San Francisco-Marin Food Bank opens big San Rafael food center
With a long-term strategy focused on addressing the hunger issue in the region, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has opened a large distribution center in San Rafael designed to help serve more than 60 neighborhood food pantries in Marin County.
Some 250,000 people rely on the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank every year. This nonprofit provides food for 110,000 meals a day for 144,000 individuals a week with the help of 450 community organizations and 40,000 volunteers (donating total hours comparable to 62 full-time equivalent employees).
"Marin is not immune to the struggle for food security," said Executive Director Paul Ash. "What any don’t realize is that there are a lot of low-income people in Marin County, even though this is often thought of as a high-cost, high-income area."
He said there are a number of isolated individuals without ready access to food, as well as children, seniors, the unemployed and low-income wage earners in Marin City, San Rafael’s canal region, portions of Novato and west Marin.
“We believe healthy food transforms lives," Ash said. "In addition to serving local needs, we advocate at the state and national levels for policy reform and program improvements to one in four of our neighbors who are at risk of hunger.”
Ash said the organization was originally established in 1996 to serve San Francisco residents from a small warehouse in the city’s Dogpatch neighborhood. In 1997 operations were moved a few blocks a way, into the building they currently use at 900 Pennsylvania Ave. in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. After the merger of the San Francisco and Marin County Food Banks in 2011, leaders wanted to expand operations in Marin from a small leased space in Novato, to a building big enough to handle community needs, growing operations and future plans.
Located at 2550 Kerner St. in an industrial park near the canal and bay, the 38,000-square-foot San Rafael facility is dedicated to empowering neighbors in need. The modern, corporate headquarters-style structure was purchased in January for $8 million from the owner who also presented the food bank with a $1 million donation.
The center opened in late April and quickly stocked up to serve a mix of packaged and canned food items along with capacity to eventually handle a variety of perishables such as fresh vegetables, eggs, dairy products and meat. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank distributes approximately 48 million pounds of food annually.
The food bank offers a variety of unique food distribution programs. It uses a farmer’s market-style approach at pantry locations with tables displaying a wide-range of food where community residents can choose what they want (instead of receiving pre-boxed or bagged food). More than 60 percent of food items distributed include fresh produce, such as more than four-dozen varieties of fruit and vegetables annually.
Other programs include a mobile pantry, with vans taking food to isolated low-income individuals and families in the west county who come together to pickup food at key locations. In San Francisco, there is a home-delivery program for seniors designed to encourage better health and increase self sufficiency for the elderly and neighbors with disabilities who can’t get out to shop (or carry 30-pound bags), but who still can cook for themselves. This program is expected to expand to Marin County soon.
Volunteers go to local pantries, shop for seniors and deliver food to their doors. This program is so popular there currently is a waiting list to join. This home delivery process also enables volunteers to visit, touch base and provide personal contact with isolated seniors and those physically challenged.