The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank on Friday launched the first drive-through food pantry site in The City on Seawall Lot 337, otherwise known as the Giants parking lot for Oracle Park.
The launch came just days after the Port Commission approved the arrangement and waived the rent it would otherwise charge for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. The goal is to serve between 300 and 1,200 families every Friday. The operation takes about 60 volunteers to operate.
“We served just under 500 households,” Katy McKnight, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s director of community engagement, told the San Francisco Examiner Friday. “We didn’t really know what to expect.”
But McKnight said they are expecting more as word spreads.
The drive-through model allows for an efficient and safe delivery of much needed food. Vehicles queue in up to nine lanes as they wait for volunteers to place two boxes of food into their trunks.
On this day, vehicles received one box of shelf-stable items like lentils and peanut butter, and another box of fresh produce like broccoli, apples, avocados and sweet potatoes. Each box is about 25 pounds.
“We saw people from across The City today,” McKnight said.
The location was chosen for the “huge” parking lot, which makes it suitable for adequate physical spacing and multiple vehicles, and for its proximity to areas that lack resources, such as Mission Bay and SoMa. McKnight said she called the Giants and pitched the idea and “they helped us navigate the whole process.”
The drive-through will operate Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And beginning next weekend, the site will open on Saturdays for walk ups only from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Keely Hopkins, a spokesperson for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, told the Examiner Friday that the new site is part of the organization’s continued expansion to meet the increased need.
“We continue to open pop-up pantries throughout San Francisco and Marin,” Hopkins said.
It’s too soon to know how long the site will remain in operation. There is no end date in sight.
“We have no idea what our new normal will be,” McKnight said. “Right now, we are serving nearly double the number of households that we were serving before the pandemic. It’s hard to say what that recovery is going to look like and how quickly people may not need our assistance as much.”
No reservations are required and vehicles line up on the southern side of Terry A Francois Boulevard to access the drive-through pop-up food pantry at 74 Mission Rock St.
Seawall Lot 337 is currently owned by a joint venture of the San Francisco Giants baseball club and Tishman Speyer, and is slated for redevelopment as part of the Mission Rock project.
The Port Commission embraced the idea of using it for the food bank Tuesday.
“It’s wonderful to see that there is productive use of our facilities — and that parking lot is probably not being used at all — and to use it for the purpose that we really need during this pandemic,” said Port Commissioner Doreen Woo Ho.
Woo Ho raised concerns about the prospect of people waiting for long hours in their cars, but so far that’s not a problem. McKnight said no one waited longer than 15 minutes Friday.
Michael Martin, deputy director of real estate and development for the Port of San Francisco, said Tuesday that “food insecurity is one of the things that we have been hearing about and hearing interest in using port property to address.”
“Many are faced with hunger for the first time due to a loss of wages due to the sharp increase in unemployment,” he said.
Back on March 22, Hopkins announced a number of new pop-up food pantries in San Francisco at mostly school sites to offset the closure of the usual pantry sites due to the shelter-in-place order and related health requirements. The City issued the first shelter-in-place order on March 17.
“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, more than 100 of the food pantries in our network of more than 275 pantries have had to close in recent weeks,” Hopkins said at the time. “To fill the gap and ensure our neighbors can still have access to healthy food, the food bank has been working hard to open interim pop-up pantries.”
She noted then that “we served more than 1,800 people in San Francisco just this first week and anticipate those numbers will continue to grow as we expand to new locations.”
A list of food access sites and times of operation are located on the food bank’s website www.sfmfoodbank.org/find-food.