Guest Post: Quaker Food Pantry, by Christine Hoang

My friend Christine Hoang is a parent at San Francisco Friends School. She coordinates the school's participation with the San Francisco Friends Meeting's neighborhood food pantry, which is a local outpost for the San Francisco Food Bank. I was clerk of the meeting when we went through the discernment process to create the pantry, and I'm pleased that not only has the pantry expanded to serve more people, it has helped keep the relationship between the school and the meeting vibrant.

The following piece by Christine was originally published in the school's "Circle Back" newsletter and is reprinted with the author's permission.

Quaker Food Pantry
At the Meeting House

By Christine Hoang
SFFS Parent & Board Member

Saturday mornings, the Friends Meetinghouse on 9th Street begins its bustling day with deliveries from a wide variety of vendors. There’s the regular delivery from the San Francisco Food Bank, which drops off staples like pasta, bread, fresh fruits or vegetables from suppliers or farmers; deliveries from Food Runners which picks up fresh and prepared food items and pastries from specialty stores like Whole Foods; and a very special bread delivery from a volunteer named Al. Al spends his Saturdays gathering bread donations from Safeway and other stores and delivering his bounty to the Meetinghouse. Al’s bread delivery now accounts for over half of the bread distributed by the Pantry.

Three years, ago, when SFFS first began partnering with the Quaker Pantry, the Pantry served 60 – 70 people every Saturday; now, the Pantry serves well over 100. Clients are slotted into twenty-minute windows in which they can shop. Each client usually brings one or two bags to fill up with groceries for the week. For most clients, the Pantry is their only source of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as staples like bread or pasta.

SFFS families contribute to the Pantry in vital ways. Several families contribute financially, a commitment that has allowed the Pantry to feed another 25-35 clients a week. A few parents are also trained to work as shoppers, going to the Food Bank to order the week’s delivery, and filling in when volunteers are short. Most families though, contribute time. For the past three years, each SFFS grade has adopted a month in which families are responsible for staffing the Pantry. The day starts around 10:00am, when the first deliveries arrive. Working alongside delivery drivers and Meetinghouse volunteers, SFFS families unload crates and boxes off of food trucks and create a real store! Vegetables and fruits are placed into large bins or buckets, cans are sorted, pastries and perishable items are arranged delicately on tables, and loaves of bread are stacked into towers.

Another wonderful aspect of the project is that kids work alongside adults.  As SFFS parent Tawni Sullivan has noticed, “Kids feel empowered by really owning their own jobs, not just helping the grown ups with theirs.” Younger kids blacken bar codes on donated bread, organize and stack cans, and count out the vegetables for clients. Older kids break down cardboard boxes and do the math necessary to ensure a fair allocation of food for everyone. 

Around noon, the Pantry opens its doors and the first clients filter in. Most of the clients are elderly; many are monolingual Cantonese speakers; several are homeless. The Quaker Food Pantry affords them regular access to healthy, fresh food. During the shopping hour, all volunteers work at distributing food, handing out three oranges a piece, two onions, or a can or two. For Jen Maeder, “working side by side with your classmates and their families on a weekend really cements the SFFS tenets of community and stewardship. Playdates and soccer games are a great way to socialize with the school community on the weekends but there is something different about once in awhile rolling up your sleeves and working alongside your classmate on a weekend. To me, it shows my kids that I take seriously what they are learning about community and stewardship in school. It’s not something I just expect of them, but I am choosing it for myself as well.”
This is my younger son at the food pantry in 2010,
when it was just starting out.