Category: Agency Partners

No-Cook Bags – Connecting People Without Shelter to Life Changing Resources

Executive Director Janna Nichols of the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition is one of the visionaries of the No-Cook Bags that we are able to offer to agencies who serve those without shelter.

Janna works every day with clients who are disadvantaged and sees how No-Cook Bags have become one of the most innovative and effective ways to engage clients at her agency. “No-Cook Bags,” she said, “have become a vehicle for us to have life changing conversations.”

Janna reached out to us in 2017, to describe the need and scope of an issue that had become critical. Our standard distributions provided food that had to be stored, kept cold, and prepped on a stove. Although made with the best intentions, these distributions excluded clients who did not have shelter or who otherwise lacked access to a kitchen. Our staff studied in-house resources that could be directed to this effort and secured funding for a pilot program.

Their effectiveness and utility were soon apparent and the No-Cook Bag program has quickly expanded to serve all of San Luis Obispo County.

Volunteers prepare bags at our warehouse that include purchased food and grocery rescue items such as canned protein with pull top lids. Peanut butter and other proteins are frequently included, along with additional snacks and hydration. A No-Cook Bag provides on average, four meals and two snacks, enough food for about a day and a half.

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Community Dinner Served on Mondays

“We have never missed a night,” proclaims main coordinator Linda Fidell proudly while her team is setting up tables for another community meal on a Monday night. “No matter if it’s Christmas or New Year’s Eve* – we are here and serve dinner to the hungry!”

For more than five years, the Morro Bay Lion’s Club and 6 other non-profits have cooked meals for everyone in need, and have since then served over 17,500 guests. What initially started as an undertaking by caring people to feed the homeless population in Lila Keiser Park, has evolved into a well-established tradition at the Morro Bay Veteran’s Hall.

“Our clients now come from very interesting demographic backgrounds. Most of them are not homeless, but belong to the working poor, are seniors or individuals that live in their cars or on boats,” explains volunteer Ray McKelvey.

On some nights, they get over 100 guests. Tonight, the star item on the buffet is lamb that has been donated to the SLO Food Bank during the California Mid-State Fair and then distributed to agency partners. Linda’s husband cooked it after a special recipe with herbs and spices that he learned from his mother in Egypt.

Considering the amount of people attending the dinner, the atmosphere in the hall is surprisingly serene and calm with a hint of peace and warmth in the air. Tables on the other side of the room are stacked up with community donations (clothing, toiletries, dog food among others) and shelf-stable items that the SLO Food Bank provides. Guests are able to take home whatever they need. In the back corner of the room a man named Freddy Gleason plays the piano. People are chatting quietly. Many of them come back every Monday, not just for the food, but also to see their friends and enjoy some camaraderie.

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A Day with Atascadero Loaves & Fishes

Atascadero Loaves and Fishes, also known as ALF, is an inspiring example of the powerful impact a highly organized non-profit agency with hard-working volunteers can have in its community – and that for more than 30 years!

The most essential part is ALF’s food pantry which holds groceries and other household items that volunteers give out to those in need from Atascadero, Templeton, Santa Margarita, Creston and the California Valley.

However, the influence of this rather inconspicuously looking facility goes way beyond just the distribution of food. The team of committed volunteers has created an extensive support network whose remarkable impact shows not only in the well-established day-to-day flow but also in the trusted connections with their clients.

Every person who walks through the door gets a chance to talk to a volunteer in a private setting to express personal concerns or special requests. “This interview was put in place to benefit our clients. We update their financial and family information, make notes on their disability or veteran status and simply ask how they are doing. Anything we know that might help them, we try to share,” said Kathleen Aragon who has been working with ALF for five years. She was originally asked to volunteer due to her bilingual skills and has since then become an integral part in taking care of the daily visitors. She continued to explain in more detail, “We tell them about locations to get a free, hot meal or a free shower close to their home. We hand out vouchers for clothing, including items for children and job interviews, that can be used at nearby thrift stores. We also have vouchers for propane. People over 60 get information about the senior nutrition education at the senior centers. We make them aware of additional food distributions that are operated by the SLO Food Bank. We also inform them about places that offer free flu shots. If someone is looking for housing and job opportunities, we connect them to the ECHO shelter. And we also remind them to call 211 whenever they need support.”

It is exactly this mindset of combining efforts that successfully connects people to all the resources that their community makes available for them in timesof need.

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People Helping People in Los Osos

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.

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