Koret Food Program: Serving diverse communities more than food

Special Projects

Koret Food Program: Serving diverse communities more than food

Special Projects

The Koret Food Program is one of the Foundation’s longest-standing initiatives, dating all the way back to 1981, when Mr. Koret was still alive. Joseph Koret grew up in New York City, in a family that today would be classified as “working poor.” Later in life, he enjoyed telling the story of fishing for dinner in Central Park, landing a fish, and quickly hiding it down his shirt when a police officer approached. He also enjoyed being in a financial position to help alleviate the hunger of others.

Since 1981, the Koret Food Program has provided more than $9 million in grants to 24 Bay Area nonprofit organizations. The program continues to evolve in step with our grantees, as they adapt to their clients’ changing lifestyles and priorities. In 2015 we awarded multi-year support for the first time, allowing grantees to have the flexibility needed in economically stressed times. In 2017, we awarded $1.69 million over two years in new grants.

The Bay Area is an expensive place to live, and increasing numbers of people find themselves hard pressed to make ends meet. The wealth gap between haves and have-nots continues to widen, particularly in Silicon Valley. The combination of (1) increased need, especially for the working poor, (2) decreased public funding, and (3) increased anxiety in immigrant communities over the consequences of using any services that require registration, has the potential to create a perfect safety-net storm. The statistics are sobering.

Providing well-being as well as nutrition

Our food program grantees offer a wide and innovative range of services to meet the needs of the whole person, physically and emotionally. Providing food is these organizations’ shared primary purpose, but each continues to expand its services and delivery modes to respond with dignity and respect to the changing needs of their clients. Companionship and community, for those who seek it, are also a vital part of what these grantees offer.

The three grantees showcased below consider education a key part of their services. This can take many forms, including free programs, workshops, individual counseling, and access to computer resources. Topics range from nutrition and general health, to shopping and cooking on a tight budget, to substance-use disorders and treatment options, to public services available through other providers. The popular notion of offering people a hand up rather than a handout is one that Joseph Koret strongly believed in—and one that Koret Food Program grantees embody.

  • St. Anthony Foundation

    St. Anthony’s is a pillar of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It is a community within a community. Since October 4, 1950, the dining room has served a free hot, nourishing meal to every guest who has shown up. It is open every day: no cost, no questions, no pressure. These days, the dining room serves about one million meals a year—without a penny of government funding. St. Anthony’s is supported by donations from individuals, and scores of civic-minded Bay Area companies and foundations. And every year, about 15,000 dedicated volunteers help serve meals, distribute clothing, and lift the spirits of St. Anthony’s guests.

    The mission of St. Anthony’s has not changed since the nonprofit was founded by Franciscan Friar Father Alfred Boeddeker to “feed, heal, clothe, and lift the spirits of those in need.” Feeding the hungry is what St. Anthony’s is best known for in the broader community, but guests also rely on the organization’s extensive supportive services.

    St. Anthony’s medical clinic provides a broad range of care and behavioral therapy during 14,000 visits a year. About 30 percent of patients are children whose families live in the Tenderloin and surrounding neighborhoods. St. Anthony’s also maintains the largest free clothing program in San Francisco, stocking everything from children’s clothes, to interview or employment apparel, to warm winter coats. As for lifting spirits, St. Anthony’s motto sums up the organization’s commitment: Hope served daily. From the year-long job training program, to the technology lab, to a residential addiction recovery program, to a social work center, St. Anthony’s offers its guests comprehensive, compassionate support.

    And who are these guests? Charles Sommer, director of programs, summarizes, “We’ve seen a big increase in the number of seniors using our dining room and, worryingly, 80 percent of our senior guests live alone. For them, the dining room isn’t just a place to eat, it’s somewhere they can spend time in the company of others—and a place where someone would notice if they didn’t show up. The number of women and families we serve has also increased. Just under half of all our guests are homeless, and serving our homeless neighbors has always been at the heart of what we do. In 67 years of operation, we have never had to turn anyone away for lack of food.”

    Development associate Michael Taylor adds, “A substantial majority of our food is donated, primarily from our friends at the San Francisco Food Bank. Our truck is a well known sight on San Francisco streets as it makes its rounds collecting donations from grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants.”

    Sommer concludes, “No matter how low an ebb someone may be at, we believe each person has worth and inherent dignity. Our guests know that at St. Anthony’s they will always be treated with respect.”

  • Tri-Regional Jewish Community Food Program

    This program is managed by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, in partnership with JFCS of the East Bay and JFS Silicon Valley. As the only Jewish social services agencies serving the entire Bay Area, they are also the only Koret Food Program grantees focused on alleviating food insecurity specifically for the Jewish community.

    It may not be widely known that more than 10 percent of the Bay Area Jewish community lives below the federal poverty line ($24,300 annual household income for a family of 4). Many of those served by JFCS and its partners are elderly, with limited mobility options. As a result, in addition to food pantries where clients can come and choose their own groceries, JFCS offers grocery and meal delivery by volunteers.

    Unique to the Jewish community, JFCS also offers Kosher meal options and special meals for the Jewish holidays. In 2018, the JFCS food program will provide meals in San Francisco for low-income Jewish émigrés from the former Soviet Union.

    Like Koret’s other food-scarcity grantees, the Jewish Community Food Program offers a variety of services providing more than food, including companionship and support. Traci Dobronravova, director of JFCS’s Seniors at Home program, confirms, “For many of the seniors we serve, and clients with chronic illnesses that keep them at home, their food deliveries may be their only regular contact with the Jewish community. When our volunteers make their deliveries, they are also planning to stay for a visit.” And JFCS looks for “volunteer-client matches,” to make these visits more meaningful.

    These personal interactions and touch points are critical, as food insecurity frequently signals a need for other services. Dobronravova points out, “If someone needs food, we try to figure out why, to see if there is anything else JFCS can do to help. All the services we provide are part of a holistic strategy. Our social workers can connect seniors to other community services, and to government benefits they may not realize they are eligible for. Our social workers can recommend job-training programs and help people locate affordable housing. The food program is definitely about more than food.”

    For the next generation of volunteers, the food program is also about more than providing food. Young professionals have the opportunity to connect with people they might not otherwise meet: Holocaust survivors, Russian émigrés, and others who have come to the Bay Area from elsewhere. Volunteers who speak a bit of Russian or Hebrew or Yiddish make deliveries to native-speaking clients and have a chance to practice. The exchange of stories is as nourishing as … chicken soup.

  • Second Harvest Food Bank

    The term “food bank” cannot convey the magnitude or scope of this operation. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties provides food to 300 partner non-profits, including pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. The organization maintains three warehouses and a fleet of 17 trucks. Speedy distribution is key, because half of the food Second Harvest provides is fresh produce. In 2017, Second Harvest distributed more produce (by tonnage) than nearly any other food bank in the country. Over the past decade, the organization has seen an almost 50 percent increase in the average number of people served per month. And the need continues to grow.

    Cindy McCown, VP of Community Engagement and Policy, has been with Second Harvest for more than 30 years. She explains, “The ‘face of hunger’ today in the South Bay is not the old picture. Yes, the economy has recovered from the recession, but the cost of housing has forced many people into unconventional living situations, including RVs. The vast majority of food-insecure families with children—85%—are led by adults who work.” Increasing numbers of college students, many of them out on their own for the first time, are also vulnerable. Second Harvest runs a weekly food distribution program at San Jose State University. One Monday morning in 2017, more than 500 students were waiting in line at 8 a.m.

    In 2017, one in ten people living in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties received food from the Second Harvest network. Cat Cvengros, VP of Development and Marketing, comments, “We serve an average of over 257,000 people each month, but there is a large estimated gap of people in need who we aren’t serving. The stark reality of the ‘Silicon Valley hunger paradox’ is that more and more people rely on Second Harvest.”

    Second Harvest continues to find new ways to maximize efficiency and impact. The transportation department rents smaller trucks and hires drivers to deliver food to smaller-volume distribution locations. Second Harvest also invests in improving partners’ infrastructures, from gates that make deliveries easier to coolers that allow storage of produce and dairy products. Outreach programs include nutrition classes, cooking demonstrations, and food tastings.

    Second Harvest is one of the first food programs in California to launch “food pharmacies.” These locations make available food (and counseling) with particular benefits in combatting diet-fueled health disparities exacerbated by lack of access to healthy food—from lean protein and complex carbohydrates to reduced-sodium or low-sugar canned goods. Cvengros enthuses, “For example, by partnering with Samaritan House in Redwood City, we can provide food in the same building where people receive medical care. Being able to offer seamless access is exciting.”

Every week, volunteers in JFCS’s Young Professional Community Connection bake challahs for home delivery the next afternoon.

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