Berkeley Food Pantry History

Inspired by the work of Mrs. Betty McCall with the Emergency Food Pantry of the North Oakland Parish, in the spring of 1969, Dorothy Noble of Berkeley Friends Church opened a pantry in her home to handle Berkeley calls which were placing a burden on the North Oakland Parrish. Assisted by social workers, people in the church and others, Dorothy Noble operated the Pantry for several months, handling as many as 50 calls a month and carrying on the ministry primarily to families with a sudden, emergency food need due to a lost, stolen or delayed welfare check. Almost all needs were brought to her attention through the Welfare Department, with social workers stopping by her house to pick up food parcels to deliver to need families.

By late summer the project had become too unmanageable and too taxing for Mrs. Noble to continue in her home. As a result, she began to seek wider participation from people within the church, and from other churches and organizations. On September 21, Berkeley Friends Church decided in a business meeting to house the pantry in the church building for three afternoons a week from 1 – 5 pm. Berkeley Area Council of Churches, Berkeley Church Women United, Newman Hall and other churches and groups were contacted and responded liberally. The Pantry opened on October 6, 1969 with 13 volunteers and ten substitutes. The Pantry was coordinated by Dorothy Noble, Linda Townsend was in charge of securing volunteers and Judy Butler was in charge of food buying.

The pantry was a very small operation at first. Clients who received food had to have referrals from other churches or social agencies. Others were government agencies such as the Berkeley Welfare Office and Public Health. Some non-government sources were the Red Cross and pastors of other churches. After Dorothy Noble’s tenure, Jill Hatier ran the Food Pantry as a volunteer for many years and was, in effect, the first Pantry Director. When Jill retired and moved to Montana the prodigious amount of work she had been doing became evident. No one in the church felt able to take it up. This is when the Pantry hired its first paid director.

As the years passed some of the agencies continued their ministry but changed their name, some referring agencies dropped out, and others were added. Some of the agencies now referring clients are the Alameda County Community Food Bank, the Berkeley Department of Health and Human Services, the Berkeley Department of Adult Mental Health Services, the Center for Independent Living, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and BOSS.

The Berkeley Food Pantry relies on a combination of grants and donations (from individuals, churches, local businesses and other organizations) and currently serves approximately 21,000 individuals a year.