Since the beginning of shelter-in-place orders in March, businesses across the U.S. have been forced to close their doors in accordance with shelter-in-place restrictions. While many storefronts now stand quiet and vacant, Eterna Primavera Bakery on 24th and Alabama streets is an exception to the desolation.
Every Sunday since early March, the Guatemalan bakery transforms into a packing and distribution site for the Mission Meals Coalition (MMC), a new mutual aid collective that provides groceries and hot meals for folks across the Bay Area.
The coalition is made up of several community partnerships with local businesses and organizations—each of which fundraise and advocate for a range of underserved groups, from the houseless to the undocumented.
MMC is founded and run by womxn of color—Gaby Alemán, her sisters, Xiomara and Cynthia, and their mother, Gabriela Ramírez. The coalition was formed in response to the systemic disparities in food security that the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated.
The sisters credit the initial steps in MMC’s conception to their mother. Ramírez, a local event vendor, owns a chair and table rental business called Mom Chairs on 20th and Mission streets. While shelter-in-place orders meant a huge blow to her business, she started a list of people within her personal network who she knew would be impacted just as harshly by the economic effects of the pandemic.
Many of Ramírez’s friends and colleagues are neighborhood street vendors, a sector of the informal economy that is especially vulnerable during the pandemic due to their exposed work environment, their immigration status and the lack of protective benefits. Seeing this, Ramirez knew the pandemic was bound to impact her colleagues’ access to food.
Ramírez and her daughters purchased 100 tamales from Eterna Primavera Bakery to provide for the folks she had identified. Thus, MMC was born. Since then, the list of MMC’s recipients has expanded to migrant day laborers, asylum seekers, the edlerly and the unemployed in order to address the number of institutional gaps these communities often fall into.
Nonprofit organizations geared toward addressing resource accessibility sometimes impose strict eligibility criteria on their services. Depending on the organization, a person’s zip code, immigration and employment status could all have an effect on whether or not they stand a chance at receiving the help they need.
“A lot of nonprofits have limitations on their funding with regard to who can be served, especially if they’re funded by the local or federal government,” said Alemán, who currently works as the Community Engagement manager at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. “A lot of our beloved street vendors are MMC recipients and we have some who, even though their community is here in San Francisco, may actually live in places like Oakland, Richmond, or Antioch. We make sure that they have their food delivered to them because they’re still an integral part of our Mission neighborhood.”
Almost 90 percent of MMC recipients —as well as its founders— are Central American. “In addition to having grown up relying on food banks for many of our meals, we understand what it feels like to have frozen food thrown at you,” said Alemán. “Of course we were grateful but I remember feeling such a lack of human dignity when we received these services, so we really want to ensure that our recipients’ dignity remains at the center of all of this.”
MMC has partnered with Eterna Primavera Bakery, El Faro SoMa, La Guerrera’s Kitchen and Tacos El Precioso.
El Faro Taquería—hailed as the home of the famous “Mission style burrito”—has been a San Francisco staple since 1961. Since the SIP orders were implemented, El Faro’s SoMa location has seen a drastic drop in sales which has put the family-run shop in a tough position. “We’re making 80 percent less than what we used to make,” said Yolanda Ontiveros, owner of El Faro SoMa.
It’s circumstances like these that make mutual aid organizing so vital. Through their partnership with MMC, El Faro SoMa has had an increase in profit thanks to the coalition’s orders for hot meals that are distributed to their houseless and day laborer recipients.
“We’re very appreciative to have this extra income,” said Yolanda’s daughter Valeria Olguín, who also helps run the business. “These orders also create extra hours for our employees to work since the number of hours we can offer have been compromised by the pandemic.”
Reyna Maldonado, who co-owns La Guerrera’s Kitchen with her mother Ofelia Barajas in Oakland, emphasized the significance of the role that womxn of color play in building and preserving the community.
“I really admire [MMC],” Maldonado said. “Our partnership has pushed me to understand the interconnected inequities our communities face and the work needed to address them. They have also reminded me of the strength that womxn in the community have and how creative we can be.”
MMC had recently run into an obstacle in keeping their resources accessible. On July 3rd, Alemán was alerted by Mission Food Hub—the food space through which the coalition had been able to subsidize groceries for their growing list of recipients—that their accessibility would now be contingent on the release of MMC recipients’ personal information such as full names, addresses and phone numbers. A shift in Mission Food Hub’s funding was ultimately what prompted this sudden demand.
Due to their status, protection under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the warranted fear of repercussions under the Trump administration’s new Public Charge Rule—releasing identifiable information puts MMC recipients in an even more vulnerable position than they currently find themselves.
The coalition has remained firm in their stance against releasing sensitive information despite the consequences because for MMC, basic human needs should be prioritized over fulfilling repressive institutional qualifications. In an open letter posted on MMC’s Instagram after learning of these new demands, the coalition said “Providing sensitive information is a safety issue and institutionally negating food to the most systematically marginalized in our communities is violence.”
Despite the obstacles, MMC’s consistent transparency and unwavering advocacy has secured the coalition as one of the Bay Area’s most indomitable WOC-run mutual aid coalitions solely funded by community donations. MMC’s latest developments in their expansion like their flourishing Patreon and their partnership with SF Community Fridge at Adobe Books on 24th and Shotwell Street surely serve as a hopeful glimpse of what’s to come for the coalition as well as the community as a whole.