First-time volunteer Kathy Lam piles bags of baby spinach in the prep area of St. Anthony's Dining Room on Nov. 19. (Anne Wernikoff/KQED)
Looking for information on volunteering at a food bank near you during the COVID-19 pandemic? We have up-to-date information here.
Original story published Nov. 20, 2018:
Bay Area food banks are bracing for their busiest time of year and, as has been the case in previous years, they're in need of funds.
Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, said the organization is spending $1 million this month in preparation for the holidays. At St. Anthony's dining room in San Francisco, chef Pepe Sanchez says they're serving 100 guests every 10 minutes.
"Folks that are coming to our pantries and are using our services have a lot of challenges," said Ash. "And we’re hoping that having a good holiday meal, being with the people they care about, gives them a chance to reflect and gain strength and move forward and make their lives better."
The issue this time of year is twofold: School's out and there are more demands on limited funds.
"We do see a spike in our call volume [on the emergency food help line]," said Mike Altfest, director of community engagement at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. That's because families have to make up the two meals their kids would have gotten in school. And bills also start to add up in the winter holiday months—heat, gas, rent. "Healthy food becomes the one thing that gets sacrificed," he said.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank is an emergency response organization, so it has enough food on hand for about 2.5 million meals. But, like most nonprofits and food banks, it relies heavily on donations this time of year for a large portion of the annual budget. And that might be tougher this year, just because of so many deserving causes competing with each other. Ash, with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, said they're preparing for a dip in donations as people instead give to victims of the Camp Fire in Butte County — something they also saw last year after the deadly North Bay wildfires.
Volunteers are also particularly needed in the new year, from January to March, in order to process all the donations that come in over the holidays.
If you're looking to donate, money makes the biggest impact, said Altfest, because food banks can buy more efficiently and directly, making the dollars go further. If you're donating food, they're specifically in need of: high-quality proteins, such as peanut butter or canned meats; low-sodium and low-sugar canned fruits and vegetables; and "culturally appropriate foods," he said, to serve the diverse local community.
Here are some organizations that will be feeding the hungry over the holidays, and could use volunteers or donations. However, a number of popular volunteer spots fill well in advance of Thanksgiving.
To make a donation or volunteer:
SF-Marin Food Bank The Marin and San Francisco Food Banks merged in 2011 to become the SF-Marin Food Bank, which distributes enough food for more than 100,000 meals every day. During this time of year, the organization collects nearly half of its annual operating budget through donations and gathers thousands of pounds of non-perishable food.
Volunteer: Volunteer positions are available in the dining room and free clothing clinic, with a heavy demand around the holidays. They're also in need of highly skilled volunteers in the technology lab and medical clinic.
Glide Memorial Church Glide's mission is to welcome everyone into their community and help those in need. That happens through a number of programs, one of the biggest of which is a daily meal program that serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner (as well as special holiday meals).
Weekly shifts are available to help prepare meals, serve them and clean up. Sign up online.
There's often tons of leftover food after the holidays. Fortunately, it doesn't need to go to waste. Food Runners picks up excess food from businesses and delivers it to local food banks and charity programs.
Alameda County Community Food Bank
The Alameda County food bank provides food for over 200 agencies around the East Bay through its distribution network. It also operates an emergency food hotline, CalFresh Outreach, and educational programs.
Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa County Loaves and Fishes provides meals to the hungry of Contra Costa County. They have five dining rooms that operate daily for lunch during the week and a food pantry for evenings and weekends.
St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County
Although St. Vincent's is an international Catholic charity organization, the Marin chapter is independent; all donations to Marin stay in Marin. The chapter provides a number of programs, such as a free dining room that serves daily meals and housing assistance.
Community Action of Napa Valley
Among its many programs, Community Action of Napa Valley operates a food bank for the region. It provides seven pantry locations, as well as running distribution programs to seniors and low-income Napa residents.
Volunteer: Contact the food bank director to volunteer to pick up food, help sort or work in the pantry. You can also contact the other programs directly to volunteer for those programs.
Redwood Empire Food Bank The Redwood Empire Food Bank distributes nearly 15 million pounds of food to Sonoma County residents annually through its pantry, emergency food program, grocery boxes to seniors and meals for kids.
Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo
Since 1974, Second Harvest has been distributing food to low-income residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. It now hands out 1 million pounds of food every week, half of which is fresh produce.
Started as a little soup kitchen in 1981, San Jose's Martha's Kitchen now serves dinner on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and breakfast on Thursdays. They also prepare meals for other nonprofit organizations and distribute food.