San Francisco opens first-of-its-kind grocery store where customers don't pay

A new grocery has opened in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood, where customers can fill up their carts for free. 

It's the first of its kind in the city - meant to help low-income families who live in a food desert.

More than 70 families loaded up their grocery carts at the District 10 Community Market on Third Street in the Bayview Wednesday. They checked out without opening their wallets. So far, 430 households have qualified to shop at the market. 

"She's saying that she likes being able to pick what she knows her family's going to eat," shopper Prisciliana Lopez said through interpreter Ruth Morales.  

Lopez shopped for her family of four, and said what she took home Wednesday would probably cost her $200 to $300 at a grocery store, and last her two to four weeks.

"Her husband does work, but it's barely enough to pay for the rent, stuff like soap," Morales added. 

Lopez said the family rents a room in the Bayview for $1,500 a month.

The neighborhood lacks access to healthy foods, which is why it was chosen for the pilot project. The San Francisco Human Services Agency, partnered with Bayview Senior Services to operate the market. Most of the food is supplied by partner stores and agencies like the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Lucky Bayview. Some produce is ordered directly from a ranch in Watsonville in Santa Cruz County.

"I really hope that people get that this is the way to give out food with dignity, and that people have choice, and just because you're low-income doesn't mean you just get anything," said Bayview Senior Services executive director Cathy Davis. 

Community members must meet certain criteria to shop here, including live in zip codes 94124, 94107, or 94134, receive public assistance like CalFresh or Medi-Cal, have children, and be referred by a community organization in the market's network. 

Shoppers must have a grocery card from one of the market's partnering nonprofits to enter. There are limits on quantities of food. Currently, customers can visit once as month. 

Lucy Lozano moved to San Francisco from Peru a few months ago. 

"It's a big difference. In Peru, they don't have any kind of help like this, so she's very grateful," she said through Morales. 

Two years ago, San Francisco supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced legislation for such a market in high-need neighborhoods. He said he saw the need for it during the pandemic, when many people found themselves relying on food pantries for the first time. 

Since then, the city has seen many stores like Walgreens and CVS close due to rampant theft.

"The majority of the smash-and-grabs that we've seen have been over-the-counter drugs, over-the-counter medicine. If there's meat, I think it's secured in a different way," Safai said. "If that's something that's happens, obviously we'll put additional resources into protecting it."

Safai said he believes people recognize that the market is for the community, and the good will of the people in the neighborhood will allow it to be a safe space and operation.

The market is currently open Wednesdays and Fridays from 1-6 p.m.  

Next month, the store hopes to expand to be open three days a week. It wants to double the number of households it serves to at least 1,000 by the end of the year.


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