SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - The San Francisco man dubbed the 'Mayor of Mission District" is known for protesting evictions and being a driving force behind the Carnaval parade and festival, which KPIX 5 sponsors. But that is not the only reason why he is a Jefferson Awards Silver Medal winner.
People come to Roberto Hernández with their problems, like one woman who reached out at the start of the pandemic.
"In tears, she was telling me she'd lost her job of 33 years," Hernández said.
He says she had no benefits and only a day's worth of food to support her widowed daughter and five grandchildren.
"It broke my heart," he said.
So he started Mission Food Hub. He recruited 100 volunteers to provide food for needy families, and stored the donated food in his home garage.
"That wasn't sustainable at all 'cause the calls kept coming, the need just kept growing," said Hernández.
So when Carnaval was canceled, Hernández got sponsors to shift festival funds to the Mission Food Hub.
More than 9,000 families now receive food boxes each week thanks to donations, and money from fundraisers, foundations and government grants.
"The people who work the hardest - the maids, janitors, gardeners - they're not taken care of. And that's what we're taking care of here," Hernández said.
People line up for blocks as hundreds of volunteers pack and distribute food three times a week at a warehouse on Alabama Street and at two dozen other sites in the Bayview, Excelsior, Tenderloin and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods.
Drivers also deliver food to the elderly and those quarantined with COVID.
Volunteer Connie Rivera relied on the food hub to feed her family of five after the shelter-in-place shut down her retail store.
"I didn't have no money, no savings, nothing," Rivera said.
She says Hernández goes out of his way to get food popular in their culture like the ingredients for carne asada.
"He'll come and ask, 'What do you like?'" said Rivera.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Hernández also partners with the Latino Task Force to provide hundreds of thousands of masks, cleaning products, COVID testing, vaccines, and help with rental and unemployment assistance.
Volunteer coordinator Rosine Garcia says it's no wonder he's called the Mayor of the Mission.
"He snaps his fingers and things happen. He really is like a little magician," said Garcia.
"Being of service is the most beautiful thing that one can do. And I've been blessed to be able in my entire life to do that," Hernández said.
So for decades of serving his community and feeding thousands of families each week through the Mission Food Hub, this 2022 Jefferson Award Silver Medal goes to Roberto Hernández.
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