Richmond Neighborhood Center

Richmond Nonprofit Nourishes Community

By Gui Oliveira

The Richmond Neighborhood Center has been serving the Richmond District for 35 years by providing programs for all ages, including wellness classes, a food pantry and community events in the Richmond District.  

Its mission statement says they strive “to nurture a diverse urban community by developing and providing high quality youth adult, and family programs that address critical community needs and foster respect for all people and our environment.” It works with more than 5,000 participants each year. 

RNC Cusano for RR photo 7-19 (1)

Michelle Cusano, executive director of the Richmond Neighborhood Center, oversees a wide-ranging variety of services. classes and events aimed at creating community in the Richmond District. Photo by Gui Oliveira.

State Assemblymember Phil Ting named the Richmond Neighborhood Center nonprofit of the year for 2018.

The Neighborhood Center is headed by Executive Director Michelle Cusano who works with staff and volunteers to make the organization a place of “growth and accomplishment.”

Cusano, who is originally from Ohio, worked for a year with Americorps and soon thereafter realized what she wanted to do. It was during the dotcom boom when she started working for the Neighborhood Center at Presidio Middle School taking on more programs and ultimately moving up in the organization.   

“What I love about the Neighborhood Center is that it is not just about youth. It’s about people of all ages and building intergenerational connections,” Cusano said.  

The food pantry program demonstrates this connection. Most of the volunteers are high school students, but anyone who wants to help can do so. Volunteers distribute free produce and groceries to more than 700 Richmond District residents each week. Residents are typically seniors of diverse backgrounds who do not get enough to eat due to financial hardship or low wage jobs. 

Onsite pantry volunteers work in assembly lines, handing out items from tables stacked with different food items. Others staff the registration desk or are breaking down boxes and hauling them to the recycling bin. 

In addition to the food pantry, the Neighborhood Center also provides home-delivered groceries for seniors. In 2018, 148 local seniors received 6,195 bags of groceries distributed by more than 100 volunteers. 

“I think for people who need the delivery, it’s just nice knowing once a week they will be checked on and they will get food and that there’s someone caring about them,” said Dynelle Chan, a grocery delivery volunteer.  

The program aims to not only provide nourishment but also to build a relationship and connection with the seniors. The intention is to pair up one volunteer with two seniors each week.

“Seeing that familiar face is helping in that it’s not just random,” Chan said. “I think that helps with the sense of belonging, community and just being cared for by someone. Just a smile, a hug, something simple.”   

A program called “grocery giveaways” was created, which uses leftover food from other pantries and home-delivered grocery programs to create informal pantries throughout the neighborhood. The program serves 19,000 residents who struggle to buy the sustenance they need.

“The Neighborhood Center plays a role in getting people the services they need,” Cusano said. 

RNC Pantry photo 7-19 Gui

Volunteers at the Richmond Neighborhood Center food pantry distribute free produce and groceries. It serves more than 700 Richmond District residents each week. Photo by Gui Oliveira.

They focus on food security, youth services, community events, housing inquiries, case management and volunteering opportunities. The organization has created an alliance comprised of different groups working to help people receive the services they need. 

“It’s about creating a sense of belonging regardless of their socio-economic status, their cultural background and their language ability. There should be a place for acceptance and belonging,” Cusano said.   

The Neighborhood Center also provides youth programs. In 2018, 2,098 youths participated in the programs among nine Richmond District public schools from elementary to high school. It aims to empower students through sports, educational experiences, recreational activities and homework help.

Community events provide residents with a variety of multicultural arts and music. The RNC organizes Playland on Balboa, a free event that brings local makers, food vendors, musicians and family-friendly fun to Balboa Street between 35th and 38th avenues, which is closed to street traffic. The event provides dozens of community nonprofits, artists and local businesses a way to connect with local residents. What started as a relatively small event has grown into a full-fledged street music festival that drew more than 2,000 attendees last year. 

Other events include Lunar New Year, community flea market and the One Richmond Community Kickoff. There is also an SF Giants versus the San Diego Padres baseball watch party event taking place on July 28 featuring a potluck, barbecue, games and the team’s mascot, Lou Seal.  For more information, visit the events calendar on the organization’s website.

For donations to the food pantry, visit the Richmond Neighborhood Center at 741 30th Ave., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Wednesdays or 1-6 p.m. on Fridays. For more information, visit Richmondsf.org, email info@richmondsf.org or call (415) 751-6600.

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