Introducing The Haight Ashbury Food Program

Introducing The Haight Ashbury Food Program
By Amy Stephenson - Published on November 11, 2014.
Thanksgiving is coming, so it seemed like a good time to introduce you to the Haight Ashbury Food Program. 
Established in 1983, the Haight Ashbury Food Program opened its doors as "a neighborhood response to hunger." It first operated like a typical soup kitchen, offering hot meals to about 450 people a day, four days a week. As the it grew and expanded, the organization started a cooking program that trained 200 people to work in cafeterias and catering companies. The program had a whopping 83 percent graduation rate. 

Then, in 2008, the economy tanked. The program scaled back its operation and took up residence in the basement of the Waller Center (formerly the Methodist Church) at 1525 Waller St. Now, it's only open on Saturdays, and serves emergency and supplemental food to about 180 low-income families each week. So far this year, the program has served 35,000 families in need at less than $1 per meal.

The Pantry Program, as organizers have dubbed it, is a farmers market style distribution operation that allows families to choose the fruits, vegetables, bread, and rice that would otherwise not be affordable to them. They also make a special effort to provide foods that can be prepared without traditional cooking facilities or permanent homes, since their clients often don't have kitchens. 

 We contacted Program Director Robert Miles to see what the organization's needs are as it gears up for the holidays. Last year, it served 200 people over the Thanksgiving weekend alone, and that takes a lot of food. "We survive solely on private donations," Miles told us, and believe it or not, $20 buys more than 20 meals, so financial contributions are always welcome.

If you want to donate food for their Thanksgiving rush, contact Miles at (415) 374-3843 so he can factor your donation into their buying for the week and make sure they have space. Non-perishables work best, although they do have a commercial refrigerator on site, and organizers ask that donated food quality be on par with what you might be willing to serve to your own family.

Beyond cash and food donations, the program is always seeking volunteers on Saturdays, with volunteer shifts as follows: from 10am-noon, volunteers are needed to help set up the pantry; from noon to 2pm, volunteers are needed to assist in the food distribution process; from 2pm to 3pm, volunteers are needed to help clean up.

Cash, food, and your personal time: if you have one of these things, you'll be able to contribute to the Haight Ashbury Food Program as the impending holiday spirit moves you.