When David Finnane, Bayside MLK Academy Principal, reached out to two friends the weekend of March 14 and 15 to launch a grassroots fundraising effort to get groceries for his students and their families, he had no idea that within a matter of days he would be assisted by three Southern Marin moms – strangers to him – who would take his small great idea and turn it into a large operation. Their mission was to provide groceries, which they call “Bags of Love”, to more than 180 Marin City families per week, with a commitment to do so through August 2020.
With enormous passion but no time to plan, David and two friends, Rich Friedman and Julie Neil, immediately launched into action to provide groceries to 80 families at Bayside MLK. These families had been devastated by the closing of school, as well as the loss of hourly wage jobs, and the impact of additional responsibilities to care for young children and elderly family members, with many working through the pandemic in high-risk jobs. David, Rich and Julie’s goal was to raise $2,000 to provide groceries and pantry staples to complement the daily breakfast and lunch provided to the school-aged children and the weekly bag of produce and protein provided by the SF Food Bank. David and his friends asked around, and immediately folks stepped up to shop for groceries or donate money to be used by shoppers, who would purchase the needed items.
Dana Linker Steele, a Tiburon resident and active volunteer and Board Member at Bridge the Gap College Prep in Marin City, heard about David’s plan, and immediately wanted to help. She committed to purchasing five bags worth of grocery items, and texted her close friends to ask if they wanted to help too. Of course all of them did.
But one friend, Missy Zech, from Larkspur, suggested that she and her real estate business partner, Stacy Achuck, a Tiburon resident, could do more. More bags, more efficiency, more impact. What started as a fundraising goal of $2,000 to provide groceries for 80 Bayside MLK families, is now a weekly effort to deliver 180 bags of groceries to families at both Bayside MLK and Willow Creek Academy in the Sausalito Marin School District.
A Sign-Up Genius tracking system is now distributed weekly – through social media, NextDoor, email, text and more, where individuals can sign-up to purchase specific groceries for the weekly distribution, or to make a monetary donation. Shoppers are encouraged only to purchase items during their regular shopping trips to comply with Shelter-in-Place orders regarding essential trips to the grocery store. These volunteer shoppers deliver their grocery items each Tuesday morning to Bayside MLK between 8 and 10 a.m. for curbside delivery, assisted by two volunteers wearing gloves and masks. The Bags of Love are assembled on Tuesday afternoon by several volunteers (to ensure required physical distancing and with the use of gloves and masks), and are distributed on Wednesday with the help of Felecia Gaston and Performing Stars of Marin City, a key partner in the community. And to help process the monetary donations, long-time Marin City partner Bridge the Gap College Prep quickly jumped in and offered to use its infrastructure and administrative staff to handle the donations.
The original plan was for the monetary donations to be used by “shoppers” to secure additional grocery items. But Stacy and Missy quickly realized that sending shoppers to the stores was not compliant with the Shelter-in-Place order and that the dollars could be utilized more effectively if grocery items were purchased in bulk. Stacy reached out to Andy’s Local Market, and working with Andy Bachich, the owner, and Brooksley Dixon, Andy’s daughter and the General Manager/Buyer, reached a deal that benefits everyone involved. Not only did the bulk order help Andy’s Market compete for distribution to stock its own grocery stores, but the bulk order dramatically reduced the overall cost for each bag. In addition, Brooksley helped secure a competitive deal with a local baker to purchase 180 loaves of fresh bread each week to include in the bags.
Where once the halls of Bayside MLK were filled with school-age children, David now has pallets of canned goods and pantry items, from peanut butter and oatmeal to pasta sauce and soup. In addition to operating a K-8 school through the challenges of distance learning, David, Rich and Julie now run a small distribution center, storing, tracking and overseeing the assembly and distribution of 180 Bags of Love each week. And Dana’s daughters, Lauren and Sarah (senior and sophomore at Redwood High School and Bridge the Gap College Prep volunteers), decided to make hand-made cards to include in the bags, with messages such as “Stay safe” and “Enjoy this Bag of Love” and encouraged their friends to make them too.
To date, David and his team of volunteers have provided almost 600 bags of groceries, and raised $93,170 for bulk ordering through Andy’s Market. Because of the reach of social media, some early publicity from the Marin IJ, and leveraging Stacy’s and Missy’s contacts in Southern Marin, grocery donations as well as monetary support have come from hundreds of people in Marin County and beyond – many of whom are not familiar with Marin City or its public schools.
How You Can Help
In order to meet the goal of providing Bags of Love to 180 families per week through August 2020, this grass-roots effort must raise an additional $15,000. To learn more or make a donation to support Bags of Love, please sign up here.
Dana Linker Steele is Autodesk’s Director and Senior Corporate Counsel for Autodesk’s Global License Compliance team, and serves on the Board of Bridge the Gap College Prep in Marin City. She lives in Marin with her husband, Rich Steele, and her two daughters, Lauren (17) and Sarah (16).