By Maureen McNair
Four hundred years ago, in the first quarter of 2020, one of San Diego's two major food banks, Feeding San Diego, brought on our little pantry as a partner. They paired us with a Chula Vista grocery store. Several volunteers and I trained at Feeding San Diego (FSD) on how to pick up free food the grocery store would otherwise send to the landfill. FSD scheduled our first appointment to pick up free food. But, that week, as bad luck would have it, the governor closed the state because of the Corona virus. FSD canceled our appointment because there was no food. So, we never got food through this partnership. Feeding San Diego (FSD) then closed itself for two weeks to reorganize so it could support the increased demand for food from its existing pantry partners. I am sure many of you recall the food shortages and empty store shelves. FSD was very kind to our pantry, giving us thermometers for our refrigerators and freezers, a scale, a freezer blanket, and inviting me to online training. But, they also made it clear they would not be able to give us the one thing our pantry needed the most - food. That remains their official policy now - no food to new pantry partners. Until, one recent day, I received a gift by way of text.
One of the long time food activists I have met runs a weekly food distribution in the gerrymandered part of San Diego south of Chula Vista. She, and her father before her, have operated this food distribution for 30 years. So, she is very well connected through FSD to the local grocery stores and the FSD food supply.
Her text offered to give me one of her weekly food pick ups at a San Diego grocery store! I cannot begin to tell you what a profound gift that was. She had used her long time relationship with FSD to make sure we had a source for about 40 - 70 pounds of free bread every week. And, despite its existing policy, FSD agreed to honor her request that our pantry be allowed to pick up that food. So, I called the food activist who had introduced the two of us to share this breakthrough news. She just laughed. "We all knew," she said. "We just wanted it to be a surprise for you." Our South Bay Food Pantry is well-loved by our sister pantries.
And, once we had our foot in the door for food from FSD, it did not take long for FSD to offer to deliver bulk food to us! We have now received our first food deliveries of shelf stable food and fresh produce.
FSD will deliver food to our pantry now two days a month, which is a huge help toward sourcing food for the four or five Saturdays each month we distribute food. Receiving food from FSD is a big adventure. They do not tell me in advance what will arrive. I find out what food we are receiving when the delivery truck arrives and I speak to the driver.
Last Friday, pantry volunteers Jared Blackwell, Steve Gelb, and Steve Howard, let me talk them into waiting for the delivery and loading the food into what used to be the South Bay worship space. This is a labor intensive project because the food comes on 4' x 4' wooden pallets that will not fit through our door. Jared and the Steves hand-carried over 3,000 pounds of food from pallets left on the sidewalk into the worship space. In 88 degree heat. While wearing masks. This kind of labor intensive work will only be sustainable only if volunteers with strong backs step up to help.
The food we received ranged from hundreds of pounds of potatoes, apples, and cantaloupes to 1,600 half ounce servings of honey. We are going to be distributing honey until the bears go into hibernation. The food came just in time, too. The next day, at last Saturday's food distribution, we had our biggest crowd of pantry clients to date - 144 heads of household who picked up food for about 600 family members. We were able to give each of them food for a couple days of healthy, nutritious meals.
And so as the virus continues to spread and need continues to grow, the interconnected web of life continues to help us grow too. Thank you for your continued support.
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