This is the first in a series of posts profiling the residents who serve on the Feeding Potrero Catering Team. Over the past year, this team of Potrero Hill Terraces and Annex community members, under supervision of Leah’s Pantry staff, has bonded over a love of good food and a desire to uplift their community. Cooking together in love and service of the community, has turned this team into a family. We wanted to share a little bit about each member. (And soon we’ll post the voice recording of this interview with Mona; it’s worth a listen!)
Mona Robinson is an ambitious, vibrant, and passionate long-time San Franciscan. In addition to being a food lover, she is a fount of jokes, joy, and life philosophy. Her parents came to San Francisco from Texas when they were a very young couple and raised Mona and her siblings here. She remembers riding her bike throughout San Francisco, stopping at Aquatic Park to swim, and fishing in the bay. And though she was a bit young during the hippie era, she experienced plenty of the counterculture. Mona has many stories that highlight the dramatic changes in American life: “[my momma’s] birth certificate says ‘Colored,’ mine says ‘Negro,’ my children’s say ‘Black,’ and my grandchildren’s say ‘African American’…. isn’t that a trip?”
Mona’s main personal and culinary influence is her tough and sassy mother whose nickname is ‘Peaches.’ She credits her mother with encouraging her to develop real skills for living, especially the ability to cook something delicious from nothing. The story goes: her mother who had her at age 15, could only prepare boxed macaroni and cheese, barbecued Spam, and canned green beans. Mona’s father arranged for an elderly lady from the church to come teach her mother how to cook. “Boy, then my momma perfected Thanksgiving and Christmas…that is when she started putting some love in her food,” Mona declares. She is most impressed by her mother’s “stand at attention rice”—rice where each grain is separate and fluffy. But Mona’s taste ventures far from her mother’s menu to include: sashimi, cuttlefish, artichokes, and even chocolate-covered grasshoppers. It was her father, who joined the Navy at age 14 and traveled the world, who cultivated her taste for exotic foods. “He would take us out to eat at different restaurants but we couldn’t order chicken. We had to try new things.”
It was the food lover in Mona that led her to choose Potrero Hill as a home for herself and her little boys in 1983. On a visit to check out the neighborhood, she saw all the old people and “Big Mamas,” community matriarchs who cooked and had gardens in their front yards. The good, old-fashioned food smells are what sealed the deal. Another significant decision Mona made at a young age was to take care of her body and eat healthy food so that she could thrive. “I am not going to lie,” Mona says, “I like looking at sexy people…. and sexy comes with healthy.” She is proud of how she can add flavor to food while still making it healthy.
Even though she has retired from work in construction, landscaping, and security, Mona has plenty of energy for her new work with Healthy Generations and on the Feeding Potrero team. Feeding and being there for the children and their families feels like a life calling to Mona. “We got love in us around here and we all like each other and we like to put our best out… We are making magic here... This is where I am supposed to be.”