank. Sometimes we get a little meat. And it all stretches.

I mean, it’s all about stretching your money! My mom grew up in the country, so she taught me to find all kinds of herbs and greens right here in the area. Like bay leaves. So I’ll go to the park or to a few trees I know on Fulton street and gather those. I got a fish tank off the street and I started a little herb garden in that. I’m proud, but not too proud. You got to make do with what’s around you.

But sometimes, it just seems like I’m so tired. And you just have to keep things together. That’s why I get my butt up and go to the pantry and get food for my family. That’s why I’ll pick up clothes off the street and clean them off to give to my family. Because that’s all I can do. When I share the food with my daughter, she appreciates it so much. I tell her, “You take this so that you can put gas in your car and go to those interviews.”

I’m just thankful for the food bank. The different yogurts and juices we get – these are things that are out of your budget.  The vegetables, and the juices and the milk – that keeps my grandchildren from being sickly, and they’re able to go to school. Because we’re pretty strict about that: eating properly and going to school. My grandson has a B+ average now! So that’s really, really good. And he’s in all kinds of groups and activities at school.

It can all be a handful. It takes a lot out of you to be a grandma, but everything just works out. I don’t know what else to tell you. You just can’t give up.


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