“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.

Market to Table

“It’s great to know that my produce is not going to waste — even better that it is going to be enjoyed by somebody who wouldn’t have had access fresh fruit or vegetables otherwise.” – Bob Pizza, produce vendor at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and donor to the Food Bank.

Thanks to the Food Bank’s sustainable partnership with the vendors of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, thousands of pounds of perfectly delectable food are saved from waste each week. Jason Chorney, the market’s Operations Manager, emphasized the mutually beneficial arrangement saying, “Donating unsold food to the Food Bank is both ethically and economically favorable for our merchants. They feel great about feeding people, and it saves them the cost of composting.”

The Produce Market, tucked away in the Bayview district, supplies produce direct from farms to upscale restaurants, hotels, and neighborhood markets.  From late in the night to the early hours of the morning, while most of the city is asleep, the market bustles with 650 employees, 25 merchant vendors and endless trucks moving in and out with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Cousins Jack and Bob Pizza are both produce vendors at the Produce Market, and both men participate in the market’s food donation program. “It’s great to know that my produce is not going to waste — even better that it is going to be enjoyed by somebody who wouldn’t have had access fresh fruit or vegetables otherwise.” Bob Pizza told us.

Bob Pizza, owner of What a Tomato, and a self-proclaimed “lifer” at the produce market, has been working there since he was a teenager. “I graduated high school on a Friday and came to work at the market that Monday!” A few docks down, his cousin Jack Pizza runs Washington Vegetable, a company started by the cousins’ grandfather Donte in 1931. Jack told us, “We try to sell all of our produce, but it’s not always possible. I’m glad the Food Bank has the ability to come and pick up what we can’t sell, so it doesn’t go to waste.”

Spotlight: Supermarket Street Sweep

Eric and Cooper Downing crossing the finish line! Photo courtesy of Supermarket Street Sweep

December 3rd was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Food Bank. We had a clear sky, the sun was shining, and a father and son arrived on a tandem bicycle…pulling four full shopping carts full of food to donate!

Cargo race winners and tandem cyclists Eric Downing and his seven-year old son Cooper Sprocket Downing were not alone. They were part of the 201 bicyclists participating in the 6th Annual Supermarket Street Sweep!  Each year, participants crisscross the city visiting local supermarkets and bringing back thousands of pounds of donated groceries. This year, everyone was excited about the results: almost 7,990 pounds of food was collected and $9,652 was raised.

The Downings were an impressive sight, hauling their train of shopping carts engineered to move and turn in unison on their bicycle-built-for-two. Eric, an architect and former professional cyclist, has passed on his passion for cycling and charitable work to his son Cooper Sprocket (who is named after the toothed wheel a bike’s chain rides along). This was their second year in the race – they came back to avenge their narrow defeat last year by hauling in even more food to donate to the Food Bank.

Eric told us, “This is an extra special race. Jennifer [Oh Hatfield] is phenomenal. She puts this whole thing together. We are indebted to her for creating a race that supports the Food Bank.” While there are lots of bicycle races out there, Eric told us “This is the most selfless race I’ve ever participated in, it’s wonderful!”

photo of Eric and Cooper by Jonathan Koshi http://www.flickr.com/photos/koshi/

Jennifer Oh Hatfield who organizes the race every year (with co-organizers Kacey O’Kelly, Jonathan Koshi, and Mike Spencer) wanted to create an event that was “…both a fun and useful way for Bay Area cyclists to help a great cause.” She was impressed by Eric and Cooper, telling us, “It’s great that we have families come out. Eric and Cooper were determined to do well this year and they showed up with an ingenious shopping cart train to win the cargo race!” Proud of her racers as well as her volunteers, Jennifer added “We are successful because of our great participants, our volunteers who come out to count food and help organize things, and of course our sponsors — a ton from the Bay Area and even nationwide.”

It’s always fun to see how different groups of people pair their interests with charitable acts. The Supermarket Street Sweep is an exciting, competitive way to get cyclists involved with food justice and the Food Bank. “I would like to see this type of race for charity in every community. There are cyclists across the U.S. just as there are people in need across the U.S.,” Eric Downing said.

Finally, when asked what he would say to people to encourage them to join the race next year Cooper Sprocket said “F-U-N-Z-O! Because it’s funzo!”

Race results by year:
2006: 80 racers – 1,172 lbs of food
2007: 110 racers – 1,595 lbs.
2008: 150 racers – 5,266 lbs.
2009: 198 racers – 7,507 lbs.
2010: 171 racers – 6,920 lbs. + $4,877
2011: 201 racers – 7,990 lbs. +$9,652

“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.

How I Give: Diamonds at the Soles of My Shoes

James is a long-time supporter of the SF Food BankJames is a longtime supporter of the Food Bank. He’s also an avid runner, a hobby that led him to an unusual way of collecting money to support his favorite nonprofits.

I live on Russian Hill, and I run about two miles every day. One morning, I slipped on some wet leaves. After that, I was determined not to slip again, so I started looking at my feet and where I was placing them. And I started seeing money! It was pennies, nickels and dimes. I picked them up, started collecting them in one of those old-timey milk jars, and at the end of the year, I sent them off to one of my favorite public service organizations.

The first year, I collected about $35. This was some years ago, and the amounts are different each year. One year, I collected $27, another year $97, and this past year, because of some broken jewelry I found, it was a whopper.

It’s all over the place and you see it if you look at your feet. The funny thing is, I’ve found money everywhere: in Italy, in New Zealand, all over the place. It always goes into my left pocket, and then it always goes into the milk bottle.

I share my apartment with somebody, and we both participate now. The custom of our house is not to keep anything we find. So if it comes our way, it’s kind of a pass-through. If I find MUNI tokens, I use those and put the fare into the jar. With foreign money, if it’s a place I might possibly travel to, then I put it in at the current exchange rate. It’s become almost a household joke now, a ritual.

But in all seriousness, we’re quite aware of how many people go wanting, and we want to do our part. In my family, we never wasted food. My mother and father were both young during the Depression, and so food was never, ever, thrown out. It was respected. So organizations like the Food Bank, organizations that avail themselves of all the excess food, appeal to me. There’s a huge need on the one hand, and on the other hand, an incredible amount of waste.

I’m pleased to have been a supporter of the Food Bank for many years. I follow the Food Bank’s work, and I know it’s involved in distributing to other food programs. So it was easy to pick the Food Bank as the recipient of this year’s findings.

“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.

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