Paul Ash was the managing director of the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks for 32 years. In this short audio documentation he takes us on a tour of the main distribution center in Potrero Hill.
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“We get loads of truckloads of fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, dry products like rice and beans every day,” he says. “They come to our warehouse, are stored and sorted in fresh produce, and quickly turned over and distributed to people in the community who don’t have enough to eat.”
At the warehouse, Blain Johnson, media relations manager, says the products are mostly from California.
“Southern California in winter,” she says. And Northern California in the summer. We’re going to Washington, Idaho to buy things like potatoes and onions. Even in winter in northern Mexico, so that we can have fresh products for our customers.
Forklifts blaze across the room all morning.
“This is when we get dozens of truckloads of fresh produce,” says Johnson. “So you see the staff moving the forklifts and placing orders that go to the pantries this morning.”
Lloyd Jones is a contract builder. “We start with potatoes and yams on the pallets and build up every morning,” he says.
Before some of the items can be sent to the pantries, they must be sorted and repacked into smaller containers. Johnson takes us to the volunteer repacking room where children and adults turn large amounts of food into one pound servings.
“Children aged four and over can actually come here and volunteer,” she says. “It’s a great way for children to return to their communities and connect with people who may have less than them.”
John Mellett is one of those kids: “We sort kiwis for people who don’t have food,” he says. “So that they can survive. We do this because we want to help people and it’s fun. “
Says Executive Director Ash, “Ironically, the people who most like to volunteer their families are our top donors. People raising children with no income restrictions and I think they are concerned. Children do not see the reality of life in the United States. This is a good place to start a conversation and a place to start a conversation. “
Back in the warehouse, the sorted groceries are stacked up to the ceiling.
“We have rice. We have other staples like oats,” says Johnson. “Think about the staples you need in a house. Fresh fruits and produce. We have cabbage, potatoes and onions.”
Once organized, it will be loaded onto trucks and distributed to pantries across San Francisco and Marin Counties.
“Everything for low-income individuals and families,” says Ash. “Some will go through schools, we have pantries for healthy schoolchildren that a large number of low-income families attend. We distribute food in churches, which are generally catchment areas for neighbors. Anyone can come and present and register and get food aid. And we also distribute food in closed communities. So tenderloin hotels, seniors. So these are places where only the residents can come and get food.
“It’s a major operation. But it’s really the people who make this place work. “
This story originally aired on November 21, 2013.