Grocery Bag Giveaway Days

December 14, 2015

By: James Lin, GLIDE’s Co-Director of Human Resources and Organizational Integration and GLIDE team member since 2004.

If you’re a long-time friend of GLIDE, you know that we pack our holiday calendar with celebrations across the many communities we touch. Last week was our Senior Holiday Luncheon, the holiday gathering of GLIDE’s Women’s Center, the Old Navy Shopping Spree for children, and our Adopt-A-Family event, where the families in our supportive housing and our family programs can make special holiday gift requests.

This week kicks off with GLIDE’s Grocery Bag Giveaway Days, perhaps our largest and most logistically complex event of the year. On Wednesday, several thousand people start lining up as early as 3 am to get a complete holiday meal-in-a-bag (hey Blue Apron, don’t be jealous, come join us!). We actually have to close the whole block of Ellis to car traffic in order to make space for everyone, and at the end of the day, we will have given out over 4000 bags.
Each grocery bag is filled with food to be taken home, prepared and shared with family and friends. It’s a chance to give people the satisfaction of providing a meal for themselves and their loved ones. It’s a celebration of abundance and an acknowledgment that here in San Francisco, we want all folks to be able to celebrate the holidays around a full table if they want to. It’s one of the principles that I learned from Janice Mirikitani and Cecil Williams, our founders: there is enough — enough food and shelter and clothing and love in this city that we don’t need to fight over it. There is enough to share.

This year we are giving each person a choice of whether they want a whole chicken or a canned ham to go with their rice, vegetables, and fruit. The canned ham is a new item: it’s meant for the many people in San Francisco who live in rooms or apartments without full kitchens and who might not be able to roast a whole chicken.
The GBG day is also one where we get a special chance to connect with the many Chinese and other Asian community members who come for a grocery bag. In my first years here, it was such a challenge to give good directions to our many Cantonese-speaking guests that I (a second-generation Chinese American guy) started to regret all those years learning Latin and German instead of Cantonese. Fortunately, our sponsors at Gap and Central Payment Systems put out the call this year to their teams and found dozens of Cantonese-speaking volunteers to help throughout the day. I can already see the relief on our guests’ faces when they encounter a welcome in their native language. Thank you, thank you volunteers! While GLIDE serves many Chinese families and seniors every day in our ongoing work, on this special December day we get to begin a relationship with others who might someday help themselves or their friends in a time of need by returning to this place, where people from all walks of life can come for much more than a meal.

GBag14-157Here’s a secret: while San Franciscans have known for decades about our Grocery Bag Giveaway day, what even insiders don’t usually know is that, on the day before the big event, we actually send another 2000 grocery bags to residents in other neighborhoods of SF. We want to make sure that other families in need are taken care of; the Tenderloin is not the only community where people are hungry. When the Community Living Campaign (CLC), whose food networking program reaches multiple city neighborhoods, reached out to us a few years ago, we decided to partner with them and other agencies to meet the growing need faced by working families and individuals living in San Francisco.

On Tuesday morning, we will be transporting 500 grocery bags to partner sites serving the Bayview, Oceanview, Lake Merced, Ingleside, Chinatown, and the Western Addition. In addition to CLC, our partners this year include the Chinatown Community Development Center and Jones Memorial UMC. Each of our partners has already identified the individuals and families most in need in their respective communities. At this time in the city’s history where the wealth gap has become so extreme, it’s fantastic to work together with others to make sure that we can lend a hand to the many San Franciscans for whom this holiday season might be a time of struggle rather than excess, and to practice the sharing that says: there is enough for all of us.