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SF-Marin Food Bank Buys Massive New Warehouse to Increase Services

It’s three times larger than the old one, which was leased

SF-Marin Food Bank

To better serve a region where one in four neighbors experiences food insecurity, the SF-Marin Food Bank has acquired a new, permanent facility in San Rafael. The building there is three-times larger than the one the Food Bank has rented for years in Novato, and the added storage, volunteer, and office space will help the nonprofit — which already assists 30,000 households every week — close the gap between abundance and hunger in San Francisco and Marin.

When the SF and Marin food banks merged in 2011, executive director Paul Ash explains, the Marin food bank’s rented facility in Novato was stretched to capacity. “We’ve been serving Marin out of our San Francisco warehouse, which is a lot of trucking costs, and a lot of gasoline expended.”

The new, 38,000-square foot space at 2550 Kerner Boulevard doesn’t just have more space for non-perishable foods. It’s also got “proper refrigeration, with a great production area, and office space to boot. To find it was really fortunate,” says a satisfied-sounding Ash.

SF-Marin Food Bank

The Food Bank works, roughly, like this: “Most of our food goes out through our pantry network, which takes food out to schools, churches, and community centers, and lets people choose, farmers market style, what they want every week. That’s every single week of the year,” he emphasizes. Of the items in the pantry network, 60 percent are fresh fruits and vegetables. Beyond the pantry program, the SF-Marin Food Bank delivers groceries to peoples’ homes, teaches nutrition education classes, and helps enroll eligible California residents on CalFresh food stamps.

While hunger among homeless San Franciscans is highly visible on city streets, “it’s not that clear, even to a lot of people in Marin, that they have low-income, food-insecure people living next door,” says Ash. One unit of measure is the number of children who qualify for free or price-reduced lunch in a school district. That’s 25 percent in Marin — significantly less than in San Francisco, but still surprising. “because we tend to think of Marin as a wealthy enclave.”

Another perk of the larger Marin facility: It will allow more Marin volunteers to easily and directly help their neighbors. In the past, many would-be Marin volunteers had to drive to San Francisco, only to see the food they donated or prepared driven back over the bridge to their neighbors. With the new space, “We’re going to give a lot more people in Marin the opportunity to volunteer,” says Ash.

One group that’s always been ready to volunteer, says Ash, are local chefs. “The chef community has been fantastic, stepping forward when there’s a fundraiser, being involved in any way possible. Tyler [Florence] has chaired our annual event for the past four years. I can honestly say, it’s very rare that I’ve asked a chef or a restaurant to do us a favor that they’ve had to say no... in which case they come back another time. Restaurants, and people that work there, are big givers.”

Ash and others, including Florence (who is a member of the Food Bank’s board), unveiled the new facility today. As the nonprofit moves into its new North Bay home over the coming months, the food bank won’t disrupt its services.