C and D both lost their restaurant jobs when the mandatory shelter in place orders began in March. Living entirely on their savings and stimulus check, they’ve struggled to have enough money for food for their seven-year-old son.

No child should go without the food they need to be healthy, happy, and able to learn. Like so many other basic needs, hunger has been thrown into stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and resulting economic crisis have led to millions of more children being food insecure–with estimates showing as many as 1 in 4 children may be at risk.* Our youngest children can experience permanent developmental impacts if their nutritional needs are not met.**

In San Francisco, family resource centers, food banks, and others have long worked to ensure that families can access the food they need. This effort kicked into high gear as soon as the shelter-in-place mandate left thousands of families suddenly without paychecks. For our part, First 5 San Francisco partnered with EatSF to distribute food vouchers to address the sharp rise in food insecurity caused or worsened by the COVID 19 pandemic. Between May and June, emergency relief vouchers totaling $200,000 were distributed to families by 15 Family Resource Centers in neighborhoods targeted by the existing voucher program. EatSF worked with additional partners such as WIC, to distribute vouchers to families in need. The funding for these vouchers comes from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, including the Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax funds.

Before this disaster relief effort, EatSF’s voucher program focused on ensuring access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and the vouchers were limited to those purchases. The pandemic emergency vouchers were accepted for all types of food, including prepared food—giving families the flexibility they needed to fill gaps in their food supplies during this challenging time. The vouchers served as cash equivalents at partnering neighborhood grocery stores and select locations of national grocery stores.

San Francisco’s family resource centers pivoted quickly in response to COVID-19 and its profound impact on families. FRCs have worked hard to make sure each family has been able to access food, as well as meet other basic needs. FRCs with grocery bag distribution have significantly increased their efforts. Many families also received gift cards, home supplies, diapers, and personal protective equipment (PPE), in addition to other FRC services like counseling and assistance with applications to services such as CalFresh.

The pandemic emergency vouchers have served as a critical resource for families during the COVID-19 crisis. For many families, they filled the gap between what they receive from CalFresh, unemployment, or other sources. For others, the vouchers were a critical lifeline when they’d lost income but are ineligible for government assistance programs.

For C and D, the voucher has helped to stabilize their family and raise their spirits during a challenging time. They were able to buy meat that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, and even a few treats for their son. FRC staff helped them apply for CalFresh so that they will have greater food security in the future.

For K, a single mother in San Francisco, the voucher has helped her and her extended family. All of them have been reliant on her sister’s supplemental security income (SSI) and CalFresh. K lost her job in March but is ineligible for any benefits due to her immigration status. The voucher has been critical to her and her sister’s ability to feed their children until they can work again.

The current crisis devastated so many families in San Francisco. With the city’s high cost of living, families now suddenly and surprisingly without incomes have been forced to make impossible choices. Programs like the EatSF vouchers, First 5, and the city’s FRCs are helping make sure that children’s wellbeing is addressed holistically during and after the pandemic.

While the current program has ended, FRCs look forward to future funding commitments for vouchers to address continuing food security.

The following FRCs distributed vouchers as part of this program:

  • Glide Family Youth and Children’s Center
  • API Family Resource Network – Lao Seri Association, Samoan Community Development Center
  • Compass Connecting Point
  • South of Market Family Resource Center
  • Western Addition Family Resource Center, Urban Services YMCA
  • Bayview YMCA Family Resource Center
  • Potrero Hill Family Support Center, Urban Services YMCA
  • Edgewood Family Resource Center
  • Excelsior Family Connections
  • Portola Family Connections
  • Instituto Familiar de la Raza Chicano/Latino & Mission Collaboratives
  • Good Samaritan Family Resource Center
  • Homeless Prenatal Program
  • El Centro Bayview – Family Resource Center Collaborative
  • OMI Family Resource Center, Urban Services YMCA

*The Impact of the Coronavirus on Child Food Insecurity, Feeding America, May 2020

**Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days To Support Childhood Development and Adult Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, January 2018