While Kristy Martin’s husband, an active duty Coast Guard member based in Novato, has been away in Florida providing natural disaster relief with his Pacific Strike Team, she’s been busy organizing a relief effort of her own. Tomorrow, Martin and about 150 other Coast Guard families — a group who missed their first paychecks this week amid the ongoing government shutdown — will gather to receive a full truckload of food from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. The mobile pantry will arrive at 227 South Oakwood Drive in the Hamilton neighborhood of Novato, not far from the Coast Guard’s Novato housing, where many Coast Guard families live.
As the government shutdown took hold — a fight over President Trump’s demands for $5 billion in funding for a wall with Mexico — Martin, who is president of the North Bay Coast Guard Spouses Club, contacted the SF-Marin Food Bank for support. Typically, she says, the Spouses Club hosts parties, organizes volunteer events, and awards scholarships.
“We’ve always been a support [organization], but our mission has 100 percent changed in the last week,” says Martin.
The SF-Marin food bank structures its mobile pantries along the lines of a farmers market. That helps highlight the fact that 60 percent of the food bank’s items are fresh produce: On Saturday, families will receive onions, potatoes, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, bananas, whole chickens, pasta and sauce, beverages and carbonated water, and chicken noodle soup. The Marin Humane society will be on hand, too, distributing free pet food.
In this moment of need, Martin says she’s touched by the outpouring of support. “Right now I’m in survival mode, passing along information, trying to coordinate. But I know in a month I’m gonna break down crying in the grocery store about how huge this was, and how people really came together.”
“If there was ever a Hollywood moment for food banks, this was it,” says Mark Seelig, public relations manager for the SF-Marin Food Bank. Workers jumped in to support government workers, he says — as have employees and volunteers at food banks across the country.
“Our mission is to provide a healthy meal to those who need one, and right now that happens to be federal workers,” says Cat Cvengros, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Cvengros has been organizing with workers in Second Harvest’s region at SFO and San Jose airport, and held a pantry for NASA janitors this morning.
While the moment is one of cinematic solidarity, “it’s not a movie,” says Seelig. “It’s a real drama unfolding, and it’s peoples’ lives.”
Saturday’s mobile pantry is also a chance to enroll eligible families in CalFresh, the state’s nutrition assistance food program. The SF-Marin Food Bank will send its enrollment team, which can register families in a day and get them benefits within the week. “It’s a one-stop shop event,” says Seelig.
But CalFresh is in a precarious position, too: Benefits for February have been issued early, a precautionary move in case federal funds run out amid the shutdown. That forces families on CalFresh to ration their benefits carefully. But what happens in March? “That’s the gorilla in the room,” Seelig says.
Seen most optimistically, the food bank’s efforts during the shutdown could have lasting positive effects. Some Coast Guard families had already reached out to the SF-Marin Food Bank for help before the shutdown began.
“Maybe this will help them even after the shutdown ends,” says Seelig. “We want to get that message out there, that you don’t have to feel shame to go to a food bank and feed yourself. That’s the last thing you should feel.”