From South Bay Food Pantry Founder to Pantry Coordinator Emeritus: Appreciating the Contributions of Maureen McNair
By Nina Douglass
Maureen McNair’s imminent departure to her new home in Northern CA is a seismic event for FUUSD South Bay Food Pantry volunteers and the many clients who have come to know her. As Deirdre Lonergan notes, “Maureen has been a “FORCE of NATURE because of the massive and persistent energy it took to build this community...” While the pantry teams will grapple - and perhaps fumble at times - as we adjust to Maureen’s transition, her remarkable leadership and legacy will continue to inspire us.
When my husband Jeff and I began attending South Bay services in 2019, Maureen welcomed us warmly and helped ease us into the congregation by introducing us to others. She also shared with us her experience of encountering hunger among students she had taught in the local schools, and her vision of addressing area food insecurity by creating a small food pantry at the church. Before long, we were attending food handler trainings and joining other FUUSD members to discuss how to best apply our Unitarian Universalist values to working with pantry clients. Jenner Daelyn provided guidance and even a video based on her own deep experience in addressing food insecurity.
Committed to providing pantry clients with a variety of high quality foods, Maureen searched out and collaborated with multiple agencies to source food, all of which have complex policies, regulations and practices. She developed relationships with The San Diego Food Bank, Feeding San Diego, I Love to Glean and other food and community support programs. Maureen has been dedicated to meeting diverse needs and circumstances of local clients by creating programing for unhoused people, church families lacking transportation, and people challenged by the high costs of diapers and period products. Maureen recognized the need to establish strong relationships with the owner/operators of the small businesses in the strip mall where the pantry operates, and with the property manager, whose collaboration has been vital to its success.
With the onset of the Covid pandemic, many volunteers (including Jeff and me) retreated from pantry work in order to quarantine. Despite her own vulnerability to the virus, Maureen decided to continue operating the pantry, helped by a dedicated handful of volunteers. Says Sara Ferguson, “As a pantry volunteer, I always felt safe because she was on top of every COVID policy change. We went from wiping every surface with disinfectant and wearing a mask, any mask, to face shields, to K95s. She made sure we had air filters and extra masks for the clients. When vaccines came out, she made sure any pantry volunteer who wanted one could get an early place in line as an 'essential worker.' Her flexibility and care for the people at the pantry has been remarkable.”
South Bay families have been disproportionately impacted by illness and death during the pandemic. Many found themselves designated “essential workers” during the pandemic, putting them at higher risk, while others lost their jobs or could not work for other reasons. As their food insecurity rose, the number of families seeking pantry assistance grew rapidly. To accommodate the increased need, additional food was sourced and increasingly staged and distributed from the temporarily unutilized worship and social spaces of the South Bay campus. By early 2022, the pantry had been serving over 250 households each Saturday, in addition to diaper distribution on Sunday mornings.
In recent months, Maureen has worked with pantry volunteers and church staff and leaders to transfer pantry storage and operations out of the church spaces and into an adjacent suite, leaving the church spaces ready for resumed gatherings when full reopening is advisable.
Pantry volunteers have been reflecting on Maureen’s work, impact, and legacy. “I'm truly amazed and honored to be entrusted with some pantry responsibilities as life takes her elsewhere and I hope to live up to her example,” wrote Deirdre Lonergan. “My son (who is much smarter than me on this) pointed out: ‘goes to show you, Mom: Maureen is always right.’” Says Peggy Holl, “She did an amazing job of organizing the pantry, getting grants and making it what it is today. She and John picked up 2,000 lbs. of spinach one Friday afternoon to distribute on Saturday, and shared it with other pantries. She always thanked us for our service, whatever it was, and was open to suggestions about pantry improvements.” Sara Ferguson recalls that Maureen “handcrafted ornaments for all the volunteers two years in a row. One year she made hand knitted vegetables. Her hand knitted peppers are the pride of my Christmas tree.”
Lety Reyes, a community-based volunteer, offers this tribute to Maureen:
M= Mindful of other's needs
A= Appreciates everyones help
U= Unconditional LOVE
R= Reliable (gets things done)
Maureen’s work has truly exemplified the mission statement of FUUSD, helping us all to “act on our values to help heal the world.” We thank her for this precious gift to FUUSD.
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