Letter from the Executive Director:
On the morning of January 3, 2022, I looked out my window, and for the first time since the early days of the pandemic, I saw a long line of people waiting patiently for our pantry to open at 10am. As the weeks went on, the lines got longer, and it was clear that we were seeing a steep increase in need for our services.
It was no wonder, with inflation creeping up to over 9% and the sudden loss of family-oriented federal COVID-19 benefits. Compared to the same time period last year, we’ve more than doubled the number of client visits, and we’ve seen a 26% increase in the number of new households we serve at our on-site pantry. We’ve seen the percentage of seniors—who are the most vulnerable to inflation—increase from 14% to 26% of our client population. We are so grateful to all of you, our supporters, who have helped us meet this growing need through your volunteer hours, your donations, and your partnership.
Our on-site pantry at the warehouse serves as a bellwether of sorts: when more people begin to experience food insecurity in our community, they come to our on-site pantry first to get food, since the majority of our mobile pantry distributions are targeted to specific communities and not open to the general public. We saw this with the COVID-19 pandemic and now, again, with rising inflation.
At BFN we take pride in our agility and flexibility. When we see a new need in the community, we want to find the best way to address it, and we believe that our mobile pantries are the best way for us to serve our clients. Our mobile pantries operate primarily through our partnerships with community organizations, making them less stigmatizing and more convenient. To increase access to healthy food for all our clients, we are planning to open more mobile pantries throughout the community. They will still be operated in partnership with other community organizations, but be open to the public. (You can read more below about how our Mobile Pantry Program serves our community).
This is work that we could not do without you, the members of our community who support us in so many ways. You are the volunteers who help us run our pantries, work in our warehouse, and pick up food. You are the partners who help us run mobile pantries and who run your own amazing grocery and prepared meal distributions in our community. You are the donors who help us fund all the work we do. We are so grateful for all of you!
Yours in partnership to end hunger in our community,
Sara Webber, Executive Director
October 28, 2022
Community and Collaboration:
A Pantry for Every Neighborhood
The heart and soul of our work at the Berkeley Food Network is our Mobile Pantry Program. We operate our mobile pantries in partnership with community organizations that serve vulnerable people throughout Berkeley and Albany. Because we collaborate with trusted organizations that know their participants well, we are able to serve our clients with dignity and in the ways that suit them best. These distributions are set up in locations our clients already frequent, at times that are convenient to them, and are operated in a farmers market style, which allows clients to select their own food. We serve seniors, families, children, and unhoused folks through these mobile pantry distributions.
Over time, we have learned that our mobile pantries provide our clients with more than just food. For example, we partner with several local senior housing providers and the City of Berkeley’s Aging Services Division to bring mobile pantries to seniors at their housing and at the senior centers. The distributions are very social. Our senior clients gather together and chat while waiting for the distribution to open. They help each other with food selections and encourage their friends to try new foods. Staff at these locations provide food selection guidance along with classes in nutrition and cooking for seniors. At the Berkeley Senior Centers they even do health screenings. All these things together enhance the mobile pantry experience beyond just a chance to receive food. They provide the kind of positive experience that has been shown to greatly improve the health and well-being of seniors. (To read more about how this benefits seniors, please see this NIH report and this article from the Harvard Medical School.)
In addition to our 34 active partner-located mobile pantry distributions, we have three mobile pantries that are open to the public. We are very proud that these three pantries are located at and run in partnership with our local high schools: Berkeley High School, Berkeley Technology Academy, and Albany High School. Our two Berkeley high school pantries are run by students who participate in the Career Technical Education (CTE) program, and we are working with Albany High School to recruit more of their students to help us run that pantry. These pantries are well-attended by the residents of nearby neighborhoods and have demonstrated to us the importance of convenient mobile pantry distributions that are open to the public.
Because of the success of our high school pantries, in the new year we will be opening several new mobile pantries that are open to the public. We are fortunate to have received generous support from the Kaiser Foundation to expand our mobile pantries into neighborhoods where many of our clients live. In the coming year, we will be working with existing partners and developing new partnerships to reach our goal of serving everyone in Berkeley and Albany who needs access to healthy food in the most convenient and least stigmatizing way.