Providing healthy food to our community

The Chinatown YMCA food pantry was started in partnership with the SF-Marin Food Bank in April 2019. The goal of the pantry was to serve working families in Chinatown in a neighborhood where food security was a crucial issue. We started out serving 80 families in our first week and the number of households served quickly rose to 200 households which is where we are today.

Our food pantry was, for a few years, primarily supported by an ongoing group of dedicated older volunteers, many of whom received food themselves from the food pantry.

Since the pandemic, our food pantry has changed. Our ongoing food pantry is now being supported by staff since volunteers are unable to come in to work. In addition, many of the other food pantries in Chinatown closed due to lack of staffing (both volunteers and staff). In turn, the Chinatown YMCA, in partnership with CYC, started another pantry on Mondays to serve two of the shut down pantries at True Sunshine Episcopal Church and Chinatown Community Pantry at the YMCA. For the last year, we have been running the two days of food pantries to meet the demand for food in our community. Today, with staff support, we provide healthy raw and shelf stable food to over 500 households each week through the food pantries.

Why the food pantry is important?

Our efforts with the two food pantries will provide over 500 Chinatown households with a dependable resource for food, a basic need, which our most vulnerable residents are not guaranteed to have access to. With one less basic need to worry about, our hope is for our community to thrive instead of just survive.

The food provided by the food pantries support the overall well-being of the individuals receiving it. Enrollment is not based on income, immigration status or employment.

Without a variety of food, from raw to shelf stable, many of the households may turn to what is most cost effective and not what is the healthiest. Especially for youth and the elderly, this can cause significant negative effects to their overall health especially since opportunities for physical activity and outdoor time have decreased due to the pandemic.

The food pantries directly address food insecurity in the Chinatown community where food insecurity is a rising concern. Many of those who reside in this neighborhood already experience significant obstacles due to language barriers, knowledge of social services as well as uncertainty of the receipt of these supports will affect their immigration status. With the added complication of the corona virus and an increase of people experiencing uncertainty in income, housing, and health, providing food will address at least one major concern.

Want to help or learn more?

If you are an individual or a group interested in helping out at one of our food pantries or would like more information, please contact Monica Lai at

Mission Moment

Chinatown in San Francisco is the second-most densely populated neighborhood in the United States. Approximately 35,000 residents live in the neighborhood’s 20 or so block radius.  

Before the pandemic, there were 9 food pantries serving its residents. Because of the shelter-in-place order in mid-March, half of the existing food pantries stopped distributing food due to a lack of staff and volunteers. As expected, the demand for food has increased as the supply has gone down. For those who did not experience food insecurity before COVID, the new reality has been especially harsh. And those who were struggling before are competing with even more people trying to access food.  

Ms. Dang was one of these individuals. She is a senior who lives with her adult, intellectually disabled daughter, in a small Single Room Occupancy unit with just enough space for a bunk bed but no table. Living in an SRO also means that they must share bathroom and kitchen facilities with the rest of the residents on their floor. Before the pandemic, Ms. Dang was able to buy food in Chinatown and cook for her family though often, there was a long wait to use the stove. Since the pandemic though, Mrs. Dang didn’t feel like she could do either of these things safely. Going out to buy groceries and sharing the kitchen has been out of the question. The last year has been tough for her and her daughter.  

Through her past attendance at the Chinatown YMCA’s Aging Well Together program, Mrs. Deng knew Bonny Li, the program’s Coordinator. During one of the calls, the Y staff made to her to check on her, Ms. Dang shared with Bonny the stress she felt from not being able to provide healthy food for her daughter. Bonny referred Mrs. Deng to the food pantries operated by the Y, got her enrolled, and she is now receiving a substantial bag of groceries every week on Thursdays. Now, the food pantry that the Y hosts provides Ms. Dang with fresh fruit, meat, eggs, and more at no cost. She is now able to spend what she would have on groceries on other necessities for her and her daughter. Ms. Dang is happier now that she knows where her next bag of groceries is coming from. “The food from the food pantry is healthy and so me and my family have become healthier because of it. It’s made a big difference.” 

Ms. Dang is not the only person whose life has been made easier and better because of the food they know they will receive from the pantry. The food pantries serve mostly seniors in the community. The seniors have been dramatically affected by the pandemic as well as the recent hateful attacks on the API community. We are grateful for the support from the Anthem Blue Cross Foundation of our work in providing our community with a solution to their food insecurity problem.  

Funded By


Monica Lai
(415) 748-3548

Monica leads the Chinatown bilingual membership staff, as well as oversees senior programming, branch marketing and communications, as well as the Immigrant Support Center team. Monica is dedicated to her staff and is a supportive and motivating leader. She is devoted to serving her community and nurturing Chinatown's growth to it's highest potential. Monica has worked for the YMCA since the Chinatown branch re-opened in 2010.