A cart full of food from Mission Food Hub. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly

Now entering the eighth month of the pandemic, the Mission Food Hub has become a central source of relief for families struggling to make ends meet. New unemployment claims in San Francisco for the week ending on Oct. 3, 2020, numbered 3,544, the lowest total since the start of the pandemic. But many people are working fewer hours than they were before. 

Here are their stories:

Rosalio Fernandez goes to the Mission Food Hub most Wednesday mornings. He works preparing food for Taqueria Cazadores, but has often had Wednesdays off since the start of the pandemic, and he figures if he picks up food, his morning isn’t wasted. 

On this particular morning, Fernandez arrived just after 8 a.m., and the line was already long. The first section of the line began at the corner of 19th and Alabama streets, stretched east along 19th Street to Florida Street, and rounded the corner. Fernandez explains that the entire first section will be served before the second section, which stretches west along 19th Street, begins to move.

At 10:15 a.m., Fernandez is about 30th in the second section of the line, so he estimates he’ll have his food in a little less than an hour. 

Fernandez has gone from working 50 hours a week before the pandemic to only 30 hours currently. And now he is the only consistently employed person in his household, after his son and son-in-law both lost their jobs. While Fernandez is happy to spend more time at home with his family, he worries about how they will make it through the remaining months of the pandemic. 

Fernandez said he has been able to stay afloat this long only because of the Give2SF Housing Stabilization program. After the family began to fall behind on rent in June, Fernandez applied. In August, Fernandez learned that he had qualified for the program. The rent he missed in June and July was paid off; the city also paid his rent for August and September. 

“It really helped for the rent program that we had covid,” Fernandez said. 

Fernandez explained that in late April, every member of his household contracted Covid-19, which carried the silver lining of increasing his odds of getting rental assistance. At the time, this was a devastating development, because it put everyone out of work at once. But Fernandez’s family experienced only  minor symptoms, and the family did enjoy spending more time together.  

“We’re never fighting, we communicate very well, so it’s nice to be home,” Fernandez said, with a smile. 

Ana Valdez comes to the Mission Food Hub about twice a month to get food for herself, her husband and her daughter. Valdez said she usually arrives around 7:30 a.m. prepared to wait four hours for the food, which she says can often last her family about two weeks. 

Valdez comes prepared with a wide, sturdy cart for her food, a thick grey scarf for the cold, black and white Nike Tanjun shoes— a very comfortable choice, for hours of standing in line—  and, most importantly, a foldable chair to give her Nike Tanjuns the occasional break.

Valdez used to work as a nanny, but the pandemic severely curtailed  the demand from her clientele. Forty hours of consistent work a week quickly became none, and has just recently bounced back to about 16 hours a week. 

“Not enough, but better than nothing,” Valdez said. 

Now, Valdez spends most days watching after only one child— her daughter, who just started eighth grade. 

“She’s very bored, she’s stressed, she keeps saying she wants to go to school. It’s not easy,” Valdez said. 

The only member of the family whose schedule has not been completely upended seems to be Valdez’s husband, who works in construction and saw only a minor decline in work near the beginning of the pandemic.

Suddenly, the first section of the line going east on 19th Street was gone and the second section, where Valdez sat near the front, began moving for the first time that morning. 

Valdez, who had not stirred from her lawn chair for the entirety of the interview, was on her feet in a flash and moving up the line. At lightning-speed, she had her chair folded up in her cart and her ticket, which notes her place in line and is necessary for entry, in her hand.  

After Valdez received her food, she stood on the corner of Alabama and 19th streets in what can be described as an impromptu barter market. Five or six people, all having just left the hub, exchange food in a confusing mix of Spanish, Chinese, and sporadic bursts of English. One woman approached Valdez, lifted up her nearly empty box, presumably filled with the things she did not wish to take home, and said something which Valdez did not understand. 

The woman tried again, this time saying, “You want milk?” 

Valdez, understanding some English, said “Leche?”

The woman replied “yes,” and Valdez happily took a gallon of milk from the woman’s box.  

The second section of the Mission Food Hub line, where Fernandez and Valdez both stood, stretched west from 19th Street to Harrison Street, then headed north to 18th Street and wrapped around to Florida Street. There, nearly four blocks from the front of the line, stood Carmen Pineda and her 14-year-old son, Jose. 

“I bring him so we can spend some time together,” Pineda said.

Pineda comes once a week to the food hub, which she said helps her save money. Pineda, who works at a restaurant, and her husband, who does maintenance for a hotel in town, both had their hours cut dramatically. While things have begun to pick up slowly, they both currently work only about half the hours they worked in early March.

Both are eager to return to work full time, but Pineda said that won’t happen until their respective employers see a significant increase in business. 

“Indoor dining helped a lot for business,” Pineda said in Spanish, adding that her managers told her “hopefully in November hours pick up again.”

Pineda and her husband had planned to buy a house in Vallejo this year. The pandemic destroyed that dream. 

Instead, the couple began dipping into savings to stay current on their rent and bills, hoping the pandemic would pass quickly. In September, Pineda said they used up the last of their savings. 

The couple remain hopeful that they will be homeowners one day, but they know that goal will now have to wait for at least a few more years. 

When asked how she plans to get by without her savings and earning only low wages, Pineda echoed a sentiment similar to many other residents that Mission Local has spoken to in these lines. 

“Vamos a seguir porque no nos queda otro remedio,” Pineda said. That means, “We’ll keep going because we don’t have any other option.”

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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.

Tips can be sent to juancarlos.lara@missionlocal.com
Tweets can be found at @jcl_scoop

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