Hundreds of underprivileged South San Francisco students and residents may soon have increased access to free meals, under a collaborative effort by the local school district, and charity organizations.
Second Harvest Food Bank, Samaritan House, Head Start and the South San Francisco Unified School District are working to build a food pantry at Baden High School, which will serve the families of local students, according to Tami Cardenas, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest.
Second Harvest currently delivers a monthly shipment of fresh vegetables to about 70 families at the school, but Cardenas said demand for a more robust service exists, and the officials from the program which offers meals to residents throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are inclined to oblige.
The free meal programs are integral in ensuring South San Francisco students come to school prepared and capable of learning at their fullest capacity, said Cardenas.
“We want to make sure students are coming to school hungry to learn, not hungry,” Cardenas said.
The hope is establish a food pantry at Baden High School, the site of the district’s adult education program, in January which continues the regular offering of vegetables, and also gives families access to meal staples such as chicken, dairy products, as well as dried and canned foods, said Cardenas.
Under the ramped-up service, roughly 100 families would likely be able to get free meals at the school, said Cardenas.
Ryan Sebers, South San Francisco Unified School District spokesman, said in an email school officials are grateful for the effort to help feed district students.
“The district appreciates Second Harvest reaching out in order to help the community and we look forward to a great partnership,” he said.
Samaritan House, a nonprofit organization which helps needy families in San Mateo County, will help transport and order the food, and coordinate the distribution with the school, said Cardenas.
The contribution of Samaritan House was made possible in part by a recent $35,000 donation from Second Harvest, said Cardenas, which was used to purchase a forklift, refrigerator, freezer and other resources which can aid in establishing large food distribution centers.
Second Harvest donated two large trucks to Samaritan House as well, which can be used for food deliveries.
Cardenas said she hopes the pantry program will offer some relief to families near the northern border of San Mateo County who have faced making tough decisions driven by the escalating cost of living.
Despite the thriving local economy, Cardenas said the need for meal assistance is as high as it was during the Great Recession, as families who are struggling to afford paying rent are having to cut down on what they can spend on food.
“People are forced to put all their checks and money toward rent,” said Cardenas. “They don’t have money for food. This is what we are seeing over and over again. It has made it hard for average people to eat.”
She said there is an especially high demand for aid in affording food in and around South San Francisco.
“In South San Francisco and Daly City in particular, there is a high percentage of need,” she said.
Laura Bent, chief operating officer of Samaritan House, said she is pleased to work in partnership with the other agencies to offer increased access to meals for those who need them.
“We look forward to collaborating with Second Harvest to ensure ... individuals in South San Francisco, or any other part of San Mateo County, have the food they need to ensure their young people are fed and able to be attentive and thrive,” Bent said.
Samaritan House and Second Harvest have worked in tandem on many occasions to establish food pantries, said Bent, but this is the first distribution center that could be set up at a school site.
“The school partnership is unique,” said Bent. “We don’t have those.”
Bent said some logistics of the food distribution center have yet to be worked out, such as whether a permanent pantry will be established at the school.
Regardless of the final details which still need to be negotiated, Cardenas said she is thrilled the collaboration will work to serve students and families who need additional assistance.
“We are really excited,” she said. “We are hoping to help a lot of families.”
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