By Maureen McNair
Our South Bay Food Pantry opened in December 2019 with a good-sized volunteer crew of people who regularly attended services at our Chula Vista campus. We displayed food on
shelves in a large closet. Our clients came in to select the food they wanted and shopped for themselves. Then, the covid pandemic hit and inside of a week, almost all the volunteers went into self-quarantine. I decided to try to keep the pantry open, and put together a mostly new set of volunteers who started distributing food from tables we set up in our parking lot. Bella Furth started pitching in
wherever she was needed. One of Bella’s many talents is she can see what needs to be done, then does it. As Bella puts it, she “pretty quickly ended up handling intake, rosters and client record-keeping.” It’s a job Bella does most Saturdays to this day.
Bella understands and speaks conversational Spanish. So, she explains, “I have the wonderful privilege of greeting clients when they check in, so I get to speak to everyone.” Right now, “everyone” means the approximate 270 heads of household that walk through our 90 minute distribution line each Saturday morning.
Bella says, “In those brief conversations I hear about births and deaths, new jobs, worries and joys and sorrows, and I also have received countless kind words and recipes and prayers and support with my own challenges. Those shared weekly face-to face moments really kept me going through the isolation and
anxiety of the pandemic.”
Like many of our volunteers, Bella also works during the week. Why does she keep donating her time?
“I keep doing the work because I love being part of this team! It is beautiful seeing people show up for each other in a thousand ways, large and small, and the amount of creativity, energy, humor, and good will at work in and around the pantry is truly inspiring.”
When a pantry has food and clients, the other essential ingredient to a successful food distribution is having sufficient volunteers on site with the skill sets we need. Enter Deirdre Lonergan, who now recruits and organizes our Saturday work crew. Deirdre started out as a part-time substitute. Deirdre’s son, Elias Malouf, was an early and regular Saturday morning pantry volunteer. Deirdre drove Elias, who is in high school, to and from the pantry for an 8 AM shift. Occasionally, she stayed and volunteered too as a substitute. Then came the Saturday when four volunteers cancelled their shifts with little notice. I nabbed Deirdre. “The next thing I knew I was handing out ten-pound bags of potatoes,” she says.
Starting last Fall, I started to train Deirdre to organize the Saturday volunteers, then to recruit and schedule them. “I love a good spreadsheet,” she says. “On a personal level, I enjoy the nimble thinking bringing in and distributing so much food each week takes -- there's always a new puzzle.” Every Saturday, the puzzle pieces are a surprise. The Feeding San Diego delivery truck arrives about 7:30 AM. It’s not until the back door opens that we know what food we are getting and how much of it there is. So, part of volunteer coordinating is on-the-spot decision making.
Luckily, our pantry has a growing crew of community members who join our church members and show up to weigh produce, put it in grocery bags, sort through food donated by Starbucks and put it in bags, and totes boxes of dry goods.
Our church is lucky to have such a dedicated and well-trained set of volunteers. People really enjoy each other’s company. They know they are making a difference. “Sounds hokey,” Deirdre says, “but I stay because of the bonds I have with my fellow volunteers and our Chula Vista community. There is truly some way for anyone and everyone to participate in this work and people find all sorts of ways to help.”
Each of our volunteers is invaluable. Tune in next week for more pantry volunteers in the spotlight. And, as ever, thank you for your generosity that keeps our doors open and our volunteers coming back.
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