New Harmony Cafe provides free meals to seniors
New Harmony Cafe. One of the city's restaurants participating in Great Plates.

SF New Deal, a nonprofit that uses state and philanthropic funds to pay local restaurants to provide free meals for vulnerable residents, has given out $10 million to local restaurants since March and provided 1 million meals to vulnerable residents, according to a SF New Deal report issued this month

SF New Deal, which funds meals for seniors, previously unhoused residents being sheltered in hotels, and people in need that were identified by local community-based organizations, reported that its restaurant partners lost an average of $30,000 a week due to the pandemic, and have regained an average of $6,150 a week from the program.

The report, which surveyed 66 of its business partners in August, showed that “about 48 percent of the responding restaurants received at least half of their revenue from SF New Deal.”

The program chose restaurant partners based on the cultural and dietary restrictions of the people they were serving, according to Vinny Eng, a community organizer for SF New Deal. For the Great Plates Delivered program, a majority of seniors are Chinese and Latinx, so they focused on restaurants that had the capacity and will to work with those restrictions. The program also prioritized geographic distribution, hoping to have partners in every district, Eng said. 

Of its more than 100 restaurant partners, 24 are in District 9. Eng said the program is always open to being contacted by prospective restaurant partners, who can reach out at

How much money has been given to each program:

Great Plates Delivered (federally funded)Congregate Housing Sites (city funded)Community Based Organizations (privately funded)

Farming Hope, one of SF New Deal’s Mission-based partners, provides paid apprenticeships for previously incarcerated or unhoused residents to learn to grow and cook food. Farming Hope had provided the food at  Manny’s, a Mission café and gathering site, but after Manny’s was forced to temporarily close in March, Farming Hope began a community feeding program, donating to people in need.

“We just jumped in and hoped, by starting to do something good, the money would come in,” said Jamie Stark, a co-founder and executive director of Farming Hope.  “We figured if we’re going to run out of money, it might as well be feeding people who need it.” 

And just as Stark predicted, the money did start coming in. Farming Hope began working with SF New Deal in June as part of its city-funded Congregate Housing Sites program, which delivers meals to previously unhoused people that the city is currently sheltering in hotels. 

“It feels good to be helping people because I know the feeling of not knowing if I’m going to eat today,” said Henresha, a Farming Hope apprentice, in a speech during her recent graduation from the program.  

Ben Angel, the owner of New Harmony Cafe, which is in the space at 20th and Mission streets formerly occupied by Laundré, opened in the midst of the pandemic. 

“We opened in April for a month and things were really slow. I could tell we’d be going into rent debt soon, and it was daunting,” Angel said. 

SF New Deal has been a lifeline. From late May until about two weeks ago, Angel made all of his income from his partnership with SF New Deal as part of the federally-funded Great Plates Delivered program.

About two weeks ago, Angel reopened his business for outdoor seating and takeout, allowing other struggling restaurants to fill most of the orders he used to take for Great Plates Delivered. 

While he relinquished most of his previous SF New Deal work, he still completes a few orders because he does not think his restaurant can survive without support. 

“I don’t think that is going to be possible for a lot of places until there is an adjustment to rent,” Angel said. “Even with 50 percent capacity it’s just not tenable.” 

It’s true that even with easing restaurant restrictions and the consistent income brought by this program, local businesses are far from their pre-pandemic selves. 

And, while the Congregate Housing Sites program, which Farming Hope is participating in, is funded by the city with a contract extending to May 2021, the future of the Great Plates Delivered program, which New Harmony Cafe is a part of, is much more tenuous. 

The state of California funds the Great Plates Delivered program, but extensions for the program must be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which only allows extensions of a month, and only approves the extensions in the week before the deadline. 

Sometimes SF New Deal only learns its program has been granted an extension 24 to 48 hours before the deadline, according to Eng.

Currently, the deadline is set for Nov. 9, with no certainty whether it will be granted an extension. 

Eng added that he hopes the program is allowed to continue, insisting it is, “A really important part of stabilizing restaurant revenue.”

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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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