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My Experience with the Chinatown YMCA Food Pantry

Food Insecurity in San Francisco

SF-Marin Food Bank found that nearly 1 in 4 San Franciscans face food insecurity [1].

In the 7th grade, my class went on a field trip to the SF-Marin Food Bank and bagged rice. I knew that the rice would end up with a family that struggles to put food on the table, but I didn’t realize that my family was one of them.

For several years, my family has been receiving fresh fruit, vegetables, rice, beans, eggs, and canned foods from the Sf-Marin Food Bank. I would always get excited when my mom came home with boxed strawberries and canned beef stew. If it weren’t for the food bank, my sisters and I would rarely get the chance to eat healthy produce. 

Food Pantry Program

As a Bank of America Student Leader, I began working with the YMCA of San Francisco this summer and learning about their food pantry programs. When I found out that Chinatown YMCA had a food pantry program, I jumped at the chance to volunteer. I have volunteered at the SF-Marin Food Bank facility several times before, but I had not delivered those packaged goods to the public directly. The YMCA of San Francisco has several food pantry locations, including pantries at Richmond District YMCA, Mission YMCA and others.

How it Works

The Chinatown YMCA distributes healthy food to over 180 households each week.  This pantry runs later in the day so that the Chinatown Y can serve working parents in addition to seniors. Volunteers move the produce and groceries from the truck to the center, unbox bags of rice and cans, and pass out the items to the public.

Why I Volunteer

Volunteering at the food pantry program has opened my eyes to the diverse families that are living in San Francisco. Many individuals and families that participate in the food pantry program live in single room occupancies (SRO's) that do not have a kitchen, so receiving easy to eat foods such as fruits and canned foods is essential. For some families, the fruits and vegetables that are passed out are their only healthy options that week.

About half of the volunteers that come every week also require assistance with food and participate in the program.

I am astonished by how the community has formed from the act of giving and receiving food. I instantly became friends with the volunteers because we are immigrants or come from immigrant families. We understand the struggle of language barriers, getting food on the table, and finding and keeping shelter over our heads.

As I pass out peaches and black beans, I smile to the elderly, mothers, fathers, and individuals who came to receive food, and they smile back with a thank you. In this moment, I am hopeful that these volunteers and these organizations can eliminate food insecurity in our communities.

Ken, Volunteer Lead

“I’m retired, so this is something to do in the meantime. Lots of the volunteers here are retired too. I coordinate with the other volunteers and make sure everyone has a good time.”

Monica, Membership and Development Director

“We hear stories of ‘last week, after I got this ingredient, I made this!’ all the time. Our neighborhood is a very concentrated and low-income community, so there’s a lot of needs for this community. Food and health is definitely one of them. You can get a cheap meal in Chinatown, but it might not be the most healthy thing for you. We really want to put an emphasis on making sure that you are taking care of yourself and your family through good and healthy food.”

Emerson, Volunteer and Association Member

“I participated in the camping trips at the Chinatown Y when I was a boy and have been a member since. [I volunteer here] because it’s fun to meet people. Some participants have a hard time getting around, but this food is free and will support low-income people’s needs locally.”