Feeding Marin: Exploring the Bay Area’s Hunger Crisis


Graphic by: Tandis Shoushtary

By Kendall Lafranchi

Thanksgiving is a holiday defined by food. Traditionally, families are seated around a table of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, piling more than enough food onto their plates. As normal as this may seem for some, for others this tradition couldn’t be further from reality.

In San Francisco and Marin, one in four people don’t know where their next meal will come from, according to the San Francisco Marin Food Bank. This is higher than the national rate of one in seven people. In Marin, the hungry must rely on organizations like the SF-Marin Food Bank to provide them with the food they need to survive, especially during the holidays. “October through December are our busiest months [at the Food Bank],” said Katy Mann, a food drive director at SF-Marin Food Bank. “Those are also the months where we need donations the most.”

Unfortunately, the number of people needing the services of public pantries and soup kitchens does not appear to be decreasing anytime soon thanks to a higher cost of living in California. California holds the country’s sixth highest tax burden and the cost of living here is one-third higher than the national average. Families with limited resources have even less to spend on food, so it is vital to offset that financial strain. That is where the Tam High community comes in.

In order to help these families in need, Tam leadership organized a canned food drive from November 10 to November 25. “A quarter of our community doesn’t have the food they need to survive,” freshman leadership member Robbie Samec said. “Having students donate is the best way possible to fix that.”

Tam’s goal was 1,000 pounds and although there has been no official count, leadership expects to surpass that goal. The SF-Marin food bank serves about 14,000 meals per day, 365 days a year, and if each meal is approximately 1.2 pounds, the importance of every can donated starts to become apparent. “Drives can bring anywhere from 100 to 10,000 pounds of food and then there are the Boy Scouts who bring in 40,000 pounds per day.” Mann said. “For most schools, the food bank can expect up to 2000 pounds of canned goods.”

A large portion of the food collected by the bank goes directly to its patrons, but another chunk goes to charitable organizations like soup kitchens and religious practices such as Glide Memorial Church. Glide has an annual Thanksgiving meal to help and feed 5,000 of San Francisco’s most vulnerable and hungry citizens.

“In San Francisco you will never go hungry, all you have to do is get in line,” Glide patron Karl Flores told the San Francisco Chronicle on Thanksgiving. Glide gives out 800,000 meals per year, but Thanksgiving is the largest day in terms of numbers of patrons and volunteers.

“On some Thanksgivings I go with my family to volunteer at Glide. We spend the whole morning preparing for the big meal that we’ll serve later in the day,” sophomore Sabrina Baker said. “It’s a really gratifying experience and it feels really nice to give back.”

Among the other volunteers at Glide on Thanksgiving were San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo). She was an advocate in the successful effort in 2013 to limit a 50 percent cut in food stamps. “In a country as rich as we are, to have so many people homeless and hungry is shameful,” she told the Chronicle.

“The general cost of living in San Francisco and Marin are really making people’s budgets crash,” said Paul Ash, director of the SF-Marin Food Bank to KQED. “It’s really hard to

stretch their income across the kinds of cost we see, especially in terms of rent increases.”

“Considering that the economy has improved so much, we hoped the need would not be as chronic and as high,” Tami Cárdenas said to KQED. Cárdenas is the vice-president of marketing and development at Second Harvest Food Bank which serves those in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Still, the demand and need for the SF-Marin Food Bank has slightly increased over the past year, and this year during the holidays the food bank plans to serve 33,000 households in San Francisco and Marin. One reason for the increase of clients most likely relates to the recent cuts in federal food stamps. There is also added pressure on Thanksgiving given that it falls towards the end of the month. Many families receive their federal funding at the beginning of the month, so resources are more scarce approaching the end.

That is why the holidays are such pivotal times of the year for food banks. Last year, the SF-Marin Food Bank gained 60 percent of its annual donations during the holiday season (October 1 – December 31). It is also important to note that donations made during the holidays can be put to use year round and 96 percent of everything donated goes directly to the food bank’s programs.

Marin District Attorney Ed Berberien is among the food bank contributors this year. He presented a $71,000 check to the SF-Marin Food Bank at the Marin County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on November 25. This donation is the result of a settlement between food industry corporations and the Marin County DA’s office along with San Diego and Riverside’s District Attorneys as well. Other notable donors include Disney-ABC which donated $15,000 to each food bank in partnership with Feeding America’s “Be Inspired” campaign this year.

Feeding America is a nationwide network of food banks that serve more than 37 million

people in the US and lead the nation’s fight against hunger. In their 2014 Hunger Study and

Survey, one in seven people said they relied on Feeding America partners for their meals. Out of those people, 31 percent had to choose between either paying for food or paying for an education; 69 percent had to decide between paying their utility bills or buying food; 57 percent had to choose between paying the rent or paying food bills and one in six people polled had faced eviction or foreclosure within the past five years.

Pastor David Hall of Mill Valley’s Big God Ministries understands the struggle that those who were polled are going through. “Dad left home, and I was the youngest of six children,” Hall said to Marinscope. “We grew up on welfare and government cheese, and it made me appreciate when people gave handouts.”

Hall’s non-denominational church raises funds year round for their annual turkey drives in San Rafael’s Canal District and Marin City. The group gave out hundreds of turkeys on November 24 and 25 throughout Marin City and the Canal. In addition to giving out the turkeys, Hall led prayers for those waiting in line. “If we change just one life today, we had a good day,” Hall said.

By handing turkeys out to those in need, Hall’s group is helping to cut down the largest gap in food donations. St. Vincent de Paul’s Dining Room in Marin said that their biggest need is for meat and canned tuna. On the day before Thanksgiving, Second Harvest Food Bank was still short 3,500 turkeys. “If you can donate, proteins are the best,” SF-Marin Food Bank director Ash said.

The local Safeway on East Blithedale is trying to do their part. “We sell bags of non-

perishable food items and the Marin Food Bank comes and picks them up,” Safeway manager

Eddie Chu said. “We also donate leftover pastry items and non-perishables to churches around the area.”

Shonalie Guinney is a Tam parent who has donated to the Tam and Safeway food drives and volunteers at Glide and the SF Marin Food Bank every year around the holidays. “I feel good about giving back and connecting with my community,” Guinney said. “It’s also important [for my kids] to see that there are people less fortunate than them who don’t have a meal readily available.”

Students can give back in many other ways as well, going beyond the food drive. “The Tam food drive is the best way to start [volunteering],” Robbie Samec said. “Then volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen is the next level.”

Some believe that extreme measures should be taken. Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine titled “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”. “A household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000 [for charity],” Singer wrote. “The formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away.”

Contrary to the title of Singer’s piece, people acknowledge that handing out meals and other food programs will not solve the world poverty crisis. “Poverty will always be with us, we’re just trying to confront it,” Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide told the Chronicle.

“It’s just important for people to know that the need [for food] exists and that’s why food drives are great,” SF-Marin food drive director Mann said. “47 million pounds of food are distributed by the food bank each year, yet it still amazes me how much of a difference a single can of tuna can make.”

Although Tam’s food drive is over, you can still volunteer and donate canned goods to the following organizations:


San Francisco and Marin Food Bank, 900 Pennsylvania Ave., San Francisco. Call (415) 282-1907 for hours.


St. Anthony’s Dining Room, 150 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco. Call (415) 241-2600 for hours.


Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, 330 Ellis St., San Francisco. Call (415) 674-6000 for hours.


St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County, 820 B St., San Rafael. Call (415) 454-3303 for hours.

For other volunteering opportunities visit the College and Career Center or donate to Tam’s Holiday Joy Drive.