Illustration by Annika Kim Constantino

The Mission Food Hub at 701 Alabama St. runs Mondays, Wedesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. It now feeds 7,000 people a week. Here are some stories from Monday’s line. 

Cairo Gonzalez arrived at the Mission Food Hub at 4:30 a.m. to get ahead of the long lines, but he was not the first in line. Workers at the Food Hub said the first in line arrived at 3 a.m.

“I don’t like getting too much food because I’m alone, so I don’t eat too much,” Gonzalez said.

What he does not finish, he sometimes gives to neighbors because he detests throwing food away, he says.

Gonzalez retired after working 21 years doing maintenance at San Francisco International Airport. He pronounces each word in the airport’s title slowly and emphatically, making it clear that he’s proud of the connection.  He now spends his days at home,, sometimes going for walks. In that way, the current pandemic has not changed his life much at all.

In other ways, it has changed. He sees his neighbors less often, as many spend their days quarantined indoors. When he does get the chance to talk to them, he says, he sometimes has to be reminded to keep a distance of six feet. He appreciates the reminder, but still forgets sometimes.

José Manuel currently shares a room with eight other men on Mission Street, and all of them have been working fewer hours since the beginning of the pandemic.  Manuel, however, is the only one who is completely out of work, he says.

His roommates have loaned him enough money to make rent up until now, but they are all struggling to keep up. Manuel says his landlord isn’t very understanding and demands that rent be paid on time, but despite the mounting debt with no sign of relief in sight, he does not feel troubled.

Manuel says that before this began, God gave him work and now God has decided to take that work away. He has complete faith that God will get him through this.

In the middle of our interview, Manuel spots a mother struggling to carry her box of food while holding her son’s hand, and sprints over to lend a hand. He carries the box on his shoulder across 19th Street and walks back, only to find another mother with a young child hoping to solicit his service. He takes the mother’s box, as well as the gallon of milk her daughter is struggling to grip, and crosses with them.

When he returns, Manuel says that he is generous because God has been generous with him. His eyes turn slightly red and begin to fill with tears as he describes all that God has provided for him throughout his life.

“God made this world for us to walk upon it, so that’s what I’ll do for now,” he says.

Hector Gonzalez, a 12-year-old boy, has been coming to the Mission Food Hub three times a week for the last five weeks to get food for his family. His mother stays home with his five-year-old brother, and his dad is at work most days. When asked what life has been like since the beginning of the pandemic, Hector uses one word: “Boring.”

The last few months of sixth grade were online, meaning far fewer activities and less time to turn in assignments. His teacher also sometimes forgot to post the link to their meetings, causing delays.

Soon it was summer, typically an eagerly awaited reprieve from school for kids. This year, however, summer just meant more of the same. His family had planned a vacation in Texas, to visit family and go swimming, but that was cancelled.

Now, Hector spends the days helping his mother with chores around the house and playing Roblox. Seventh grade starts next week for Hector, but he isn’t looking forward to it much.

“I still haven’t met my teacher yet, so I’m kind of nervous,” he says.

Elodia Solis used to donate food to the Mission Food Hub, but she says she never imagined that one day she’d be in line there.

“This isn’t a shameful thing,” she says, as her eyes water, “You just never imagine yourself on the other side.”

Solis used to work for a friend, cleaning houses. When the pandemic started, clients slowly started canceling. Before long, Solis’s friend did not have enough work to bring her along and she was left jobless.

Her partner, who previously worked in construction, still works, but very rarely. She says his job was rather inconsistent to begin with; they would call him sporadically as they needed him, but now the phone hardly rings at all.

“I’m honestly kind of jealous of him,” she says. While he seems rather content to spend the days at home watching television or playing Candy Crush on his phone, she says she feels overwhelming pressure.

In May, they began falling behind on their rent. Their landlord agreed to give them time to pay it, but their debt simply keeps growing.

“They’ll offer to give more time but they won’t offer to forgive the debt,” she says.

Alfredo Lopez now owes his landlord more than $2,000 after three months of not paying rent.

The 30-year-old used to clean the kitchen of a local restaurant, but that restaurant closed. He feels his situation is increasingly hopeless and fears he and his six-year-old daughter might end up homeless. They currently live on 3rd Street.

“I could deal with it, but it would be hard on her,” he says.

Two months ago, Lopez applied for rental assistance but never heard back. While they wait for the business to reopen or for new work to appear, Lopez spends his days at home with his daughter and brother, who is also out of work. His daughter, he says, is happy to spend all day with him, but at first questioned why her dad wasn’t going to work.

Lopez had to explain the pandemic to his daughter, and how it cost him his job.

“She’s very calm, she’s not worried,” he says.

They have lots of other families in the city whom they could lean on in normal situations. But this is not a normal situation, and most of his family members have lost their jobs too.

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Juan Carlos Lara covers business and development in the Mission. Juan Carlos, a San Francisco State alum, is as much a photographer as he is a writer and previously worked as the campus news editor at Golden Gate Xpress, SF State’s student paper.

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