“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.”

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.

New Hybrid Truck Rolls Out Savings – and a New Look

San Francisco Food Bank client Onesimo Flores joins California State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and Food Bank Deputy Executive Director Leslie Bacho in front of the new hybrid truck. Food Bank client Ava is depicted on the truck, enjoying a "very, very, very, very, very special delivery."

The San Francisco Food Bank recently celebrated the arrival of our first hybrid truck. Not only will the new truck mean a 38% savings in fuel costs, but it will also cut back on noise and pollution in neighborhood areas when deliveries are made.

The new truck’s look is as bold as its fuel savings. Actual Food Bank clients are pictured on each side, holding groceries like those the truck will be delivering to our 200+ pantries.

Our new truck, with some of the produce it will be delivering to hungry children, seniors and families.

Over the next five years, the San Francisco Food Bank aims to replace all 11 diesel trucks in our fleet with hybrid vehicles, in order to meet state-mandated regulations.

With our entire fleet converted to hybrid, we’ll see a fuel savings of approximately $25,842 every year. That’s enough to distribute an additional 103,000 pounds of food—or enough groceries for more than 80,700 meals!

The media turned out in full force for the truck’s launch (including three different TV stations), and California State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma joined in the festivities, along with a very proud SF Food Bank client, Onesimo Flores, 74, who is pictured on the truck.

SF Food Bank client, Onesimo Flores, 74, poses next to his photo on the new truck.

Our Grants Department worked tirelessly to make the new hybrid truck a reality. The truck purchase was made possible by a generous $100,000 lead gift from the Trustees’ Philanthropy Fund of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and a $30,000 voucher from the California Air Resources Board’s Hybrid Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP).

The San Francisco Food Bank is grateful to all of the community partners supporting the effort to green our fleet: CALSTART, Eaton, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Coast Counties Peterbilt and Peterbilt Motors Company.

Thanks also goes out to Susan Fleming photography and advertising agency Engine Company 1, for helping us with the truck’s new look and text.

We need your help, too! Replacing all of our fleet with hybrid trucks in just five years is a huge challenge. If you’d like to help, please contact our Development Department at 415-292-1900.

“It’s good. It’s all good.”

Edgar leaves the pantry with his weekly groceriesEdgar lives in an SRO in the Tenderloin, where he both volunteers at and receives food from the building’s Food Bank pantry.

My name is Edgar. I’m 63. I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I used to work for a janitorial service off and on. I worked in kitchens. And a lot of other things, too, but I’d rather not say.

I love cooking. My friend Lonnie and I, we’ve cooked dinner for the whole building a couple of times. This year, we cooked a soul food dinner for Black History Month. One lady donated some chicken. And then we took the dried beans that we got from the Food Bank, and we made some corn bread, and cooked up some mustard greens.

I like to share meals with people because some people just don’t have it. You know what I’m saying? And long as I’ve got enough that I can eat myself, I don’t mind sharing. If you got a piece of bread and somebody else is hungry, you could take half of that bread and feed that person and it will take some of the hunger pains away.

So I help bring the food in every Monday for the food pantry. I bring it in downstairs for everyone in the building. Most of the time, when it comes off the truck, it looks pretty good. And we make sure that everybody gets their share. People need the Food Bank so they can get from one day to another. It helps you get from one week to the next week. People need the help, you know.

Myself, I’m on Social Security now. That’s $845 a month. It’s not much, but I make it work. I’ve learned to be frugal. Just because you have it, don’t mean you supposed to spend it. It has to last from one month to the next. I eat what I have and make my groceries last to the end each month.

I don’t spend my money on frivolous things. I pay my rent, my phone bill, my life insurance. I buy groceries and things like that. And the rest of it I hold onto throughout the month. I don’t have no other expenses.

Around about the fifth of the month, my daughter takes me grocery shopping at FoodsCo, and I buy basically the same thing every time: boneless chicken thighs, lunch meat and stuff like that. And I put it all in my freezer. That way, I can make it last to the next month, and I don’t have to eat the same thing every day. I can spread it around. Then, what I get from the pantry is the cereal, the eggs, the juices and things like that. Sometimes I’ll get the apples or the fruits and vegetables.

I cook my own meals. Because if you live on a fixed income, you can’t go to restaurants. You can’t afford it. You have to learn to eat at home. I’ll fix me a pot of spaghetti and that’ll last me two or three days. Or I might cook up some spinach and throw in some eggs and eat it with a pork chop. And I don’t mind having a sandwich for dinner.

Just as long as it tastes good together and I can make one thing taste as good as the next, I’m satisfied. It’s good. It’s all good.

“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.

“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.

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