By 8 a.m. a crowd had formed outside the gates of St John’s, an Episcopal Church on 15th Street. By 10 a.m. a line had wrapped around the block.
Nearly 200 people waited Saturday morning, shopping bags in hand, for Julian’s Food Pantry to open its doors.
As nutrition programs across the city brace for possible funding cuts, the 15th Street church and others like it work hard to fill the steady stream of open bags. The San Francisco Food Bank estimates 150,000 residents across the city are at risk of hunger—7 percent more than last year.
The demographic is also shifting, according to Food Bank spokesperson Marguerite Nowak.
“We’ve seen an increase in working class families,” Nowak observed. “Most have at least one working adult—people are working, but they’re not earning enough to make ends meet.”
Standing in line outside St. John’s for the first time, Angel and her daughter Rachel, who asked to have last names withheld, nervously waited to collect their food. Angel said she had never before sought assistance at a food pantry, but after hearing about the program through a friend, decided to try.
“When we’re down and out, food costs a lot,” Angel said. “It’s the economy. It’s just not good right now.”
The pair left with cabbage, potatoes, dried fish, bagels, biscuits and water—enough to feed her family of four for two days, Angel estimated.
St. John’s opened Julian’s Pantry in June and now serves approximately 200 people every Saturday.
“They start coming at 8 a.m.” said program coordinator Ginna Brelsford Longshore.
At 10:45 a.m., volunteer-run tables, arranged in a circle around the church, were well-stocked with provisions from every food group.
Mid-morning light streamed through stained glass windows as volunteers dropped one bag of beans, a few potatoes, onions, and apples, one pepper, one bag of dried fish, and one carton of cottage cheese into each open bag.
Disabled Vietnam veteran Randy left the pantry with a bag of beans and some apples. The 62-year-old said he comes to St. John’s every other weekend, and toward the end of the month “when things get tight.”
“I have to come here,” Randy said. “Otherwise, I don’t eat the last week of the month.”
Between social security and disability checks, Randy earns $800 a month, $600 of which goes to rent. The veteran allocates $20 a week for food. If his dog gets sick and goes to the vet—a seemingly usual occurrence—there’s little left for food.
“That doesn’t leave much to eat off of,” Randy said, “let alone buy clothes.”
Running the pepper station for the first time, pantry recipient and volunteer Mary Kelly inspected her produce before distributing.
“Some of them have spots—like this little spot right here,” she said pointing to a bruised pepper. “But you can just cut it off and chop ‘em up and put ‘em in the freezer. Use them when you’re ready. That’s what I do.”
Kelly dropped in one pepper per bag.
By 11:08 a.m.—less than 15 minutes after opening—Kelly’s station had been depleted. No more peppers. A few minutes later the squash went too.
Every weekend, Longshore and co-organizer Lauren Dietrich order enough food for about 200 recipients. Produce is free and seasonally dependent, while dairy and protein are purchased at wholesale prices from the San Francisco Food Bank. A local bakery donates the bread.
Recipients get enough food to feed a family of two for a few days. Occasionally, volunteers find themselves in excess, other days—like last Saturday—there’s not enough.
By 11:35 a.m.—less than 40 minutes after opening—all that was left was some bread and a few bags of beans.
Longshore estimated the program costs an average of $150 a week for food and supplies. Though funds are raised through private donations, Longshore said she is considering grant options.
“Food programs are being cut across the city,” she said. “It’s noticeable. There’s just not enough food to go around to all these pantry sites. Today, we have half as much as we normally do.”
The San Francisco Food Bank delivers 33 million pounds of food per year to programs throughout the city, including Julian’s Pantry, according to Nowak.
She attributed the increase in need to “skyrocketing” food prices. With milk up 30 percent, and eggs up 35 percent, the same amount of money isn’t going as far.
“Nobody likes to stand in line,” said Randy, referencing the crowd of people—some of whom waited almost three hours for food. “But you have to.”