Bounty Bags

A truckload of Bounty Bags full of fresh produce that builds the body’s defense against coronavirus awaits distribution on May 28. – Photo: Bayview Community Co-op

by Rosina Ghebreyesus

In an exciting turn of events, the Bayview Community Cooperative (BCC) is proud to launch its free Bounty Bag giveaway. During this pandemic, getting groceries, especially fresh produce, has been difficult for many. 

As the pandemic continues to disrupt Bayview residents’ lives with the lack of reliable public transportation and relief aid, getting groceries can become a daunting task. While still planning the launch of their storefront grocery co-op, BCC has implemented a distribution plan to get necessary groceries to community members. 

Bounty Bags were distributed May 28 to 100 Bayview, Visitacion Valley and Potrero Hill families. Families were selected through an application process, which received 200 applications overall. A drop-off and pick-up program has been implemented to safely get produce to the families, and BCC reigned in the community’s power by getting volunteers to drive bags to those with limited mobility. 

Bayview Community Co-op volunteers assemble hundreds of Bounty Bags filled with delicious, nutritious food from the produce market for hungry families. – Photo: Bayview Community Co-op

The food from the Bounty Bags comes directly from the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, a hub for fresh locally sourced food in the city. This program will expand as a part of the co-op’s initiative to feed neglected people around Bayview and beyond. 

The program will continue to be free for the next six to eight weeks, after which it will become subscription-based, costing approximately $25 to $28 for a week’s worth of food. Once the CSA (community supported agriculture) bags become subscription-based, BCC’s goal is to make them EBT accessible. 

The co-op ultimately hopes families that take part in the Bounty Bag program will also become BCC shareholders. Co-op member Tony Kelly said, “Without that local ownership, without that community ownership in the neighborhood, you’re at the mercy of these corporations.” 

The produce market has created substantial issues for adjacent communities based on its industrial operations and environmental health impacts, so the co-op hopes to build bridges using community-based solutions to better serve the impacted communities that surround it. BCC members Kelly and Anthony Khalil have worked extensively with certain individuals and programs within the market supported by the city – and other funding – allowing the co-op to buy directly from merchants.

That makes the food more affordable for buyers. Khalil said, “It’s about building those relations, and those relations ultimately are what nourish our communities. 

“Our neighborhood is so unique; it’s one of the few remaining mixed-use neighborhoods where you have light industry paired with industry, as well as residential and businesses. Where you have this whole mash-up and mosaic of land use, there will always be environmental injustice challenges. 

“This program and nourishment it is offering is essentially an environmental justice solution, one Bounty Bag at a time,” Anthony Khalil added.

As many go unserved in these communities, the non-profit was supported by their sponsors to get the ball rolling and make the program free. Taking into account many residents have compromised immune systems or are awaiting COVID test results and online delivery companies weren’t accepting EBT to order food, creating the Bounty Bags proved essential now more than ever. The impacts of the pandemic coupled with pre-existing issues have rendered people resourceless, but the co-op, along with community members, increased efforts to change that.

“It’s about food, it’s about health and it’s about freedom. That for us is really important.” 

While COVID delayed the BCC’s storefront development plan by months, this time has taught the team to pivot in their planning. Currently the aim is to begin surveying what the needs of the community are, ranging from pharmaceutical essentials to produce must-haves. With a focus on overlooked areas in Bayview and surrounding communities, the co-op hopes to safely survey and gather information on what the people want. 

BCC members have been working on all cylinders to make sure the community has access to fresh produce and to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need. After San Francisco ordered everyone to shelter in place, overlooked communities lost access to food and PPE. BCC member Michelle Pierce of Bayview Community Advocates and San Francisco Department of Public Health Program Manager Veronica Shepard spearheaded the task of getting protective equipment to people in need. 

Pierce took away from this moment that “the people most vulnerable right now are poor people and the fact that the majority of poor people are people of color, that demonstrates the systematic racism.” 

Within 24 hours of the shelter in place order, Pierce’s phone started ringing about people needing aid. Because of the persistent efforts of Pierce and Shepard, with help from Supervisor Shamann Walton’s staff, people got fed and protected. 

Pierce noted: “Apparently in other neighborhoods in the city, those supplies are actually being distributed evenly and fairly, and people’s regular grocers are actually giving away sanitizer and masks right at the door for free through the city’s program. That program was not reaching us.” 

The co-op took it upon themselves to make sure this problem did not continue by partnering with a source in UCSF that works with non-profits to get PPE distributed directly to communities in need. UCSF has been donating around the City and is working to implement a stronger system to better supply Bayview residents. 

Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates handled the distribution of PPE with help from the Arab American Grocers Association, the Neighborhood Business Alliance, the Palestine Youth Movement, and the Arab American Democratic Club. These groups were instrumental in getting PPE and the Bounty Bags circulated. 

The items that fill a typical Bounty Bag look almost as good as they taste. – Photo: Bayview Community Co-op

People power is undeniable. It’s what helped serve the unserved and feed the forgotten. President of the BCC Anietie Ekanem said: “It’s about food, it’s about health and it’s about freedom. That for us is really important.” 

The co-op values the humanity of people that big corporations have overlooked. By taking produce service into their own hands, BCC is proud to know they feed the community some of the freshest food out. The Bayview Community Cooperative embodies a visible, sustainable future for Bayview and the city as a whole.

If you wish to help prepare, deliver or get more information about Bounty Bags or the co-op, email Tony Kelly at tony@bvhpadvocates.org. Currently, along with the Bounty Bags, the BCC is focusing on the business plan for the grocery store they plan to open and a website that will be live very soon.

Rosina Ghebreyesus is a Mills College undergrad studying journalism. She was born and raised in San Francisco with her four siblings, mother and grandmother. Her family moved to San Francisco from Eritrea, East Africa, in the ‘80s. She can be reached at rosinag626@gmail.com. This story is part of a series on Reversing the Out-Migration of Blacks from San Francisco funded by Fred Jordan of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce.