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For Richer or for Poorer? 

In wealthy Marin, opposition to low-income housing is high—and so are the numbers of the county's poor, aged and disabled who need it most

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Medicine is usually the priority, and then, she says, "I take whatever food I can get." Sometimes her pastor gives her a Safeway gift card. Other times, she's been able to get food at another local church's food pantry. But once, she was unable to purchase her blood pressure medication for hypertension—for over a month.

"I have to have that, otherwise I might have another stroke," she says.

Terry's searched for other housing options. When she first moved to Marin to be close to friends seven years ago, she looked into the county's Section 8 program, but was deterred by a 10-year waiting list. She's inquired into other below-market-rate apartments close to transit—she doesn't drive—but they've either been closed to applicants or asked for up-front deposits out of her price range.

Currently, she's on a waiting list for a subsidized apartment in San Francisco. If she gets in, she plans to take a bus out of the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge every Sunday to attend the church she loves.

But though she may relocate, others won't. And Terry's not the only local senior forced to choose between shelter and basic necessities like food and medicine. Hers is a dilemma that Hamilton couple Ruth Schwartz and Curt Kinkead see nearly every day.

It's 10am, half an hour before the food pantry opens, and already people are parked outside Iglesia Nueva Jerusalem, waiting in their cars.

By 10:20, a large group has gathered around a picnic table near the church—a brown, two-story structure in Novato about a hundred feet from Hwy 101. There are too many people to sit at the table, and some mill around, including a man with a walker. At least half of them are seniors, along with families and young children.

Though I'm invited to share in the food that's coming, several people tell me the same thing—I should stand back from the table, because there's about to be a rush.

Several minutes after 10:30, a Kia minivan drives into the parking lot; the crowd hurries over to help unload it. Box after cardboard box full of produce and grain is stacked on the tables and benches, until no surface space remains. Recipients crowd the boxes so that it's hard to see what's in them. When I finally do, I'm surprised.

click to enlarge DIRECT SOLUTIONS Ruth Schwartz and Curt Kinkead operate from their mobile home to distribute food seven days a week to Marin's poorer population. - GABE MELINE
  • Gabe Meline
  • DIRECT SOLUTIONS Ruth Schwartz and Curt Kinkead operate from their mobile home to distribute food seven days a week to Marin's poorer population.

This is no Wonderbread-sandwich-with-iceberg-lettuce fare. One table is piled with basil and fresh endives. Another is heaped with flax tortillas, granola and whole grain bread. Schwartz and Kinkead, the pantry's founders, say that on some days they'll have boxes of sushi.

This Friday's "Open Food" day is the result of a process Kinkead calls "revolutionizing dumpster diving." At 8:45 this morning, he drove the minivan up to a back entrance at one of the county's many gourmet markets—Whole Foods, Paradise Market, Trader Joe's—and loaded it with "expired" edibles, which usually means they've been on the shelf or in the deli for 24 hours.

This process is part of his nonprofit, Respecting Our Elders, which aims to feed local seniors and free up their money for rent. As Kinkead puts it, they're "getting food from the very best stores in Marin and bringing it the very poorest people."

A week before, I was seated in the living room of Kinkead and Schwartz' mobile home, decorated with Christmas lights and embroidered hangings, at the Los Robles mobile home park in Hamilton.

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