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We developed the Food Networking Program to meet a need: bringing food pantry groceries to neighbors who can’t stand in line or carry the groceries home. CLC’s Community Connectors engage neighborhood volunteers, many of whom are older adults, to coordinate and staff their local Food Network. Each neighborhood’s network is a partnership among community leaders, neighborhood churches, local pantries and the San Francisco Food Bank. In that way, food delivery becomes a catalyst for reweaving community beyond the bags of groceries delivered.
In 2009, CLC Community Connector Deloris McGee and her friends and neighbors started the first Food Network in the Oceanview / Merced Heights / Ingleside (OMI) Neighborhood, with support from Temple United Methodist Church and the San Francisco Food Bank. With financial support from the Department of Aging and Adult Services, the program expanded to Parkmerced/University Park in 2011 and to the Bayview district in 2013.
Over the past year, the Food Network Program delivered fresh fruits, vegetables and other wholesome foods twice a month to 200 qualifying seniors and people with disabilities in the OMI, Parkmerced and Bayview neighborhoods who were unable to access their neighborhood food pantry due to frailty or disability.
For each Food Network, CLC employs a local, part-time Community Connector to coordinate the program, mobilize Neighborhood Volunteers, and maintain regular contact with Program Recipients. Neighborhood Volunteers unpack Food Bank pallets, pack delivery boxes, load trucks, and deliver the food. The Community Connector works with the drivers to create the most efficient route and each truck has both a driver and someone to unload the groceries and bring them up the stairs to the individual’s home.
Besides delivering supplemental food to seniors and adults with disabilities, CLC’s Community Connectors call participants to remind them of the delivery day and time every two weeks. They check in to see how things are going and give out their phone number in case there is a change or a problem. These informal, two-way conversations and Neighborhood Volunteer’s visits with homebound neighbors build relationships and trust among neighbors. This has been key in reaching isolated seniors and encouraging them accept the help being offered, as well as addressing other concerns – from installing grab rails for safety to offering more formal services and supports.
Over the past year, the Food Networking Program has provided approximately 500 hours of other services and support, including one-to-one advocacy and assistance with housing, mental health, safety, and other issues. Connectors and volunteers have arranged access to more formal services as needed, and provide emotional support during the delivery reminder calls.
As part of the Food Networking Program, CLC also works to support the Neighborhood Volunteers, many of whom are also seniors. Each neighborhood takes a different approach, depending on the needs of their particular community. In the OMI, activities such as a weekly walking group and line dancing gathering, a monthly breast cancer support group, and an annual Aging While Black Forum provide Neighborhood Volunteers and the wider community with opportunities to connect and support one another.
The Food Networking Program is one type of Home Delivered Grocery model. DAAS funding for Home Delivered Grocery programs is expected to increase in the coming fiscal year thanks to the advocacy of the San Francisco Food Security Task Force and Mayor Ed Lee. In addition to this funding, the Food Networking Program is made possible through the generosity of those in the community. Local leaders, who help maintain the Foood Networking Program’s unique neighbor-to-neighbor approach, generously volunteer time that is currently valued at $52,000 annually. Community partners are also essential to this program. These include: San Francisco and Marin Food Bank, I.T. Bookman Community Center, Temple United Methodist Church, Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Church of our Savior, St. Stephen Catholic Church, St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church, Having Pride UNITI, Bayview Health and Wellness, and Glide Food Program.