by Rhea Kuhlman, Pantry Volunteer
Around 7:30 each Saturday morning, an enormous white truck rumbles into the parking lot at 970 Broadway in Chula Vista, and the driver starts unloading pallets. Out pour cases of fresh fruits and vegetables – strawberries, melons or plums in the summer, apples or pears in the winter – and squash, potatoes, cabbages and tomatoes, depending on the season. The truck driver then unloads pallets of dry goods – maybe tuna and beans, oatmeal and pasta or rice. On a good day, there’s boxed milk, too. Each case of food is carefully placed on pallets so that no food ever touches the ground.
With a mighty roar, the Feeding San Diego truck pulls out, and that’s the signal for the volunteers to jump into action. At that early hour, there may be just 2 or 3 church volunteers present, but the community volunteers are already there in force. Manuel starts bringing out tables and setting them up, while Antonio works to erect the canopy that shades volunteers from the hot sun while they pack produce. Ruby grabs a broom and starts sweeping the sidewalk, while Jesus – the artist of the bunch, and a wonderful calligrapher - makes handsome name tags for each of the volunteers. Irma brings out some chairs, and the workers settle down under the canopy to pack produce into individual bags.
A church volunteer has by then read the FSD shipping manifest to see how many pounds of each kind of produce has been delivered, and done the math to figure out how much of each type can go into each bag, assuming a certain number of households each week. Lately, that number has hovered around 270. The volunteers divide themselves into teams, some working on veggies and some on fruit, and start bagging. Each item must be carefully inspected, and moldy or spoiled produce is discarded.
In the meantime, other volunteers are carting boxes of dried and canned food into the pantry storage area, and figuring out how to arrange them so that they’ll be easily accessible to the midweek baggers of shelf stable food items.
Antonio explains he’s been showing up to help at the Pantry for seven or eight months now, since his neighbor, another volunteer, told him that help was needed. Antonio has a small house in Guadalajara, and goes down for a visit with family several times a year, but otherwise he’s faithfully there at the pantry each Saturday morning, sleeves rolled up. Irma and Ruby were waiting in line as clients one day when they noticed that the volunteers were understaffed for the work that needed to be done, so they stepped out of line to help, and now they’re regulars. Manuel says he enjoys the work, and says the labor “comes from my heart.” People need to help each other, and it gives him pleasure to lend a hand. Most weeks, 10 – 20 community volunteers show up to help in the early morning hours, and they work so efficiently that the produce is packed and ready for distribution by 9:30 or 10 am, when more church volunteers start to arrive.
The truth is, this important work could not get done without the enthusiastic participation of community volunteers, whose dedication to helping their neighbors is genuine and inspirational. It’s an honor to work alongside them.
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