Keeping people fed on the coast during shelter order

04/15/2020

The need for free food on both ends of Marin’s coast is growing, according to community organizers in Tomales and Bolinas. With grants from the West Marin Fund, the Tomales Town Hall and the Bolinas Community Center are ensuring that strengthened efforts to provide food to those in need can continue for at least the next month or two. “I think it has been healing, and brought people together,” said Bolinas resident Molly McGuire, who helps organize hot meals four times a week and a box of groceries. “There are volunteers coming down to help, donating, meeting people. It’s been an equalizer.” The fund allocated $6,750 to compensate her and two others in Bolinas who have been volunteering their time to supplement the town’s food bank. The fund also gave $3,500 to the Tomales Town Hall, which operates a food pantry that has been revamped and expanded, to keep the lights on despite the loss of revenue from canceled events. Organizers at both centers described their services as a “lifeline.” Ms. McGuire said the day the shelter order was issued she was hunkered down, about to take a bath and read a book, when she got a call. A friend had lost all her income sources, and didn’t have food. Beginning that day, Ms. McGuire and two others, Mirta Guzman and Pamela Springer, began sourcing food to provide 40 boxes of groceries specifically for Latinos in Bolinas. Private donations and food contributions from producers—BN Ranch, Star Route Farms, Clover and others—streamed in to support the effort. The organizers soon realized many others were in need of food, especially those unable to cook; now, the community center is providing hot dinners once a week, Eleven is providing a dinner, and the Coast Café is providing a dinner and a Sunday brunch. Around 100 people have been taking part in the free meals, which, given the generosity of producers, range from $5 to $10 per plate. Combined with the boxes, the program is costing $5,200—an amount Ms. McGuire estimates would be doubled without the reductions in price. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank continues to operate out of the Bolinas Community Center on Thursdays. That bank is serving around 175 individuals each week, around 10 percent more than usual in recent weeks. Private donations have covered the supplementary program in Bolinas through April, but Ms. McGuire said she is busy writing grants to try to continue for at least another month. In Tomales, the fund’s contribution went toward basic operating costs for the hall for two months. Lisa Tornes, the board president, said the grant combined with private donations would allow the hall to stay open for a third month. Weddings and other events are the hall’s bread and butter. The food pantry, also supplied by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, has implemented new safety protocols and is offering one box of groceries on Thursday afternoons. Ms. Tornes said the line of cars has extended south along Highway 1 past the intersection with Dillon Beach Road. No one has been turned away. Denise Brown, who coordinates the food pantry for the hall, said numbers have gone from 53 families to around 75. Each week, she shares the numbers with the food bank to make sure there is enough for the next week. “The great thing about the food pantry is that there is nothing asked, no income requirements or any kind of requirements,” Ms. Tornes said. “People just come through, and if they need the food, then they need the food.” Keely Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, said keeping the doors open at distribution sites had been one of the greatest challenges since the pandemic. Eleven sites across the bank’s coverage area had closed; some had lost volunteers, others had sanitation issues and still others were located at schools or other shuttered sites. In Marin, there are three new pop-up sites intended to remedy the problem. In West Marin, the San Geronimo Valley Community Center has moved out of the Lagunitas School and into the parking lot.