Meeting San Francisco’s ‘migration of need’ with bags full of nourishment

‘We see that the people who are on the margins are being pushed to other parts of The City’

Dozens of people waited outside Kimochi Home on Wednesday morning, the line wrapping around the block with residents eager to grab their meal and see the familiar faces of neighbors and friends.

Located on Sutter Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown, the nonprofit organization serves lunch every day to nearly 450 seniors, many of whom are Asian American or Pacific Islanders.

“Our food is freaking delicious,” said Shawne O’Connell, describing the Japanese-inspired menu, heavy on fish, fresh vegetables and rice. “But we also offer a space where people see friends in a safe way, and it gives them a sense of stability in a really unstable time.”

Seniors line up in front of Kimochi Home in Japantown for a food bag. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Seniors line up in front of Kimochi Home in Japantown for a food bag. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Visitors to Kimochi Home that day could also pick up a free grocery bag filled with chicken, rice, soy sauce and other staples of Asian cuisine. The addition was provided by Glide, a nonprofit that provides a sweeping range of services to some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable, including mobile vaccination, medical care, food and social activities.

Glide, the social justice organization associated with Glide Church, is based in the Tenderloin, but its strategy started to evolve once the pandemic made it obvious that people facing job insecurity and other financial challenges existed throughout The City.

Jean Cooper, chief impact and strategy officer at Glide, described it as a “migration of need,” saying it spurred the nonprofit to expand its community partnerships and provide more services beyond the Tenderloin.

“We see that the people who are on the margins are being pushed to other parts of The City, and folks that really need our help aren’t close to us,” she said.

Glide packed and delivered more than 5,000 bags of groceries to 22 locations on Wednesday, designed to provide people with what they need to cook a special meal this holiday season.

Seniors pick up grocery bags with items designed to make a Japanese-inspired meal. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Seniors pick up grocery bags with items designed to make a Japanese-inspired meal. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

About 600 of those bags — packed with turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dinner rolls — were dropped off at a parking lot owned by Catholic Charities on Broad Street. Volunteers then delivered them to households in the Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside (OMI) neighborhood.

“Honestly, it (food delivery) is important at all times of the year,” said Kate Kuckro, co-director of the Community Living Campaign, a group that provides services to neighbors. “But folks have been through a lot over the last couple years so being able to do something nice for them around the holidays is great.”

District 11, which includes the OMI, has a high concentration of seniors and people with disabilities, but some feel like the neighborhood is often glossed over when people think about underserved areas in The City.

“One thing the pandemic really underscored for us was the amount of food insecurity hidden in our community,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safai who represents the district. “Very often people think about Bayview-Hunters Point or the Mission and they skip over District 11.”

Efforts such as this Glide grocery bag delivery demonstrate how community service providers have changed their tactics during the pandemic, and how they’ve learned how to support a wider range of people in need as a result.

While food pantries or pick-ups at a single location were once the norm, bringing services deeper into the community — even to someone’s door — has become an essential part of the work.

Safai said these door-to-door and community-based alternatives encourage larger swaths of people to participate in the programs.

Grocery bags contained chicken, rice, soy sauce and other staples of Asian cuisine. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Grocery bags contained chicken, rice, soy sauce and other staples of Asian cuisine. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

This shift toward working directly within neighborhoods and building partnerships between nonprofits has also made it easier to build community and increase capacity to serve more people, say Glide and its partners.

Kuckro grew up in a small town, and she says one of her goals with the Community Living Campaign is to bring a similar feeling of kinship and neighborly kindness to life in The City. She said working in partnership with Glide had made bringing that goal to scale more possible.

“It’s really easy for people to feel disconnected, so we want to help make it easier to rebuild those connections,” she said. “None of this works without community organizations coming together.”

cgraf@sfexaminer.com