SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A native of San Francisco's Bayview District uses her connections to rally the faith-based community to make sure underserved African Americans live healthier lives.
Volunteers working with the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition help distribute hundreds of boxes of fresh produce and poultry from local food banks to dozens of churches in San Francisco and beyond.
The churches then deliver the food to 800 families in need each week.
Assistant Pastor Siakimotu Mauga helps volunteer, and gives away food boxes to his congregation at First Samoan Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in East Palo Alto.
"That's what puts a smile on our faces at the end of the day. Knowing that we were able to help somebody," he said.
The food giveaway is just part of the work of the Coalition, a nonprofit founded by Veronica Shepard in 2016. It partners with dozens of churches to tackle health problems among the city's underserved African Americans.
"Every one of these churches are dealing with huge health disparities that have high impact on our black African American community: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer," Shepard said.
She is also the Director for the Office of Anti-Racism and Equity at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Shepard harnesses her connections for good. Her nonprofit partnered with SF New Deal to deliver more than 350,000 prepared meals to more than 1,600 households in the year and a half since the pandemic hit.
And since only about half of African Americans in San Francisco have gotten the COVID vaccine, the coalition held pop-up clinics to vaccinate more than 700 people.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Shepard and her team also organized a Feeding of the 5,000 Christmas holiday event last year, giving away turkey and other food to 5,000 households. They plan to repeat the project with their community collaborators this winter.
Coalition Executive Director Dr. Jonathan Butler says Shepard is driven by a passion for people.
"Her heart is one that always seeks to help others, whether they're hungry, homeless or helpless," Dr. Butler said.
Shepard's strength is building connections to impact more lives, according to Sonya Brunswick, Senior Pastor at Greater Life Foursquare Church in San Francisco.
"God has given her unique skills and talents to gather people together," said Rev. Brunswick.
Shepard says she's simply fulfilling her life purpose.
"Anytime I can feel like I can do anything to make somebody's life be a little bit better, I feel like I'm doing my divine calling," she smiled.
So for creating the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition to make life healthier for the underserved community, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Veronica Shepard.
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