food volunteers
Volunteers at an SF-Marin Food Bank pantry in Hunters Point. From @sfmfoodbank.

San Francisco is poised to halt public funding for the SF-Marin Food Bank’s pandemic-era Pop-Up Pantry program, which puts dinner on the table for upwards of 15,000 families weekly. 

With long pantry lines and even longer waitlists, the future of food security for those residents is uncertain, as city grant support for the Food Bank’s pop-ups ends June 30. This comes as federal funding for Covid-19 emergency programs all over the country officially ends May 11.

The SF-Marin Food Bank launched its pop-up pantry program in March, 2020, to address soaring levels of food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic and the unemployment that followed.

Under the program, Food Bank staffers set up tables, chairs and traffic cones at 21 spots across the city big enough to accommodate a forklift and trucks, like parking lots and school yards. A site is set up typically at 8 a.m., with fresh food (60 percent fruits and vegetables) arranged for families to choose from in a farmer’s market style unique to the pop-ups. By 2 p.m., there’s hardly a trace of the makeshift pantry.

In San Francisco, one in four residents is at risk of hunger, according to the San Francisco Department of Health. And though the risk of Covid contagion has diminished, the effects of the pandemic are still present for the Food Bank’s clients: In 2020, Food Bank participation doubled, going from 32,000 across all programs up to 60,000 weekly enrolled households. At present, the total number of households served by Food Bank programs holds strong at 56,000.

“Our most recent survey showed that 72 percent of participants haven’t recovered financially from the pandemic,” said Keely Hopkins, the Food Bank’s senior communications manager.

“We have waitlists at every site,” confirmed a worker at Tuesday’s pop-up pantry on San Bruno Avenue, next to La Raza park. 

On top of this, the Recreation and Parks Department said it will cease Food Bank operations at three of its locations by May 1. The Food Bank is currently working to relocate the three pantries.

“If we don’t find homes for those sites, over 3,300 households (10K+ people) would lose access to food in Chinatown, the Richmond and Outer Mission/Excelsior,” read a March 16 email sent from Sean Brooks, the Food Bank’s chief program officer, to Cathy Huang, Cindy Lin and Susie Smith at the Human Services Agency. 

Though the food selection at pop-ups varies from week to week, staff prioritizes culturally relevant options for the majority Chinese and Latinx participants. This week, they had apple, melon, cucumber, onion, green onion, celery, lettuce, rice, eggs and avocado.

The worker, who remained anonymous, said pop-up pantry waitlists “can be anywhere from 100 to 700 people long. Today, we saw 560 families, and added four to the waitlist.” 


He said that on Monday, the GLIDE Memorial Church pantry in the Tenderloin had to turn away more than 25 people. 

Around 40 percent of the pop-up pantry program budget is supported by the city, amounting to over $11 million in grant funding since July, 2022. Each pantry serves anywhere from 500 to 1,200 registered participants weekly.

Before the pandemic, the SF-Marin Food Bank largely relied on 250 independent permanent pantries to distribute food. While each permanent pantry provides groceries for an estimated 150 to 300 people weekly, the pop-up pantries sprang up to fill the massive increase in need brought on in 2020, when a number of permanent pantries were forced to close.

On April 1, when the Food Bank got no reply from the city regarding a commitment of future funding, staffers began to prepare for the worst, closing both the pop-up pantry and home-delivery programs to new applicants and beginning the process of relocating existing participants to other programs “until we see a clear path to sustainability,” stated Brooks in his email.

The Food Bank’s home-delivery program serves nearly 12,000 seniors, people with disabilities and families with young children who can’t make it out when pantries are open. 

“We expect waitlists to grow and, unfortunately, stagnate,” the email read. “We don’t anticipate having available capacity in our network for very long.”

In the years following the pandemic, food prices have only gone up. In 2022 alone, costs increased 10.2 percent, with dairy and related products going up 17.4 percent and eggs 32.2 percent.

Meg Davidson, the Food Bank’s director of policy and advocacy, expressed dismay at the city’s lack of response regarding food security. 

“In public statements, the mayor’s office has not listed anything about public services other than public safety. Social services haven’t been in the conversation at all.” Davidson said she understands the city’s budget is tight, but it doesn’t seem there’s much drive to support hungry San Franciscans.

“If you step out of your apartment, you see people needing food. The need hasn’t gone away. For us to hear any of our city leaders pretending the need isn’t still there is very difficult for us. We’re making sure it’s in their face, that we’re speaking regularly with them so they’re aware of it. This is not a covid problem, it’s an everyday problem.”

Davidson said loss of city funding, coupled with an overall shrinking in private money and in-kind donations, makes the situation more dire. 

Noting the recent slashing of CalFresh benefits, Davidson said that “74,000 households in San Francisco who receive CalFresh now see an average of $160 less every month in their benefit levels when pandemic-era emergency allotments ended prematurely.”

When this runs out, she said, “They come to the pantry. Because we are the safety net for the safety net.”

In the meantime, staff is working to make the pop-up pantry program more financially sustainable. “We don’t want to close a pantry,” said Davidson. “We don’t want to pull the rug out from anyone.

“We may have to look at reducing the pounds of food each household takes home every week,” and potentially scale back the availability of culturally-relevant food.

Right now, they’re relying on reserves. But those are drying up, said Davidson, and the Food Bank needs all the government support it can get.

As of today, the Food Bank has yet to receive any word from the city on funds.

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco. She formerly worked at the SF Bay View and LA Review of Books.

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  1. I used to volunteer as well as donate money to the SF. Marin Food Bank until I learned that the executive director earns well (over) $250,000 annually. The Santa Clara Food Bank executive director earns even more…….

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  2. There is plenty of money for useless ‘non profits’ that have no noticble results in helping drug addicts and homeless.The worthless non profits and city programs can do nothing to solve the problem because there is no housing or enough meaningful effective treatment programs. Plenty of worthless city employees. It is more important for the jerks in the Park and rec department to have someone make sure a food bank participant cannot park in a PUBLIC LOT at 41 Avenue and Quintara for a few minuets to pick up there food from a food bank.This is where their priorities exist.It only took 10 years to get the playground at
    Vicente and 40th Avenue resurfaced.The morons running SF routinely steal public parking spots for private enterprises such as restaurants and rent a crap bikes.Not giving the Food Bank enough funding is another example of the morons and crooks running SF not caring about the non rich,non techie population.

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  3. Food banks throughout North America are all seeing in rise in people who are in need. I did not realize just how many food banks San Francisco had.

    The drug addicts and mentally ill take up so much funding and they are so visible there is little attention given to the largely un-noticed poor.

    Sure, the city should continue to support the food banks.

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  4. Pandemic is at 600+ US deaths/day (to say nothing of the mass-disabling event of Long COVID), means it is very much NOT over. Yet, funding moves away from public services to go to SFPD as more people grow hungry and end up homeless.

    Meanwhile, London Greed gives tax breaks to the racist, cry-baby heir of a South African apartheid mine as she and her crooked DA incorrectly blame tech homicides on the very needy folks who are going hungry.

    Oh yeah… this’ll turn out well. 🤦🏿

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  5. Our Mayor is horrible. Just horrible. I have not heard a peep from her about helping our poor citizens, only criminalize those without a roof over their head or who are addicted to fentanyl.

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    1. The problem with this city is our leaders prioritizing the two groups you mention over everyone else.

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      1. As if that were true. If it were, we would hear our Mayor demanding more and more Residential beds for addicts and more low income housing for all.

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