Home>Articles>Free Groceries: San Francisco Opens Controversial $5.5 Million ‘Food Empowerment’ Market

Montgomery St. and Skyline of Downtown areas of San Francisco, CA. (Photo: Randy Andy/ Shutterstock)

Free Groceries: San Francisco Opens Controversial $5.5 Million ‘Food Empowerment’ Market

‘The sheer audacity and waste’

By Evan Symon, June 12, 2024 2:45 am

The city of San Francisco opened a new San Francisco’s Human Services Agency market where it gives free groceries to qualifying residents. This sparked outrage amongst many in the city over the program’s $5.5 million price tag at a time where the city’s budget deficit is currently at $789 million over the next two years.

The market, located in the Bayview-Hunters Point District, is known as the District 10 Market. According to the San Francisco’s Mayor’s office, the District 10 Market will be the first such market in the city under the Food Empowerment Market pilot program. Its aim is to fight food insecurity and food deserts as an alternative to food banks. The District 10 Community Market was specifically modeled after “food empowerment markets” operating in two other major cities: Santa Barbara’s Unity Shoppe and Nashville’s The Store.

Under the market rules, eligible residents are to show a benefits eligibility card. There, they are free to pick out what they need. When leaving they “check out”, with inventory only being noted as being taken to keep track of what is needed. Then they can leave without paying. In addition to needing a proper benefits card (CalFresh, Medi-Cal, CalWORKs) or earning less than 300% of the federal poverty level, residents are also required to have children or a diet-related illness and be a part of the 94124, 94107, or 94134 zip codes.

“The opening of the Community Market in District 10 is a major step toward improving food access in a part of the City that has historically been a food desert,” said Mayor Mayor London Breed last week. “Equitable access to fresh and healthy food options is critical for communities to thrive and to ensure we take care of the City’s most vulnerable residents.”

“Food Empowerment Markets, like the Community Market pilot that we are celebrating today, provide dignity and choice for people who experience food insecurity,” Trent Rhorer, Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency said. “By offering families and people with dietary restrictions the ability to choose healthy and culturally appropriate food options for themselves, rather than receiving food boxes that may not be tailored to their individual food choices and needs, we minimize food waste while also providing a better experience for residents.”

A $5.5 million program in the middle of a huge deficit

However, the program has been met by extreme scrutiny by many residents of the city. Some decried the city for severely limiting who gets food assistance from the market, noting that the city is showing favoritism to some poorer residents over others. Many others remarked that the city is closing in on being $800 million in the red, yet is still spending over $5 million on a program that helps so few.

“If this was a citywide foodbank program that could help anyone in need of extra food, then it would be a big help,” Marie Langston, a former food bank coordinator, told the Globe Tuesday. “Food banks tend to help anyone in need. I mean, you saw all the long lines during COVID. Sometimes you need to prove you live in a certain area, to help keep inventory in check, but usually that is the most of it. This market program, they are appealing to feelings. They don’t want people to feel bad, so they set up a market style place for them.”

“That is a huge mistake. That $5.5 million would have been so much better going towards food and baby supplies and anything else needed. There are food banks that ask what is needed for children or for dietary needs. This program is trying to make it out as it not being the case. And as a result they shut out so many people of it. You can argue about cost. But the problem as-is is this market system ignoring most people in need of assistance. Also, note how they note 2 markets like this that still operate. They aren’t going into all those that tried this and failed. Some allow people to pick and choose, but not as a market and they do much better. This is a waste of space. Screw feelings on this. You need to feed people, not create fake supermarkets.”

Alan Alonzo, an accountant who helps with city budgets in several western states, also told that Globe, “$5.5 million at a time where the city needs to save every cent possible. The sheer audacity and waste of this. This program, in most cites, would either be slashed, or cut with the funds going to general assistance programs. The city doesn’t know what it is doing. I give this program a year tops.”

More on the “Food empowerment markets” is due to come out later this year.

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8 thoughts on “Free Groceries: San Francisco Opens Controversial $5.5 Million ‘Food Empowerment’ Market

  1. This is the insane, sort of arrogant feel-good stuff we’ve come expect from the S.F. culture. It’s become a stereotype, hasn’t it? Someone should tell these people their ridiculous plan is not SUSTAINABLE. But never mind, it probably wouldn’t work anyway. I liked what Marie Langston, former food bank coordinator, had to say about this, and couldn’t help also liking her blunt, plain-spoken style in saying it. So refreshing!
    Guess it’s a waiting game, waiting for the bad ideas to collapse, that is. What else can you do when the delusional do-gooders do what they do?
    Does anyone else remember when, some time ago, Pantera Bread (of all places) did a pay-what-you-can-or-not-at-all program in their St. Louis store in the affluent suburb of Clayton? Yes, THAT Pantera Bread, friend of and $$contributor$$ to Gov Gav, exempted from the $20 minimum wage for the Pantera Bread outlets he owns and runs here in CA. Well, it took a while for the losses at the Clayton store to pile up and become “unsustainable” (because a whole lot of people who didn’t NEED free food were TAKING free food, duh) but eventually as I recall that Pantera store did close for good.

  2. I want to see film from inside this store. As it is the people who “shop” at these stores probably shoplift most of their supplies anyway. Just wait until they are told they can’t just walk out with whatever they want – fireworks!

  3. The people benefiting from this program will do what the beneficiaries of Federal Aid do when they receive their allotment of cheese, etc. from the government. They’ll sell it. It’s so discouraging that our elected officials probably know this is a scam and support it anyway to burnish their so-called bona fides.

  4. Waste of money.The food will rot since this store will only be open 2 days a week.Who was the wasteful idiotwho made this stupid program.Better to have an emergency spot at already established Food Bank for unexpected needs.

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