Connie Rivera works as a volunteer on July 19 at the Mission Food Hub, which distributes 7,000 to 9,000 packages of food for families each week. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz / Mission Local)

For those seeking food pantries or other access to food, the city asks that you call 311 or visit the Human Services Agency website at sfhsa.org.

Vaccine privilege may make it seem like the pandemic is coming a close in San Francisco, but food insecurity is still widespread. The state of California has stepped in with two $1 million donations to local food organizations assisting those who experience food insecurity. 

The state is also making the application for CalFresh, the state’s food subsidy program, more accessible for older adults and those with disabilities.

The state has budgeted $1 million for the Mission Food Hub and $1 million for Meals on Wheels San Francisco. The organizations applied for funding, Sen. Scott Wiener requested it in a letter to the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee in March and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the budget last week. A press conference with Mission Food Hub and Meals on Wheels will be held at the hub at 701 Alabama Street on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Spanish and English.

The funding is desperately needed, advocates said. 

The Mission Food Hub opened with no funding in the midst of the pandemic to serve boxes of culturally appropriate food and groceries for community members, first from a garage and then at 701 Alabama St. At the hub, demand increased through November, when the center distributed about 9,000 boxes each week.

These days, they still distribute 7,000 to 9,000 boxes a week, said Roberto Hernandez, one of the founders of the hub, run by the Latino Task Force. The boxes go to people waiting in line, deliveries for some who are homebound and other pop-up organizations across the Bay Area, said Rosine Garcia, a volunteer supervisor at the site. 

For most of the hub’s existence, the overwhelming majority of food came from the USDA through the Family to Farmers Food Box program, but its support ended on May 31, Hernandez said. The Crankstart foundation stepped in with a $1.5 million donation, which has since helped it get through June and July. 

The $1 million in the state budget would allow the hub to continue services for another two and a half to three months, Hernandez said. 

He hopes that by the time this funding runs out, the Mission Food Hub will be able to access $7 million in city funding to sustain the hub an additional year. San Francisco added an additional $40 million to its budget for food organizations citywide, Hernandez said. He’s waiting for the city to put out a Request for Proposals so he can apply for the funding.

Hearing the news of the $1 million in funding, volunteer Connie Rivera, hard at work, breathed a sigh of relief. She and many others have leaned on the hub for food after losing their jobs. She still does.

“We were worried. Like, if it’s over, what are we going to do?” Rivera said. “We really need support … and we still need to provide the families food.”

For Meals on Wheels San Francisco, which for decades has provided meals twice a day, seven days a week, for older adults and those with disabilities, the $1 million was used to purchase a generator and ensure that service could continue uninterrupted in the event of a disaster, such as an earthquake or a fire. 

The generator will provide backup power for the organization’s 35,794-square-foot kitchen, which opened and replaced its previous, smaller facility last November — and allows it to increase meal outputs from 8,000 meals a day to 30,000. 

The organization provided 2.4 million meals to 16,462 people in 2020. It was nearly three times the number of people served in 2019. It included 5,226 older adults, a smaller fraction of people who have disabilities, and about 11,000 from the city’s Isolation and Quarantine Hotel Program, which served meals to people impacted by COVID-19, including the COVID-positive residents or family members.

For many older adults homebound, Meals on Wheels “are the difference between people being able to live in their homes … or possibly going into nursing care, which they might not need to do,” said Jim Oswald, communications director for Meals on Wheels San Francisco.

Added CEO and director Ashley McCumber, “We really understand that what we do on a daily basis cannot be abated in a crisis, an earthquake or any other reason. The people who get their nutritional support from meals on wheels, in many cases, don’t have any other support.”

McCumber said that uninterrupted service is important for the larger region, as the bigger kitchen provides meals and disaster kits for Meals on Wheels programs in counties such as San Mateo and Sonoma in the midst of power outages and fires.

Finally, the state budget is directing $100,000 to redesign the application for CalFresh. Only 19 percent of eligible older adults in California are served by the food subsidy program, according to the Office of Scott Wiener. That’s far fewer than any other state’s federally funded food subsidy program, according to Jared Call, a senior advocate for Nourish California who pushed for the change.

The application for CalFresh is currently 18 pages long, whereas some states have theirs down to as few as two pages, Call said.

Asked why it’s so long, he said, “Here in California, we do sometimes have some extra layers of bureaucracy.”

The hope is to get it down to two or four pages, Call said. Steps may include removing questions for information that the state and counties have already collected from older adults and residents with disabilities through former applications for unearned income such as social security.

It will be tested before it’s rolled out to older adults and people with disabilities, Call said.

The state is also working toward telephonic signatures — a way of signing off one’s name through a telephone call — and the state has made it so that, once it’s able to offer telephonic signatures, counties won’t be able to opt out. These are available in San Francisco, the Human Services Agency said.

Altogether, California enrolls about 70 percent of eligible people to CalFresh, Call said, a percentage that is particularly discouraging considering what the state contributes. 

“Every year, we leave $2.2 billion in federal food aid at the Treasury instead of it turning into food on tables,” he said. If state enrollment reached 100 percent of eligible residents, he added, “we’d get $2.2 billion more per year in federal food benefits circulating the state, turning into food people need.”

David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in...

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