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Behind the scenes at the San Francisco Food Bank

San Francisco and Marin Food Bank

Paul Ash is the executive director of the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks. And he’s taking us on a tour of the main distribution center in Potrero Hill.

“We receive many truckloads, everyday, of fresh fruits and vegetables, canned products, dry products like rice and beans,” he says. “They come into our warehouse, they are stored and sorted in cases of fresh products and quickly turned around and distributed to people in the community who don’t have enough to eat.”

On the warehouse floor, media relations manager Blain Johnson says the produce mostly comes from California.

“Southern California in the winter time,” she says. And Northern California in summer time. We will go to Washington, Idaho for things like potatoes and onions. Even in the Northern Mexico in the winter time so that we can have fresh products for our clients.

Forklifts blaze around the space throughout the morning.

“This is when we receive dozens of truck loads of fresh produce,” says Johnson. “So you see the employees moving those around on the forklifts and putting them in orders that are going out to food pantries this morning.”

Lloyd Jones is an order builder. “We start from potatoes and yams on the pallets and build up every morning,” he says.

But before some of the items can get sent out to the pantries, they need to be sorted and repacked into smaller containers. Johnson takes us to the volunteer repack room where kids and adults make one pound portions out of bulk quantities of food.

“Kids as young as four can actually come in and volunteer here,” she says. “It’s a great way for children to sort of get back to their communities, to get connected with people who might have less than they do.”

John Mellett is one of those kids.“We are sorting kiwis for people who don’t have food,” he says. “So they can survive. We’re doing it because we want to help people, and its fun.”

Executive director Ash says, “Ironically the people who enjoy bringing their families to volunteer most are our most significant donors. People who are raising children without income restrictions, and I think they are worried. Children ain’t seeing the reality of life in the United States. This is a good starting conversation and a place to start a conversation.”

Back in the warehouse, the sorted food is stacked all the way up to the   ceiling.

“We have rice. We have other staples like oats,” says Johnson. “Think of the basic food you need in a home. Fresh fruits and produce. We have cabbages, potatoes and onions.”

Once it’s organized, it’s loaded onto trucks and distributed to food pantries all around San Francisco and Marin Counties.

“All to low income individuals and families,” says Ash. “Some will go out through schools, we have healthy school children pantries that have large numbers of low income families attending. We distribute food in churches which generally are kind of catchments for neighbors. Anybody can come and present themselves and register and get food assistance. And we also distribute food in closed communities. So Tenderloin hotels, senior residents. So those are places where only the residents can come and get food.

“It’s a big operation. But it’s really the individuals who make this place work.”

This story originally aired on November 21, 2013.