Great Turkey returns in Marin

The Great Turkey has been a Marin holiday institution since 1992, sitting pretty on its hay bales at the Town Center Corte Madera, while accepting donations of food, cash, and hugs from children and the young at heart.

“I am really surprised the ‘World’s Largest Turkey’ is still going strong!” says Lead Turkey Architect John “Lucky” Lister. “Sometimes I meet young mothers who filled the turkey as kids, coming back with their children to donate.”

Twenty years ago, John had been working at Industrial Light and Magic on major films such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Howard the Duck, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? when the Food Bank approached him about an idea for an interactive Thanksgiving display for the Town Center Corte Madera. “It turned out to be quite a challenge to design a turkey that was not as repulsive as the real bird.” Eventually, John was able to make an adorable turkey that Marin residents have loved for years.

Originally having been built to withstand the November weather, the Turkey was so popular that the mall displayed it until New Year’s every year.  A few years ago, on what was almost the Turkey’s 18th birthday, it was decided that a new bird needed to be built.

It took three years to redesign and recreate the Great Turkey.  Thanks to Ken Sly of Dimensional Graphics, the new Turkey is more waterproof than the previous sculpture, which will hopefully help her last through fowl weather.

Special thanks to:  Josh Koral at Acme Scenery in Brisbane, who kindly let John use their shop to construct the bird.  David Fiend of Parts and Templates in San Carlos, who cut out more than 300 feathers and curved structure pieces. Ed Raymond of the stagehands union IATSE #16, who helped get the word out for volunteers. And of course, to John Lister, who put in the bulk of the work, logging over 200 hours to make our feathered friend.

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.

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.

“The only meals they ate were from our cafeteria.”

Sally Carbonaro* is a mother of two. She’s also the pantry coordinator at Hamilton Elementary School in Novato, Marin County. In a recent interview, she reflected on the impact the school’s pantry has had in the year since it opened.

We started our pantry— we call it the Hamilton Family Market—almost a year ago. When we first started, we were serving 50 families each week. And now, we’re up to 300. We’re there every single Wednesday from 6:00 A.M. until about a quarter to nine.

One thing we’re particularly proud of is that we run the market every single week. We’re there even if school’s out, even if it’s a vacation or it’s a holiday. And we’re open through Christmas, Thanksgiving and the summer.  I think that our constant presence over the past year has been really powerful. It shows that we’re not just here because school is here – we’re here for our community.

From the very beginning, we were careful to position the pantry just as we would any other school event. That is, any family with a student in our school can come. And so because of the way the pantry is portrayed, there’s no stigma for the children and families who attend. The students don’t see the market as a reason to tease each other on the playground, and many parents and grandparents volunteer. It’s seen as another community event, just like any other. Because we’ve taken that approach, we’ve been able to reach out to our more vulnerable families with these really critical needs almost under the radar.

Families receive free, fresh produce and other foods every week.

… I’d love to say the recession has started to fade.  In fact, it’s the opposite.

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.

Much as I’d love to say the recession has started to fade, in fact, it’s the opposite. I’ve started to hear more stories of more people losing their homes, losing their jobs. So at least our market can serve as a relief from some of the financial pressure people are facing. Because of our market, many families can wait to go shopping until Thursday, the day after the Hamilton Family Market. We help their dollars stretch by letting parents see what groceries they can get here before they buy food at the store. It’s tough for people to buy fresh produce—it’s just too expensive—but thankfully, a lot of what we have at our family market is fresh fruits and vegetables.

Parent volunteers make sure the pantry is open to everyone in need.

“Our market really goes beyond food.”

Word has even gotten out to the rest of the town about our market, and every once in a while, someone who doesn’t have a student at the school will come by. I actually think that’s a good thing because we’re able to direct them to other services and organizations out in the community. So in that way, the market has really started to tie our school and community closer together.

Obviously, the problem doesn’t stop with the end of the school day. The market is not just to give out food, which they need to do well in school – it also shows the kids our commitment to them. It shows them that their school is their community, that we involve their families, and that we care about them. Now, we don’t have any fluffy set up. We’re in the school gym and we have the food set on tables, and there are lots of boxes on the stage. But we are still more than just a market. I always say, “Kids don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.” And I feel like our market really goes beyond food – we’re creating a community.

*Sally elected not to have her photo included – photo is of a different parent volunteer at the Hamilton Family Market.

A Very Special “Thank You”

thank you from lynwood elementary school

Thanks to all of our volunteers, donors and supporters! Your help is making a huge impact out in the community.  We just received a wonderful note and some photos from one of our newest Marin County pantries in Novato. Jose, the volunteer pantry coordinator at Lynwood Elementary School, wrote:

Thank you San Francisco food Bank

Parents At Lynwood are So thankful with you and your help. It is so nice when We see all parents come and getting their food. specially in this though times when a lack of work is present, Please keep with  this program,I personally think that it is so great we have people like you God bless you. Please see the pictures I’ve taken for you.

thank you very much.

Thank you to everyone who is helping us make a difference in people’s lives!

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.

Rallying around food in Marin and the Outer Mission

Recession relief comes to Marin

This past weekend saw the opening of the Food Bank’s newest recession relief pantry in San Rafael’s Canal District. 175 families came out on that first day and were welcomed with an ample supply of groceries including: eggs, milk, bananas, onions, potatoes, carrots, chicken broth, yams, bagged rice, nectarines, corn, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce.

Marin recession pantry volunteer

The pantry is run and operated by a collaboration of local community leaders, volunteers, and the Canal Welcome Center. Located in the Canal district of San Rafael, the organization acts as a hub of services from job training, ESL classes and immigration referrals to business workshops, civic and voting education, financial literacy, free tax aid and more.

Canal Welcome Center

The opening attracted a higher turnout than expected, and we anticipate the distribution growing to over 200 families in its second week. For more on the Food Bank’s recession relief efforts, please click here.

Youth-Run Healthy Children Pantry in the Outer Mission

Excelsior Teen Center volunteer

The Excelsior Teen Center (ETC) is the site of a second new Food Bank pantry in the Outer Mission. The ETC offers teens a chance to participate in leadership development, violence prevention, employment training and placement, and afterschool and summer programs. They also serve as a safe space drop-in center for youth from 3-7pm for youth from all over the city.

Teen volunteer at Outer Mission pantry

Visitors to the pantry were ecstatic and went home to tell their neighbors about the pepperoni, squash, potatoes, yams, Brussels sprouts, green beans, mangoes, oranges, bell peppers, lettuce, pasta, popcorn, cottage cheese, onions, beets, cucumbers, and bananas.

Two More Grocery Pantries Open this Week!


This past Saturday, San Francisco Food Bank opened its second Recession Relief Grocery Pantry. This one is located at Old First Presbyterian Church, on Sacramento and Van Ness streets.


These new pantries are specially designed to serve people hit by the recession who have not accessed food assistance before.


Fifteen enthusiastic volunteers from both Old First and San Francisco Food Bank’s Volunteer Services department turned out to help.  All the great summer produce is coming in, and we were thrilled to have such a wonderful selection of fresh vegetables to hand out.


Partcipants received reusable bags, carrots, onions, green onions, corn, potatoes, yams, celery, chicken stock, pesto, chicken sausage, brussel sprouts, asparagus, rice, grape flavored drink mix, and bread.


Today, we also opened a new Healthy Children Grocery Pantry at 201 Turk Street in the Tenderloin, in collaboration with Chinatown Community Development Center, which serves more than 110 families.

Healthy Children grocery pantries are often located at schools or community centers, so we can reach families with children, who are in particular need of food assistance over the summer, when they can’t access a school meals program.


Pantry participants received asparagus, yellow squash, butter lettuce, corn, oranges, onions, carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, cereal, cottage cheese, pasta, Chex Mix and Capri Sun.

More than 60 families attended the pantry today. Everyone was very excited and grateful to get the good food.

6th Marin County Grocery Pantry Opens

Fresh produce ready for families at the new Marin pantry

San Francisco Food Bank opened our sixth Healthy Children’s pantry in Marin County this morning! Our brand new grocery pantry is at Hamilton Meadow Park Elementary School, in Novato.

More than 60 families participated in today’s distribution, and in the coming weeks we anticipate the number to increase at a steady pace. Families received onions, potatoes, mushrooms, pasta, turkey chubs (pre-packaged ground turkey), yams, cucumbers, oranges, turnips, chocolate milk and pre-bagged lettuce.

Families pick out food at the new Marin Pantry

The distribution took place in their auditorium, and all tables were provided and set up the night before by the parents and administrators. The groceries and produce were laid out on tables “farmers market-style” with signs indicating the amount of each item the families could take.

Hamilton Meadow Park Elementary School is located in the southern section of Novato, on the old Hamilton Air force base site, and is the stepping stone into the whole Hamilton community. There are 508 students enrolled, and nearly half – 241 students – come from families with incomes so low, they are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch. This statistic alone allowed us to determine that Hamilton would be a perfect fit to the expansion of our Healthy Children’s Pantry program in Marin County.

Fresh produce ready for distribution at the new Marin pantry

Thanks to all the wonderful organizations on campus, such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), ELAC (English Learner Advisory Council) and SLC (Site Leadership Council) for assisting in the outreach efforts to inform, assist, and prepare the families at Hamilton for the initial distribution.

A special thanks to all the folks in the warehouse for all their hard work in making this possible. We tend to forget that without the folks in the warehouse collecting and organizing all the food that comes into the food bank, much of our efforts and work would never come to fruition.

Thanks to San Francisco Food Bank Program Coordinator Roberto C. Gonzalez for this report!

Meeting the need in Marin

The San Francisco Food Bank is reaching across the Bay to meet the need in Marin – just in time for the holidays. We’ve opened four new pantries at Marin elementary schools and community centers, targeting low-income families in San Rafael’s Canal District.

Parent and San Pedro Elementary schoolchild

In the first week alone, over 600 families were served at festive distributions featuring all the fixings needed for holiday meals. One school principal commented, “This couldn’t have come at a better time. A lot of our parents do domestic work or construction, so they’ve been hit pretty hard lately.” She continued, “This community, they have that value that everything you’ve got, you work for. They help each other out.”

Parent volunteers manning San Pedro Elementary School's first pantry day

True to her word, 40 parents turned out at San Pedro Elementary School on a cold morning in November to man the Food Bank pantry. Pedro, Alejandro and Roberto* helped unload the truck as their children raced around, hand-writing signs showing what was available that day: carrots/zanahorias, chicken/pollo; rice/arroz, and many others. By 9:00am, almost 150 families with schoolchildren in tow were waiting by the gate.

Granny Smith Apples, cabbage and oranges

The tables were decked with rice, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, canned peas and corn, chicken and stuffing. No one left empty-handed. As the families filed back into the school with festive red bags full of food, one parent volunteer cheerfully encouraged them to return the following week and to bring the bag back with them to be filled once again.

*All names changed to protect identity

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