Two woman, one with a black sweater and another with a red and white sweater, are wearing blue gloves and sorting food items into shopping bags

Volunteer Power

Stroll by Mercy Housing’s Heritage Homes community on a Monday morning and you will likely pass a throng of neighborhood residents greeting one another in a multitude of languages, while bags of fresh produce change hands and volunteers work up a sweat. From the ground floor of Heritage Homes, Mercy Housing California (MHC) operates one of the largest weekly food banks in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley district, serving around 150 households throughout the neighborhood each week.

Heritage Homes’s food bank is entirely volunteer-powered; in fact, two regular volunteers who commute to Heritage Homes from the East Bay area are retired Mercy Housing, Inc. executives, Jane Graf and Val Agostino. These volunteers have provided a steady lifeline for Visitacion Valley residents since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A huge number of essential workers live in this neighborhood, so the City of San Francisco wanted to be sure at least one pantry was open every day to serve people without flexible schedules,” recalled Elizabeth Hook, MHC Resident Services Coordinator. MHC worked with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to establish the Heritage Homes program and obtain the food provided to community members.

“People are definitely counting on this food,” said Elizabeth. “For example, we saw a spike in participation when expanded unemployment benefits expired. And because we have a consistent group of volunteers running the show week after week, MHC staff can focus on more time-intensive services for residents while we keep this service running for residents and the broader community.”

The food bank is just one of many ways volunteers are making a difference for MHC residents. While the pandemic has made some in-person volunteer opportunities more challenging, corporate and individual volunteers have found creative ways to support families, seniors, and people with special needs who live in MHC communities. Some recent meaningful contributions include:

  • The back-office team at the Golden State Warriors created Welcome Baskets for all 167 households at 290 Malosi, MHC’s newest Sunnydale HOPE SF community, making for a smooth move-in day for these San Francisco families. “It makes such a difference for residents to find their home stocked with a shower curtain, towels, cleaning supplies … all essentials families need when they start out in a new home,” said Kylie French, MHC Volunteer Coordinator.
  • A group of volunteers from Salesforce assembled 100 hygiene kits for residents of Casala, another Sunnydale HOPE SF community that opened in 2019.
  • The Placer Community Foundation and Assistance League of Greater Placer bought holiday gifts for 37 youth at Mercy North Auburn at Rock Creek, MHC’s newest family community in the Greater Sacramento Area. The volunteers also provided each family with a $15 grocery store gift card and worked with Target to offer deep discounts on toys, games, and clothes, increasing their donation’s impact during the holiday season.
  • Longtime supporters Dignity Health and Mercy General Hospital each provided 200 holiday gifts to families at MHC residences around the Sacramento area.
  • In San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, Gap, Inc. donated holiday gift kits for 120 families.
  • The San Francisco Junior League also led a toy drive benefitting 27 families who recently moved into new MHC homes.
  • For over twenty years, students and families at Our Lady of Mercy School in Daly City have shopped for holiday gifts for MHC resident children. This year, more than 100 gifts were provided to San Francisco families.
  • MHC supporter Karen Kiyoko Bregar organized her third donation drive with friends, providing 100 backpacks for children getting ready for school, as well as a holiday toy drive benefitting 50 Sacramento families.

Whether ensuring that seniors have enough nutritious food to eat or making it a happy holiday for families, MHC’s volunteers are stalwart in their commitment to helping residents thrive during this pandemic and beyond.

Interested in getting involved? Mercy Housing California has onsite and remote volunteering opportunities for individuals and corporate groups. Contact Kylie French, Volunteer Coordinator, at or 916-662-6803.