Archive for the Newsletter

Spring 2010: seasonal eating

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Most of the food we give away is fresh produce.

Most of the food we give away is fresh produce.


Unlike many programs that rely on canned goods and processed foods, The Food Pantry gives away mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks to the San Francisco Food Bank and its network of local farmers, we distribute literally tons of delicious, healthy produce every single week.

It’s wonderful to see a kid walking out eating a pear, or a mother’s cart filled to overflowing with greens. We’re grateful for the farmers who make this abundance possible, and to everyone at the Food Bank who sorts, packs and delivers those pallets so hungry people can eat real food.

Right now at The Food Pantry, we’re waiting for the warm-weather produce to come in. There are still plenty of oranges, and the eternal root crops: carrots, cabbage, potatoes, yams, garlic and onions. We had some beautiful artichokes this month, and lots of lettuce. Our neighborhood gardeners promise us that the fava beans are on the way. And as the days grow longer, asparagus is right around the corner….come on, spring!

Spring 2010: behind the scenes

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Students volunteer at The Food Pantry

Students volunteer at The Food Pantry.


For several years, 5th grade students from the neighboring Live Oak School have volunteered with us on Friday afternoons, along with their teachers and some parents. They do every kind of work, with incredible enthusiasm: this year, a group of them even came to sing for the pantry, in English and Chinese! Read what some of the students have written about their experiences.

The Story of Lettuce
by Johnny Sobol

I was working quietly at The Food Pantry, minding my own business at the lettuce table, when I heard someone speaking some wise words. It was hard to make out the sound, but then I heard it. Someone said to me, “If you work hard, you will be very famous!”
Max, Sam, and I started to laugh a lot! We realized that weird but true things could be said at St. Gregory’s.

Sarah comes with other students to work at The Food Pantry.

Sarah comes with other students to work at The Food Pantry


St Gregory’s Poem by Sarah Weihl

I walk in;
The smell of vegetables and dirt almost overwhelm me.
All mixed together with the smell of cardboard and fruit.
Seeing the bread and people of different cultures.
Hearing the sounds of different languages,
Chinese and English,
All mixed together in a whirlwind of sound.
I ask people if they would like some of this,
Or some of that.
They reply,
Sometimes with body language,
Sometimes with words.
The sound of people asking for food.
I can see and hear everything.
I wonder when it will stop.
I go up to my station.

Bein’ nice is a full-time job!

Bein’ nice is a full-time job!


The Song by Max Bowers

Verse I

They had out the food for the people!
Bein’ nice is a full-time job! Yeah!

And when they go home, are they feelin’ better?
Yeah, cause they changed some lives!

Chorus
Cabbages and bars, cans and fresh food;
It doesn’t make a difference to them.
The people come in ready for food,
And they come out feeling great.

Verse II

And the dead saints line the church walls,
Watching the followers of the great Gregory.
Talkin’ ‘bout the goodness in their hearts.
It comes from the goodness in all of our hearts!

Chorus

St. Gregory’s Acrostic
by Hazel Olson-Dorf

Check it out!

Check it out!

Something I do on Friday
Today I will go there
Good for the soul
Rite on my mitzvah list
Everyone should do it
Go and volunteer now
Over on De Haro Street
Roll over and check it out
You can do it too
Someday we won’t need it

Spring 2010: talking with our volunteers

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Volunteer Elizabeth Connell

Volunteer Elizabeth Connell

As many as sixty volunteers run The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Most are people who came to get food and stayed to help out; some are neighbors, and some are first-time visitors. Every one of them has a story, and together they create a living, growing community. This issue’s interview is with volunteer Elizabeth Connell.

I’m 19 now, and I live in the Mission, here in San Francisco. Working at The Food Pantry is the one thing in my week that I know I’m always showing up for: it doesn’t matter if I’m sick, if I’m tired, I want to be here. It’s my community.

I used to come to the pantry, starting when I was about ten years old. Some of the older Russian ladies, when I returned this year, were like, “Oh, we remember you when you were this tall.”

I was the bread girl. It was me and my sister, managing the bread table. When the pantry was first starting, it was crazy and chaotic: I was this little kid trying not to get pushed over by grownups. I was a really quiet, reserved kid and afraid of talking to older people. So for a while I was a pushover, and then I learned to be more assertive, like “Dude, you shouldn’t be taking extra bread.” It was hard–but it was kind of great to realize, wow, I’m just a kid, but we’ve got a part in making this happen. I remember how thankful people seemed to get food, and how the other volunteers were happy to have us around.

Nirmala [one of the volunteers] in particular, was a special friend to me. She taught me to do all kinds of things, she taught me Spanish, and when I had some troubles she was there to mentor me. I felt she really noticed.

Then things got bad at home and in school, and I went to a military style boarding school in Utah. You had to walk in lines with your head down, and your arms at your sides. Many of the other kids were hard-core, some had been in Juvi, and many had substance abuse problems or depression. I was one of the youngest ones there, and it was rough. But even when I was in treatment there, feeling lost, I’d sometimes remember working at the food pantry: I’d think: well, even though I’m not so great at other things, at least there’s a place where I used to help people. But there was a lot of times I thought, uh-oh, my life is not gonna end up good.

And then Nirmala sent me a card, it had birds on it, with something else from the food pantry. It all seemed so long ago, and I thought, “Oh my God, it’s Nirmala, I totally remember this woman!” It made my whole month.

Back then I was trying to run away from me. I couldn’t do that. I was going to have to deal with the crap of my life-family problems, a place to live, just getting by. After I got out of high school my foster funding stopped, and I was living on my own, and suddenly had no money. That scared child feeling came back. What I did was just try to find the legit thing, not get all future-tripped. I thought, I can land on my feet.

I realized people always want to talk to me: I can relate to anyone. I don’t go blabbing other people’s business, I’m a good listener. I like to help people. And I thought, maybe I’m not so helpless. I can do something that makes a difference. I decided I would move back and go to school in San Francisco and I enrolled in community college, with a major in psychology. And I came back to the food pantry to volunteer again.

People from all backgrounds come to the pantry because there’s food, it’s safe, it’s clean, it’s not some crap place. The way I see it, the past is the past: everyone should be able to have a new start, not be judged by their past. Maybe something bad happened to them. Maybe like me, they had to find a way to work things out. But hey, you get a new start. And if you get food, you can build your life in another direction.

Food is so expensive. If you’re not middle class, it’s so much more of a struggle just to live. When I was living with a friend over the summer, “couch-surfing”, her cousins and mama and grandma would go to the food pantry. Because, you know what? It’s really cool to be able to have cereal when you don’t have cereal. When you don’t have ten bucks, or even five. It’s like, wow, I got to get food today.

And then people can ask for help in other ways. So the pantry is like a support for them. It’s a support for me in many ways. For part of my life I was receiving, and now I’m giving. It keeps me in touch with the community. I don’t see myself as a scared little kid anymore. When I came back to the pantry, I knew how everything worked, and I became one of the leaders. I know it’s where I belong.

Winter 2009: seasonal eating

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Most of the foodwe give away is fresh produce.

Most of the foodwe give away is fresh produce.

Unlike many programs that rely on canned goods and processed foods, The Food Pantry gives away mostly fresh fruits and vegetables to the families who come to us for groceries. Thanks to the San Francisco Food Bank and its network of local farmers, we distribute literally tons of delicious fresh produce every single week at the food pantry.

This fall and winter, we’re seeing a lot of apples and pears––including delicious, crunchy Asian pears, Bartletts, and Boscs. Cool-weather greens are coming in: rainbow and Swiss chard, kale, collards, turnip greens and beet greens….some of it grown right here in San Francisco backyards by our volunteer urban farmers! We have beautiful heads of lettuce, and bunches of fresh beets. And there’s an amazing variety of squash: butternut, Kabocha, spaghetti squash, acorn squash and more.

Hundreds of hungry families get this kind of fresh, healthy food every week. It’s wonderful to see a kid walking out eating a pear, or a mother’s cart filled to overflowing with greens. We’re grateful for the farmers who make this abundance possible, and to everyone at the Food Bank who sorts, packs and delivers those pallets every week.

Winter 2009: behind the scenes

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Food Pantry runs on volunteers

The Food Pantry runs on volunteers

In November 2009, The Food Pantry celebrated our ninth anniversary at St. Gregory’s with cake, singing, and a blessing in English, Spanish, and Chinese. And we honored our volunteers who gave extraordinary amounts of time, creativity and thought in a period of great transition.

Since the beginning of the year, our numbers have been going up at The Food Pantry, with lines stretching around blocks. The people who come to us are often newly unemployed, or facing cutbacks at their jobs. Others are struggling to stay in their houses or rental apartments, and some families have lost their homes. We know there are more people out there who need food, and we want to be able to reach them.

This fall The Food Pantry grappled with how to continue serving the growing numbers of people, as many as 900 a week, coming for groceries. The influx was stretching our budget––in August we spent over $1000 each week on food–– and our capacity to handle the crowds in the space. During a month of discussions with our board and volunteers, we developed a plan so that we could continue to serve people fairly and with dignity.

We’ve registered 1200 people, assigning them alternate weeks to come to The Food Pantry. This means that each individual can only get groceries every other week, and, for the first time in nine years, we can’t accept any new visitors.

To make this work required new systems – a special spreadsheet to keep track of visitors, a rolling schedule so that nobody had to wait in line, and flyers in several languages. Mostly, it required personal communication with the people we serve, to explain and answer questions and reassure the families who’ve come to depend on us.

Volunteer Winston Wu was key to this effort. Winston worked at the pantry every week for nearly a year while he was unemployed, greeting and managing the line of pantry visitors out front, using his impressive language skills in five different Chinese dialects. Winston wrote us to announce his “leave of absence” with regrets.

“I have accepted an assignment at a little company called Google,” he wrote. “Serving at the Food Pantry has taught me teamwork, integrity and strong respect for people. Most of all, it taught me compassion, humbleness and to serve with a thankful heart. The sum of all the experience has helped transform me as a person. People say big fellows don’t shed tears, but I have to admit I shed a few tears the past several nights thinking just how much I will miss all of you, and thinking what life will be like minus all the hysteria I encounter every Friday. Thank you for your confidence in me, and for making my first volunteer experience something I will always remember.”

Winter 2009: talking with our volunteers

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Volunteer Angela Dow outside the pantry.

Volunteer Angela Dow outside the pantry.

As many as sixty volunteers run The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Most are people who came to get food and stayed to help out; some are neighbors, and some are first-time visitors. Every one of them has a story, and together they create a living, growing community. This issue’s interview is with volunteer Angela Dow.

Two years ago, I saw a picture of The Food Pantry on Craigslist, and it said volunteers could just show up. I got to the church early and saw this woman, Nirmala, standing inside a giant bread bin, unloading loaves. I couldn’t even see all of her, but she called out, “Come on in, and give me a hand!”

I came here from Hong Kong when I was twelve. I didn’t know my mother; I was raised by my grandmother and nannies. My grandmother was a Christian, and she always said you have to help people who have less than you, especially the elderly. Old people aren’t useless and ugly, she taught us, you need to learn to do right and respect them.

I worked at the phone company here for 27 years. And when I retired I wanted to find some way to give back the blessings I’ve received. My husband is good to me, we have property, we have a surplus. So I did tutoring with newcomer kids, I tried to help in a hospital, I helped renters with legal problems. But The Food Pantry is a place where I learn so much.

One holiday, The Food Pantry had a dinner for the volunteers, and Sara just said, “If people need food, that’s what we’re here for.” That really made me think. I realized I can’t pick and choose who I want to help. People didn’t ask to be poor. They didn’t ask to be sick. Sure, there are some cheaters and liars, and I get angry about it, but overall people are good. A few of the volunteers have [criminal] records, but when we work together they’re gentlemen. They work as hard as me. Who am I to judge? I learn to respect everyone: these two men got married and we blessed them at the pantry. Now I think, if somebody finds a person who makes them happy, that’s God’s wish for them: who am I to judge? Working together you see that all people have something to offer.

So I arrange my schedule around The Food Pantry. On Fridays I’m there to do whatever needs doing. During the week I work on getting donations for the pantry. I went to a young friend of my nephew’s who runs a big Italian bakery, and asked him to help us. He laughed and said, “OK, auntie,” and let me pick the bread up twice a week in my car. A lot of people only worry about making money, but he knew that everybody has to give something. Because at the end of the day, really, it’s a big accomplishment what we do. And it takes all of us.