Community volunteers put together food packages at what community organizer Roberto Hernandez calls the Mission Latino Food Hub, a warehouse on 701 Alabama Street in San Francisco. (Mabel Jiménez/El Tecolote)
The COVID-19 pandemic has economically affected thousands of people—unemployment continues to rise, as does the number of cases. Many people, now more than ever, are in need of resources for their families, and one of them is food.
While not all food banks are open due to the pandemic, many have continued the work of helping their communities to survive during these difficult times. Two such San Francisco groups are the Mission Food Hub and the San Francisco Neighbors Solidarity Network.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting from their location at Alabama Street, the line to receive food from the Mission Food Hub wraps around several streets while people keep their social distance. With their neat organization and feeling of community, the Food Hub has managed to help hundreds of people in the city, who do not shy away from expressing their gratitude.
“They are helping the San Francisco community,” said Marisela Veliz, who lost her job as a childcare worker two months ago. “They will not receive anything back from us but maybe someday we can give back the help.”
The Mission Food Hub started in the garage of its founder Roberto Hernandez and continued to grow until it filled three rooms of a warehouse in the Mission District. Hernandez started by calling his close friends, asking them if they could donate groceries to families. But when he saw the vast necessity, the project grew.
“It’s been like magic. I really believe it has been like a miracle in the Mission. Puro milagro” said Hernadez. The project that started by giving food to 500 families now gives groceries to around 7,000, according to Hernadez.
Hernandez, who is the artistic director of Carnaval San Francisco (which was canceled due to COVID-19), used his connections to aid people in the community. The biggest donations have been from Goya Foods and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Mission Food Hub secured a donation of 1,400 boxes of produce every week from the USDA. The effort not only gives food to families – they're also thinking about the products people need.
“I really make sure that the Mission Food Hub is culturally appropriate for our community,” said Hernandez. “Because I believe that we should be able to eat things we like.” For Mission Food Hub, Hernadez realized that base for maize dough (masa) is a highly sought product by families, the majority of whom are Latinos.
“They give us what we use most in the kitchen,” said Veliz. “Sometimes they give us products to make tortillas.”
Veliz heard about the Mission Food Hub a month ago from her sister and since then, she and her neighbor go to receive food.
Aura Cabrera, another visitor to the Food Hub, liked that they give out dairy products because she has a young daughter. “Because of the unemployment, the resources that they give us are a big help,” said Cabrera.
Cabrera lost her job as a cook in a Mexican restaurant in the Mission on March 16. She heard about the Food Hub from her daughter’s school and has gone to several other food banks to help feed her family of seven.
Meanwhile, the SF Neighbors Solidarity Network also makes an effort to deliver healthy and organic food, along with other resources such as face masks and hand sanitizer to elderly and homeless people in San Francisco.
“We do our shopping ourselves so that we can really make sure the quality of the bags is really high and that people are getting really healthy food,” said Natalia Kresich, organizer of the network.
That program has been around for more than 12 weeks, and besides making home deliveries to those who request help, they also help unhoused people in San Francisco by taking their products to shelters and hotels.
“What we're trying to do is basically treat everybody on our list as though they're one of our neighbors that we’re shopping for,” said Kresich.
It all started when Kresich and her friend Shafagh Farnoud began helping their elderly neighbors, for whom it was not safe to go out to shop for supplies. In the process of helping and checking in on their neighbors, the project grew and they currently help more than 80 households in the city.
To date, SF Neighbors Solidarity Network has been sustained by donations from people in their social media, Kresich estimates that people have donated around $10,000.
But both programs would not have been possible without their volunteers.
“You get to know these people while you also help the community,” said Ernesto Torres, a volunteer for Mission Food Hub. Torres and his family have also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – they all lost their jobs with the exception of his dad, who works in construction.
The SF Neighbors Solidarity Network has 10 volunteers that pack and distribute the food. The Mission Food Hub currently has around 115 volunteers.
“It was just so beautiful just to see so many people coming out because of the local community,” said Hernandez.
The effort from these two programs, along with many others in the city, has helped communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richmond Neighborhood Center
Mondays: 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
741 30th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121
SF Marin Food Bank
Locations and hours change every week, access their website to find updated information.
Project Open Hand
Hours change every week
730 Polk Street San Francisco, CA 94109 Only offers services to the elderly
Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
5316 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609
Berkeley Food Network
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday and Wednesday de 5 p.m. a 7 p.m., first and third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
1569 Solano Avenue #243 Berkeley, CA 94707
Oakland Resource Project
Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
1811 11th Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618 (other locations available)
Alameda Food Bank
Monday,Wednesday and Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
1900 Thau Way, Alameda, CA 94501
Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
37350 Joseph St. Fremont, CA 94536
San Mateo County
Samaritan House Pantry
Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
4031 Pacific Blvd, San Mateo, CA 94403 To register for the food services, contact the organization directly.
Meals of Wheels
Hours and locations depend on the program
(650) 323-2022 Program available for people older than 60 years living in San Mateo County.