By Nina D., Pantry Volunteer
Our Food Pantry ministry began quite modestly nearly three years ago, with just a few boxes of canned goods in the front room of Suite 101 at the South Bay Campus. Former FUUSD board member Maureen McNair’s mission to serve South Bay community members facing food insecurity has become a significantly larger and more complex operation, providing nutritious food and other necessary basics (including infant diapers, feminine hygiene products and Covid-19 test kits) to over 300 households each week. We can thank Maureen for her vision to create a pantry system based on best food acquisition and distribution practices, and for establishing strong collaborative ties with community food justice organizations such as Feeding San Diego https://feedingsandiego.org and the San Diego Food Bank https://sandiegofoodbank.org.
A confession: when Maureen spoke to us about starting the pantry, my husband Jeff and I were newcomers to FUUSD and to the South Bay community, with no experience in food justice work (or of Maureen’s amazing drive to get things done!) I envisioned handing out a few canned goods and diapers would be a fairly basic activity. Not so! Meeting the demand for food in an already economically stressed community during the Covid-19 pandemic has required flexibility and creativity (as well as brains and muscle) as we continually adapt our practices to ensure we provide nutritious foods in a safe environment.
Thursday trips to acquire food from the San Diego Food Bank (SDFB) warehouse are illustrative of the complexities involved. Jeff and I drive up to Mira Mesa to meet Valerie Jaques, our pantry coordinator. Our mission is to load her big white truck with high protein food, especially frozen meat, to bring back to the pantry. Some weeks, we encounter ample boxes of frozen chicken or red meat, the most prized items by the pantry community. Other weeks, there is no meat, and we stock up on peanut butter, canned fish and beans. How much to procure is one of the complexities. It can be stressful. How many pieces of meat are in each box? How many families do we expect to serve the following Saturday? How much room is in our pantry freezers for meat storage? If we get too much, we have no place to store it until Saturday distribution. If we get too little, our pantry clients will be disappointed.
Offsetting the mental work of calculating how much to bring back is the physical work involved: the muscle required to load 15-35 heavy boxes onto the SDFB carts to be weighed, and then off the carts and into Valerie’s truck. Once we arrive at the pantry with the boxes, we must offload them onto two wheelers and wagons, steer them to the freezers, and unload them. Further decision-making is required to determine which meat goes to which freezer or fridge in which suite. Often, we must first remove bread from the freezers (rescued from Con Pane and Baron’s) to thaw overnight before storing the meat.
While the Thursday SDFB runs are not mentally or physically easy, they are fun! Carlos and the other food bank warehouse staff haven’t forgotten the day Valerie drove her truck into the parking lot pulling one of her horses in a trailer, and they go out of their way to help us wrangle those boxes. Alfredo from the deli at the end of our strip mall pantry site darts out of his restaurant to help us unload when he sees the white truck pull in. The stylists at the beauty salon next to Suite 101 greet us warmly and offer to cut our hair. The camaraderie we enjoy and the satisfaction of conveying healthy food to the community make the work a pleasure.
Donors to the pantry make this ministry possible! We are grateful for the generous contributions of our FUUSD community to this effort, including the volunteer work of so many, donations of in-kind items like diapers, food and even handmade baby quilts, and financial gifts. We also deeply appreciate the support and guidance of Rev. Omega and Rev. Justine, whose commitment and on-site involvement boost our morale and serve to deepen our relationships with South Bay community members.
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