By Nina Douglass, South Bay Food Pantry Volunteer
The parking lot of 907 Broadway is like that of any other Chula Vista strip mall on weekdays. On Saturdays, however, the lot is transformed by hundreds of South Bay Food Pantry volunteers and clients. Volunteers arrive by 8am to receive and stage hundreds of pounds of canned and other dry goods, fresh produce and Starbucks bakery items from the big Feeding San Diego truck. By then, many pantry guests are already waiting for the 9am distribution of numbers which serve to organize the line-up for the 11am - 12:30pm food distribution. The few trees at the site provide welcome shade for people waiting to collect their food.
For volunteers, these are mornings of intensive physical activity and spontaneous collaboration and problem-solving. Our group is diverse, including FUUSD Hillcrest and South Bay congregants, children and ministers, neighborhood volunteers recruited via social media, and client volunteers, some of whom live in tents, cars and overcrowded apartments near the pantry. Some of the mall’s small business owners are clients, as well, who pitch in to help as they are able while juggling their own clients.
Our Saturday food distribution (and Sunday diaper distribution) would not be possible without the additional, behind-the-scenes weekday and evening work of many other volunteers. They prepare dried goods for distribution, spend hours obtaining, transporting and unloading food from the Food Bank, engage in retail food rescue, visit the pantry to monitor and document refrigerator and freezer temperatures, interface with our partners at the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego, write grants, keep statistics, coordinate volunteers, troubleshoot faulty equipment and more.
Gestures of gratitude and appreciation from clients are frequent and heartfelt. Their gifts are deeply meaningful. Weekly, we receive warm, homemade burritos from one grateful client and large trays of hot, homemade Chinese food from another. After complimenting a woman on her beautiful embroidered blouse, she arrived to the pantry the following week with one for me. Pantry clients tell us about their challenges and about the positive impact the goods we provide have for them. We get some compliments, as well as suggestions for improving the operation. We have come to know many of our clients, and to appreciate their situations.
One client, a gentle man with a serious illness who is oxygen dependent, arrives most weeks with his assistant. He sits under a canopy for the duration of distribution, greeting and orienting new clients and providing masks for those who need them. We never know if he will stay well enough to be able to return the next week, but we know that he, like us, finds mutuality and joy in this work in community with others, and in offering what we can.
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