Iconic leather bar reopens as food bank with ‘Folsom Feeders’ rallying to help the vulnerable

Nick Duffy
·3-min read

A popular San Francisco leather bar reopened as a food bank to serve the community after being forced to close its doors during the pandemic.

Powerhouse Bar, located in the heart of the city’s queer SoMa district, underwent a transformation after it was forced to close in mid-December under a city-wide stay-at-home order.

As the venue sat empty, bar manager Carlton Paul, local drag queen Lady Bear and chef Cory Armenta cooked up the idea for the bar to transform into the SoMa Food Pantry, providing hundreds of hot meals and groceries for people who were struggling to find food during the pandemic.

After putting out an appeal for funding via Facebook, the local community gave more than $18,000 to the project, allowing the volunteers – dubbed the Folsom Feeders – to provide crucial support.

The group provided meals for bartenders, hairdressers, and other people out of work and struggling during the crisis, as well as over-65s with connections to the community.

San Francisco leather bar raises thousands for food bank.

Speaking to SFist, Carlton Paul said: “We launched a Facebook donation drive and we had $10,000 within a few days. That first week, just before Christmas, we put together 40 bags of groceries and made 150 hot meals. And this week we’re up to 114 bags — each week we’ve added more names.”

Paul explained that he and his husband “both feel like elders in the leather community, and that sense of community drove my commitment to get our members fed”.

The pop-up food bank supplied support from leather venue Powerhouse Bar
The pop-up food bank supplied support from leather venue Powerhouse Bar (Facebook/Carlton Paul)

He told the outlet he had been struggling himself due to lack of work during the crisis, adding: “I’m 49 years old and I’ve never once filed for unemployment. I’ve always had jobs and bartended and worked all the time.

“I was in a deep depression in December, and all I could think about was my own problems, and this experience has opened my eyes in ways that are really profound.

“I was always more of a moderate, politically, but now I’m seeing just how much need is out there when a crisis hits, and how things need to change.

“Nobody on our list has ever been to a food pantry, and most of them all had jobs a year ago.”

Pop-up project ends as venue reopens.

After six weeks, the pop-up food bank has now come to an end, as the stay-at-home order lifts and venues are once more permitted to open for outdoor service.

Other food banks are available to pick up the slack. Paul told the outlet: “The food insecurity in San Francisco is not going away this week.

“We met our goal, we wanted to do a temporary food pantry and address the needs of this small group over the holidays.

“But that doesn’t meant that these 114 families have the food or money to get by after our last delivery tomorrow.”

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