As the recession continues, lines at Mission District food pantries are getting longer.
“Now the line is two blocks long, before it was much less,” said Victoria Dávila, 59, as she waited in front of Arriba Juntos near 15th and Mission streets for a handout of fresh meat, vegetables and juice.
“People have to get here at 5 a.m. to get a good spot,” Dávila said.
Some 46.2 million Americans, or one in six, lived in poverty in 2010, the highest number ever recorded in the 52-year history of the U.S. Census.
Originally the Women’s Building at 3543 18th Street was equipped to serve food to 85 families each week. That number peaked at 170 families this year, said Tatjana Loh, the building’s development director.
Nayeli Gonzáles, a mother of three, has lived in the Mission for 10 years, but only started coming to the Women’s Building three years ago, when her husband was deported back to El Salvador.
“Most women that come to the pantries for food are single mothers,” she said.
The San Francisco Food Bank is serving 70 percent more people this year than it was at the beginning of the recession in 2008, according to Stacy Newman, the food bank’s media manager.
The Food Bank serves an average of 4,380 low-income households each week through 37 pantries in the Mission, according to Newman.
“It’s a struggle to keep up with the demand,” she said.
Newman said the longer lines in the Mission are consistent with other San Francisco neighborhoods, but the Mission’s diversity provides a unique challenge to serve food that different ethnic groups like.
For example, the bank provides rice and beans for Latin Americans and has learned that Chinese Americans won’t eat cottage cheese.
At the Women’s Building and Arriba Juntos, another trend has become apparent since the recession began: More Chinese Americans.
“There’s been some tension between the Chinese and the Latinos in line,” Loh said. “The language is a huge barrier, and there are cultural differences even in terms of standing in line.”
Back at Arriba Juntos, an argument broke out between two elderly Chinese women after one of them tried to cut in line. Victoria Dávila let out a sigh and began reminiscing about the Mission of her youth.
“When I came here in ’78 it was more peaceful…they didn’t give you food because everything was cheap and there was plenty of work,” Dávila said as she inched her shopping cart forward in line.