Community market emerges in East Oakland to families struggling to keep food on tables

The new Shiloh Mercy House Community Market in Oakland may look like many other grocery stores, but there is one enormous difference —the food is free.

"Things have been kind of tough. They've been here to help support and feed my loved ones and myself. It's really been a big help," said neighbor Pat Lancaster.

The market serves as a food pantry for those people having trouble affording food.

In the past, people would come and volunteers would hand them grocery bags filled with food someone else picked out. But at the new market people can ask for what they want. 

"Being able to pick it without someone making the decision for me. Being able to make that decision, it helps with confidence," said Lancaster.

Shiloh Church said that was the idea. The church wanted to give people the food they need while keeping their dignity through the hard times brought by the pandemic.

"The face of need has changed. It's low income, but working families who are struggling to keep food on the table with rising rent costs, job insecurities because of all the changes with COVID," said Jan Renee of Shiloh Church.

The number of those in need of food is eye-opening. Food distribution has tripled from what it was pre-COVID. Major food giveaways have gone from twice a month to every week.

The Alameda County Food Bank, which provides groceries to the market, said food costs have quadrupled since the pandemic.

The food bank helped build the market through a grant.

The market can also track electronically what food each person selects, to make it easier for them the next time they come in.

"Tough times for everyone. A program like this helps bring us together," said Lancaster.