Immigrants fearful of status sharing at food banks

With the court battles continuing over President Trump's executive order on immigration, there is a new fear among those who serve immigrant communities.

Paul Ash, the Executive Director of the SF Marin Food Bank told KTVU "we know whenever immigration is in the headlines people get frightened and they avoid places they might have been comfortable before and we want people to know they are safe and welcome at food bank pantries."

This week the SF-Marin Food Bank is starting a new campaign.   Messages have been posted online and flyers in four languages are going up at 253 food pantries throughout the city.

The Flyer reads: "All are Welcome Here The Food Bank will continue to provide nutritious food to residents of San Francisco and Marin regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The SF-Marin Food Bank is not a government agency. We do not collect nor share information about immigration status. We protect participants' personal information and keep it secure."

Pastor Miguel Nunez runs the food pantry at Casa de Barro in San Francisco's Mission District.  He says he thinks the message is important.   More than 320 families are registered to get food at his pantry every week and he says people are scared to give information and worried that it might be shared with immigration officials.  He says he makes sure that everyone who comes knows "we serve everybody we don't check status of immigration."

The Director of San Francisco's Human Services Agency says when it comes to the government programs; information does need to be gathered. However, Trent Rhorer says services even in these uncertain times. right now services remain the same.

Rhorer says "undocumented people who are illegal are never eligible for government programs but we do have about 20 percent of our recipients that are legal non-citizens and they are receiving their Cal Fresh benefits, which used to be called food stamps. The concern is not with any executive order because nothing has changed. It’s the chilling effect of families being reluctant to apply for benefits."

For now the HSA says they haven't seen any big drops in applicants but it has fielded calls from people asking if they would be safer by getting out of the program. HSA says its continuing monitoring applications and caseloads number. 

The SF Marin Food Bank says it's doing the same and Ash says they are prepared to take the effort even further.  "If people do feel scared and if people do feel frightened," says Ash, "and we sense that we are going to be at Food Bank pantries ourselves welcoming them."

Pastor Miguel says "that is the main goal through this program to serve the community," and he wants everyone to know that all are welcome.