Every Wednesday morning the indoor hall at the South Bay Community Center in Los Osos turns into a busy bee hive filled with color, laughter and good vibes. More than 20 volunteers from the non-profit People Helping People are buzzing around eagerly while setting up tables for boxes filled with food items. What looks at first glance like a wild hustle and bustle quickly emerges as a well-organized structure where everyone knows their place and their task.
Meanwhile, visitors are gathering at the back entrance where they are greeted with coffee and cookies. With the morning sun in their faces, people sit in chairs or lean casually against the railing while chitchatting with each other about their lives or the newest gossip from around town. The swarming from the inside does not seem to reach outside where the atmosphere is calm and serene – a rather rare sight at food distributions where people usually arrive early and wait in a straight line.
The reason for this comes thanks to a clever idea from the volunteer group. Instead of serving on a first-come, first-served basis, recipients receive a random number on a little piece of paper that marks their place in line. This takes away the rush and minimizes the stress. It does not matter if someone arrives half an hour or five minutes before the distribution starts, everyone’s chancesare equal.
» Read more about: People Helping People in Los Osos »
Our distributions stretch as far South as Nipomo where residents have a chance to receive food once every week. Every 3rd Tuesday, our food truck stops at Trader Joes in Arroyo Grande to pick up grocery rescues before heading to the distribution site at the Senior Center. Recipients are usually given a full produce bag plus a bag of nutritious shelf stable items as well as fresh bread.
While people are waiting patiently in line, one thing becomes clear: they all enjoy living here. “This is a wonderful community of people. We have friendly neighbors and everybody just gets along with everybody,” comments a retired couple who has just moved to the Central Coast from Fresno. They proudly announce that they can make the food from one distribution last up to 15 days.
Among others that showed up is Yolanda with her great-grandchild Larely whom she babysits during the week. She tells us that her granddaughter lives with her because the family can’t afford anything else. The food they receive from the distribution provides meals for days for the whole family.
Closer to the end of line we are greeted with inquisitive eyes from an older lady. She introduces herself as Shirley and eagerly notes, “Nipomo is such a nice little place. I lived in Los Angeles in my younger years, but there it’s rough and tough, here it’s quiet and peaceful.” Shirley further explains that she does not have enough money to buy food because she sends half of her retirement pay to her financially unstable sister in Texas. In order to take care of herself, she has been gladly accepting the support from usfor about one year now.
» Read more about: From Nipomo to Texas and Beyond »
The reasons that drives individuals to accept our help are as diverse as the food that we grow in California. Sometimes, hardships arise for a small period of time – maybe a few months to half a year, but more than often the financial struggle extends to many years and in worst cases has no end in sight.
David has been coming to our public food distribution at the Paso Robles Housing Authority at Oak Park for several years. Without a car he has to rely on other methods of transportation which in his case is public transit. “On good days, the bus rides takes me about one hour round trip, but if I miss a connection, it can take up to two,” explains the 51-year old who had to leave his job to take care of his parents. His mom passed away two years ago, so now he looks after his dad who is in a wheelchair. The food he receives twice a month at our distribution feeds both of them.
Like many others in SLO County, the financial support David and his father receive from social services is not enough to cover their food supply for the month. “Most of the time we get to a point where we have about a week or more left in the month, but no more money to buy food,” he points out. His eyes moisten as he recalls growing up on a ranch in Paso Robles. “My dad worked as a ranch manager, but when laws regarding cattle transport changed the operation and caused a shut down, he was out of a job. Now we live in a small studio on a second floor which is especially hard with a wheelchair. I hope we can move to the new complex soon that is being built here where they offered as a unit on the bottom floor.”
Since diabetes runs high in his family, David relies on a healthy diet and appreciates the Food Bank’s focus on nutritious food. When asked if he tries the recipes that we sometimes provide at distributions to show people what to cook with the food they receive, he smiles again and says, “Oh, all the time! I can’t think of a favorite dish, but the salsa once was great.” Another time, he remembers receiving an exotic root vegetable called Jicama. Since he did not know what to do with it, he just ate it raw.
» Read more about: 2 Hours by Bus to Food Distribution »
Four times per year at different locations through SLO County, the Mobile Assistance and Services Addressing Homelessness group, also known as MASH, organizes a resource fair where homeless residents of San Luis Obispo County can get help from community members.
Attendees are usually offered a hot meal, haircuts, flu shots, eye glasses and many other free services. At the Food Bank table, people can learn about our No-Cook Bags (NCB) and pick up a sample bag as well. We pack and distribute these bags specifically for the homeless population who do not have access to a kitchen. The NCBs are full of shelf-stable, nutritious foods that don’t require a can opener, heating, or prepping of any kind. While the bags’ contents can vary from distribution to distribution, common items are canned fruit, cereal & granola bars, beans, nuts and peanut butter. Especially the latter one is everyone’s favorite, and not just because of the taste. Peanuts are full of protein and mono-unsaturated fats that fill you up for longer.
During the last fair on August 8th, 2018, at the South County Regional Center in Arroyo Grande, we met Haylie and her best friend Lilly. “My grandma has been receiving food from the Food Bank for several years now. She does not have a lot of money left over to buy enough to eat, so she tries to go a distribution once or twice per month,” explains Haylie who also said that she likes to help her grandmother with cooking mealsfrom the food they receive.
» Read more about: No-Cook Bags for Haylie and Lilly »
Have you ever wondered what happens to your donations?
Or where we bring all those boxes you fill in our warehouse?
I’m sure you know that it provides urgently needed help to everyone at risk of food insecurity, but you are probably not aware of how much your support improves the lives of so many people in our community.
We want to change that with our stories!
Meet Joe for example, a retired science teacher with a masters degree in geology who has lived and worked in California for more than 20 years. If you ever find yourself volunteering at one of our food distributions in Paso Robles, he will greet you with curious eyes and engage you in a conversation about the fruits and vegetables on the table.
For the past three years, Joe has been relying on food from the Food Bank to fill his fridge. “Getting this support makes a big difference”, he told us as he reached for a ripe, yellow grapefruit. “I had to retire because chemicals I worked with burned my throat, but I cannot live from the $1,400 pension I receive now.”
He also shared with us that he lost his wife to Alzheimer two months ago. Her retirement pay was so little, that they would shop at our markets together, but now he shows up alone. Imagine the heartbreak on top of the financial struggle! But you would never be able to tell when seeing his lighthearted demeanor and contagious smile.
» Read more about: Meet Joe from Paso Robles »