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.

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.

San Francisco 49ers write holiday notes to Food Bank clients – you can write one, too!

Members of the SF 49ers with holiday notes they wrote to SF Food Bank clients.

We’ve got a big goal: to give a note of caring and encouragement to each family receiving Thanksgiving groceries from the San Francisco Food Bank. That’s 35,705 notes!

Today, we got some help from the San Francisco 49ers, when Delaney Walker, Kevin Jurovich and Nate Byham stopped by our warehouse. Here’s one of the notes they wrote to our client families:

You can help, too! Write your note online and we’ll print it out to share with one of our 35,705 client families.

This holiday season, help us make sure families in need get all the nourishment we associate with Thanksgiving – and all the good cheer that makes the food taste so much better. Please join the 49ers and write a note here!

Poverty an ever-growing problem nationally and locally

Image of Pantry line at Arriba Juntos

Line at a pantry hosted by Arriba Juntos, a community-based organization the Mission District, San Francisco

No one needs to read the news to know that the state of the U.S. economy is not what it once was.

But just last week, the Census Bureau reported that 43.6 million people were living in poverty last year. In other words, 14.3% of the U.S. population lives on less than…wait for it…$22,050 per year for a family of four. Meanwhile, the unemployment rates in San Francisco and Marin are still substantial at 9.7% and 8.4%, respectively. We see the persistent effects of increasing poverty in our pantry lines. All in all, we served 200,000 people  in San Francisco and Marin in the past year.

Even though the news of the national economic turmoil should come as no surprise, it is actually the highest number since the Bureau started publishing such things back in 1959. For some perspective, that’s the year Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state, i.e.,  a long time ago.

At the Food Bank, we have seen a steady increase in need at our pantries as more and more people are squeezed by reduced hours, longer-than-anticipated unemployment, and the inevitable pile-up of bills.

Meanwhile, it’s a tough time to get a job anywhere in the country:

Currently, there are nearly five workers actively searching for work for every job available, compared to just one and a half job searchers per job opening before the Great Recession began.” Read the full story at the Center for American Progress

And the prognosis is that the unemployment crisis is likely to continue even as the recession wanes:

Historical experience shows that unemployment and poverty rates keep rising after a recession ends. This was more apparent in the recessions of 1990 and 2001 than in those of 1973, 1980, and 1981. So poverty rates are likely to continue to rise in 2010, even though by some measures the economy and the job market are beginning to strengthen.” Read the full story at the Urban Institute

Because unemployment leads to poverty, and there is a prediction of continued unemployment, poverty will likely persist throughout 2010 and even increase in 2011:

“… Key forms of federal assistance — including additional weeks of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed and a temporary program that has created 250,000 mostly private-sector jobs for low-income parents and youth — are slated to expire by the end of this year.”  Read the full story at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

In order to bridge the gap, the San Francisco Food Bank is doing everything possible to meet the unrelenting need for food assistance. We’re opening more grocery pantries in partnership with hundreds of local nonprofits. We’re offering benefits outreach, nutrition education, senior food boxes, school snack programs.  And we’re fighting for better school lunches and legislation.

We strive to provide not just any type of food but fresh and nutritious food. Pundits may be declaring the recession over, but unemployment is still high and is forecasted to keep climbing. With money at its tightest, the Food Bank is working to provide the highest quality foods to our neighbors in need.

To learn more about our programs please visit our website.

“If somebody needs my help, I will give it to them. That’s how it goes.”

Gamal* and his family are from Morocco. They fled domestic violence there and settled in San Francisco two years ago. Gamal is 19 years old. He’s a pantry volunteer and client. Here is his story in his own words:

I’m from Casablanca. I live like, 15 years in Morocco and when I was four years old, my dad, he died. And my mom, she raised us. She used to work in hotels so she could get money and support us and raise us all herself. She raised us well. She never let us down.

Gamal is a client and volunteer at a pantry in Bayview Hunters Point.

My big brother used to work to help my mom. And my big sister, she used to work, too. Me, too. When I turned 12, I started to work at a fish shop. Because the way my mom told us how to be, and how she told us my dad was, it made me feel like I had to become a man and I had to support myself. You know what I mean?

And one day, I was sitting on our block and my brother, he came and he told me, “pack up. You’re going to America.” I was so happy. And when I take the airplane, me and my sister, we put our feet down here in San Francisco. It was my first city in America. I’m very glad I came to this country. I love my country, but I love this country more.

When I moved here, I go to school for one year and I didn’t know anything. It was like a new language and it was hard for me to learn all the words and the letters. And I didn’t know how to speak for all that year. At that time, my brother-in-law, he brought us food from the Food Bank. And I was like, let me go see. So I got a number and I was waiting. And the truck came and they put the food outside. And there was a lady there.  She was working, lifting heavy stuff.

A pantry volunteer readies canned tomatoes for distribution

And how my mom raised me, she told me, all the time respect older people and all the time help older people, you know what I mean? If you see somebody doing something and they cannot do it and you can, then do it. So I saw the lady lifting the heavy stuff and I asked her, “can I help you?”  And she said, “sure, thank you so much.”  And she ask, “do you want to be a volunteer?” And I said, “sure.”

When I help at the food pantry and when I am working, I don’t show what I feel inside. It’s like, I’m all the time smiling to the people. I’m walking down the street and I’m smiling to everybody. It’s like everybody, they think I’m happy and stuff like that, but I’m not. I’m all the time scared and all the time thinking about my mom and thinking about getting an education, and learning how to read and write English better so I can support my mom more. Because she deserves that, you know?

So I work with my brother-in-law, fixing cars with him. But Wednesday is the food pantry and I told him, I’m going there. And then I started bringing food to my mom and she was happy. My mom cooks Moroccan food. The stuff we get, it’s like, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, sometimes juice, sometimes eggs, sometimes rice – all that food, we can cook it like Moroccan food.

So basically, I’m like three years in America. One year, I need help and two years, I help others. I volunteer at the food pantry. It’s like, if I need help, I will take it. But if somebody needs my help, I will give it to them. That’s how it goes.

*Name changed to protect identity.

“I have to be strong.”

Casey's mom visits a pantry in the TenderloinCasey Walter (left) lives in a supportive housing facility in the Tenderloin with her mother, Jessie, and her siblings. Jessie shared her story with us in a recent interview:

I’ve lived here in the Tenderloin for three years. We were homeless and there was a lady officer who fought for us to get housed here in this building. It was myself and their father, my oldest girl Casey and my son Dylan. My youngest, Kayla, I had after we moved in here.

We had been living in Clear Lake and their daddy was working down here. Then, the trailer we were living in was red-tagged – that means it was declared uninhabitable. So we had to get out. And then we came down here and he was working and we were living in the car. He was working in a window factory. But then he got laid off.

I’m not going to lie to you. I’m on welfare. Their daddy left us and I couldn’t get a job. I went like, two or three months without anything and I couldn’t wait anymore, so I applied for welfare. I mean, I got my kids. I have to be there for them. I have to do it. I have to be strong for them. Because their daddy is gone. There’s no way he’s coming back. He’s in jail now.

It’s nice here, the people are really nice. But this is a terrible place to raise kids. My two oldest are school age and I need to get them out of this neighborhood. I need to get them away from everyone their daddy knows and the things they see.

I hope I can find a job as a waitress. That’s the only kind of job I’ve ever had. In the meantime, the food bank is really helpful. My little one really likes the carrots. That’s her favorite, she’s really into carrots right now. My son, he’s more into rice and bread and things like that. I try to piece things together for them that’ll make them all happy. Like tonight, I’m going to make sloppy joes. I got some sauce from the food bank here and I went to the store for the meat, and that should get us though the week.

What can I say? It’s just really hard to get by.

“It’s hard to get by”

Ginny is a pantry client a the mother of a teenage boy

Ginny is a Food Bank pantry client and the mother of a teenage boy. She shared her perspective with us in a recent conversation:

I grew up in San Francisco and before, you used to be able to get so much more for your money. And now it’s extremely hard to get by.

First things first, I pay my rent. And I pay the PG&E. And I pay the phone. Sometimes I’ll not pay one bill to pay for another. And then don’t pay for that bill to pay another bill just to keep everything caught up. To not get cut off. But it seems like I’m never out of the hole.

Then my son will be saying, “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.

soup and rice at a Food Bank pantry

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.

Then there’s Food Stamps. What happens with that is, they’ll deny me and then they give it to the child. It’s $200. I appreciate it, but once I asked them, how did you come up with $200? And the lady told me, “it’s not for you. It’s not for you, it’s for him. Six dollars and change every day for a month.”

My son comes first. I want him to go to college, most definitely. I don’t want my son to be another statistic. But to do that, he needs to grow up and learn to be a man. Children have to make mistakes to learn from them. So I give him a little leeway and he has his curfew and his cell phone so I can keep track of what he’s doing. I know a lot of people would say he really doesn’t need that phone. Well, I feel that he does. Because that keeps me sane – to know where he is, to know that he can check in with me.

Still, a lot of times, we get into arguments. And that is so ridiculous. To be yelling at your child because he ate. Because there’s no bread. To yell at your child because he drank all the milk. And that’s how you start your day. Your child gets up and says, “mom, what is there to eat?” “Well, THERE’S NOTHING TO EAT BECAUSE YOU ATE EVERYTHING!” It’s just ridiculous to be arguing with your child in the morning, on the way to school, because he don’t have nothing to eat. I mean, he feels like, “Hey. You had me. You should be able to feed me.” And you feel less than a mom.

I know it’s clear to him that I’m trying. But he’s just frustrated. How can he sit in school all day hungry? He wants to study business. He used to want to be an attorney. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for even one credit. I mean, look. I’ve been working since I was 12. Started out with a paper route, did a youth program and then I worked in the delis and the restaurants, but then I got injured. People don’t come onto this earth thinking they’re going to be poor. I’m just glad at least some people have love and compassion.

Hunger Takes Over the Headlines

A pantry volunteer holds golden beets, one of many healthy SF Food Bank offerings for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, the San Francisco Food Bank made sure that 30,000 households enjoyed a fresh, healthy holiday dinner. But shocking news stories about hunger in the Bay Area – and across our country – underscore the fact that more and more people every day are seeking help.

In the past two years, San Francisco has seen an 18% increase in people receiving food stamps; in Marin the increase is an astounding 45%. This New York Times article talks about the rising need all across the U.S. – and notes that many of those eligible in California aren’t even receiving food stamps:

Food Stamp Use Soars

With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children…

Also, the Times has created an interactive map showing changes in food stamp usage across the country.

You might be amazed to know how much of our food goes to waste. This NBC story reveals that…

40% Of Food Produced Goes To Waste, While One In Six Go Hungry

Vicki Escarra, the president and CEO of Feeding America [the national organization of food banks], calls hunger America’s “dirty little secret.” Mara Schiavocampo from NBC Nightly News discovered America’s hunger problems first-hand as she visited a struggling family…

Seniors have been hit particularly hard by the recession. Read about it in his Associated Press story:

Recession sends older Americans to food pantries

The number of seniors living alone who seek help from food pantries in the U.S. increased 81 percent to 408,000 in 2008, compared to 225,000 in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

Locally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the ever-growing number of requests that the San Francisco Food Bank is receiving for help:

More Americans going hungry

The San Francisco Food Bank has seen requests for assistance increase 20 percent compared with this time last year, with fewer donations, and will deliver Thanksgiving meals to 30,000 households, up from 22,000 last year…

The Chronicle reminded its readers that the holidays, coupled with a greater and greater, need make it crucial for all of us to help:

An opportune time to help feed the hungry

Pushed by recession, nearly 50 million people are skipping meals unwillingly, forgoing a balanced diet, or signing up for food stamps or giveaway programs, the measures used to come up a broad-brush picture of hunger in America. The figure is the highest on record since the Agriculture Department began tracking “food insecurity…”

What can you do to help? Volunteer at our warehouse or one of our grocery distribution pantries. Donate food or money – for every $1 donated, we can provide $9 worth of food to hungry San Franciscans. Urge your elected officials to make ending hunger a key part of their agenda. Visit our website to learn more.

Another New Grocery Pantry Opens in the Sunset!

Youth volunteers

San Francisco Food Bank welcomed a new grocery pantry this past weekend at First United Presbyterian Church in the Sunset District.

Ready volunteers

This community-centered church already offers ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and its parishioners are excited to be able to better serve their community by providing free groceries to those in need. Word is spreading and client numbers are already climbing as the pantry gets rolling.

Pantry movement

This past Saturday, pantry volunteers met clients with big, welcoming smiles as they distributed lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, taco seasoning, cucumbers, luncheon meat, flavored water, yams and cabbage.

Handing out food

A variety of volunteers who spoke Taiwanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog and Korean were available to share recipes and give clients information on the many uses of taco seasoning!


At the San Francisco Food Bank, we’re proud that we’ve been able to reach out to diverse neighborhoods and communities. At many grocery pantries, we serve clients who speak a wide range of languages and have diverging food needs. We try to provide culturally appropriate food items (for example, beans for Latino clients and rice for Asian clients), but we also work to educate people about tasty, nutritious food items they might not be familiar with.

Strong volunteer2

Congratulations to the hard-working volunteers at First United Presbyterian Church and our tireless Programs staff for launching another successful grocery pantry!

Fifth Recession Relief Grocery Pantry Opens

smiling 3Last week, San Francisco Food Bank opened our fifth special Recession Relief Grocery Pantry – this one, at Geneva Avenue Methodist United Church, in partnership with Nueva Vida Ministerios.

These new pantries were created to serve people hit by the recession who have not accessed food assistance before. (If you need food, and live in San Francisco, dial 2-1-1 on your phone for the pantry nearest you.)

Who are the people visiting this grocery pantry, getting help for the first time?


Ines (shown in the photo above with her two daughters) is from Guanajuato, Mexico. Both she and her husband work at a company that puts on events, but business has been slow lately. She said that sometimes there’s only work 2 days out of the week, so money is very tight. She marveled at all the variety on offer and said she was glad that her daughters had something to eat.

Ramon is from the Philippines and he’d heard about the pantry through his brother-in-law. He has a part-time job at a shipping company, which he managed to get 6 months ago when he was let go from his previous job (also at a shipping company). He said he felt lucky to have that job, even though it’s not enough hours, because so many people don’t have work at all. He said he was having depression issues. He also kept saying that he felt like other people need the help more than he does, and seemed to be struggling with the idea of having to get help:

“When my brother-in-law told me about this, I was a little hesitant, to be honest. I see people who need help more than I do. People who don’t have a home, or people who have bigger problems. And when you walk around on the street, people don’t see you like you are someone who goes to the food bank. I don’t want to tell people that. I don’t think of myself like that. I don’t see myself that way – so many people need help more than I do. But it’s hard to make enough money these days. It’s so hard to find a job.”

cute old lady volunteers

Despite being in the fog-blanketed Outer Mission, this grocery pantry has some of the sunniest, most excited volunteers ever. Many are parents or grandparents who bring children along to share the spirit of giving; quite a few are multilingual, easing the way for those new to the process. They’re thrilled to be helping out friends and neighbors, many of whom hadn’t known where to turn or had been afraid to ask for help.

smiling woman cukes

young volunteers

distribution - tomatoes

In its first two weeks, the pantry has offered a bounty of groceries from the SF Food Bank warehouse, including fresh watermelons, mushrooms, zucchini, strawberries, plums, potatoes, onions, cantaloupe, two kinds of summer squash, corn, carrots, yams, bananas, cucumbers and tomatoes – plus rice, pizza dough, chicken sausage with spinach and feta and peach Izzy sodas.

CU plums

CU strawberries

CU mushrooms

CU bananas

This week, the Geneva grocery pantry served more than 65 thankful families, and we’re expecting that number to increase every week, as word spreads.

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