Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkeley Food Network, which offers free groceries to all Berkeley residents and affiliates, has seen an increase from 1,600 to 5,000 customers per week.
Berkeley Food Network’s location, located at 1925 Ninth St., is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on the first and third Saturday of each month, according to Berkeley Food Network co-founder and Executive Director Sara Webber.
Webber said she launched Berkeley Food Network in December 2016 after finding issues with food pantry distribution models, such as limited hours preventing many working families from being able to utilize the pantry, difficult access for people with mobility issues and the social stigma surrounding food pantries.
When Webber worked at Berkeley Food Pantry she found that although one-fifth of Berkeley residents struggled with food insecurity, only 6,000 of those 24,000 residents sought out food programs.
“People in Berkeley really don’t understand how deep the need for food assistance is, but it’s a very real problem,” Webber said. “We’ve been very grateful for all the community support we’ve gotten.”
According to its website, Berkeley Food Network is a food distribution hub with a focus on collaborative and community-centered programs. Webber said the organization focuses on five main areas of service: mobile pantry, on-site pantry, food recovery, meal production and food redistribution.
Berkeley Food Network operates mobile pantries, which act as pop-up grocery stores with the intention of taking food to where people are located. These mobile pantries are set up like farmers markets and allow customers to shop for their groceries. According to Webber, Berkeley Food Network has mobile pantries set up in locations including Berkeley Technology Academy, which is open to the public, and Berkeley senior centers, which are open to senior citizens.
According to its website, Berkeley Food Network also offers groceries in prepackaged bags that students can take with them in partnership with Berkeley Unified School District.
Food recovery composes another aspect of Berkeley Food Network’s services. The food it distributes is primarily sourced from the Alameda County Community Food Bank as well as from local businesses. According to Webber, Berkeley Food Network provides food such as seasonal fruit, cheese, milk, meat, fish, dried beans, rice, nuts and bread.
Berkeley Food Network also offers prepackaged meals created by volunteers, most of whom have professional cooking experience, Webber said. These meals are available at the mobile pantry sites as well as Berkeley Food Network’s on-site pantry, according to its website.
“We will continue as long as we need to,” Webber said. “We’ve been distributing food for two-and-a-half years, and with COVID the need has grown tremendously.”