SAN DIEGO — A food program in San Diego is giving families in need a fresh start while serving them with dignity.

What You Need To Know

  • Corner Market resembles a small grocery store where shoppers self-select nutritious foods free of charge based on family size and need

  • It offers a wide selection of grocery items and produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy, prepared meals, hygiene, baby items and even pet food when available

  • In March, nearly 3 million households in California stopped receiving extra federal food benefits granted during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Jewish Family Service estimates they serve about 800 families every month

Every day brings new treasures to the Corner Market at the Jewish Family Service; uncovering them is one of Marti Eisenberg’s favorite things.

She is a volunteer who works at the revamped version of a food pantry. Shoppers come in and select nutritious foods free of charge, based on a point system. Families can take as much fresh produce as they want, whereas things like desserts or canned food cost 2 or 3 points.

“The points are right on the door so they know they can count as they go,” Eisenberg said.  

Eisenberg knows how special Corner Market is. She needed food assistance years ago when she was a single mom.

“You didn’t have a choice like this,” she said. “You got processed cheese. You got canned beans. Everything that would make you really fat. And the healthy choices here are awesome. So it really makes me proud to work in a place like this.”

Tom Stewart with Jewish Family Service estimates they collect about 5,000 pounds of donated food a week from their rescue partners — everything from local-grown sprouts from a farmers market booth or Starbucks snack packs.

“We have radishes, some nice citrus, there’s some sugar snap peas, cucumbers, carrots,” Stewart said. “They can walk around and they get to choose what works best for their family. So instead of having just a food bag that was packed by volunteers or staff and just ‘you have to figure it out,’ here they’re able to see, you know, just like a dignified experience of going shopping for themselves.”

Stewart said the Corner Market is needed now more than ever. In March, nearly 3 million households in California stopped receiving extra federal food benefits granted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart noted that the loss of extra money for food paired with the rising cost of living has sent more families to the Corner Market looking for help. He said a family of four gets 50 free points to spend each month.

“We recently have been seeing lots of more calls from the community saying they just need help to make ends meet at the end of the month,” Stewart said. “We’re really here to be that safety net, to wrap our arms around them, give them the emergency needs that they need right now, but then also go a little deeper and find out what other things we may be able to help them to move forward.”

Eisenberg loves finding little food treasures to point out to the families who shop here. She’ll never forget when she needed a little extra help, and she hopes to create a better experience for the future.

“They’re not thrown into this dark desperation of warehouse food that’s been discarded by others,” she said. “Here, you come in. It’s like you’re going grocery shopping at the mini mart. And it’s very dignified and you get to pick what you want and you have a choice of healthy foods for your family.”

Jewish Family Service said they are always in need of volunteers to help run the Corner Market. Right now, they estimate they serve about 800 families every month.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to indicate JFS Corner Market serves an average of 800 families per month. (Aug. 4, 2023)