Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shopping at the Food Pantry

Let's put aside those arguments about whether or not organic food is too expensive or elitist, just for a minute. Or if local food is truly sustainable. Because for some people, it's really not an issue. Their own sustainence is the issue. For some, just getting enough to eat is what matters.

Imagine you are struggling to make ends meet. You don't have the money to buy enough groceries to feed your family. What do you do? And how does your community help support you? You might think the answer is food stamps, or a soup kitchen, but neither of those are completely satisfying solutions. Here in San Francisco there is another option available. Each week at over 150 "farmer's market" style food pantries, located throughout the city, thousands of people are able to supplement their grocery shopping. Over 1.3 million pounds of food including fresh produce, is distributed each month through this program.

The San Francisco Food Pantry program is an innovative approach to getting fresh food out to people in need. Non-profit organizations visit the food bank warehouse and select food for a small fee. They then provide the food to families and individuals through neighborhood-based free grocery distributions. That way low income families can choose what they like and need and cook it for themselves.

The food pantry I visited several weeks ago was at Curran House, which serves low income families. Located in the Tenderloin, Curran House has 24 three-bedroom apartments for larger families, in addition to one- and two-bedrooms and studios. Ten units are designated for formerly homeless families. On the roof there is a community garden where tenants grow citrus trees and fresh herbs for cooking. The day I visited tenants could choose beautiful looking apples, cabbages and artichokes to help stretch their food budget, without paying a dime.

For a city famous for its bounty we are lucky that the San Francisco Food Bank is able to provide more fresh produce per person than any other food bank in the nation. Because there are plenty of hungry people in our midst. The farmers markets don't have to be only for those who can afford premium prices and healthy fresh food can be accessible to even the neediest.

Over at Bay Area Bites is my interview with Tanya Steel and more about hunger in America and the Wine. Dine. Donate program. Check it out!