Category: Distributions

A Center for Hope: The Grange Hall in Atascadero

Every first Wednesday of the month, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., the Grange Hall in Atascadero, which is mostly a place for dancing sessions, is used for another purpose: to support those in need with healthy, nutritious food. Volunteers divide the available food items into individual boxes so it is easier for participants to receive their food – an action that inspired other food distribution sites to do the same. In addition to setting up tables and sorting the food that arrives in a Food Bank Coalition truck earlier in the morning, volunteers also deliver about half of the 60 food boxes to people who are not able to make their way to the Grange Hall.

One of the helpers that take care of these home deliveries is Blaze. He comes every month because he sees the need in the community and wants to do whatever he can to help out. As a volunteer and recipient, he is happy whenever he can receive a food box himself, but often decides to give his share to someone else who needs it more than him.

Two other volunteers, Bobbie and Duane, also belong to the giving and receiving end of the table. The couple lives in a mobile home park and is trying to get by on social security, but it is often not enough to cover all of their expenses. Without the food from the Food Bank Coalition, they wouldn’t have enough to eat. Even when Bobbie was still working as a waitress, they didn’t have much to get by. Sometimes, her paychecks came out to zero after insurance payments were taken out. Both of them made it their mission to volunteer after seeing how much it helped others in their family. Bobbie welcomes individuals as they walk in and assists them with signing in. Duane, who also works at a nearby food pantry during the week, helps with carrying the food boxes to people’s cars.

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Love and Laughter at the Community Church in Cayucos

Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 10:30 to 11:00 a.m., volunteers and recipients get together for our Public Neighborhood Distribution at the Community Church in Cayucos where they share laughter, meet new people and talk about current events. Many of the visitors come on a regular basis. That includes grown-ups like Connie as well as two-year old Isabella who snacks on raisins and apples while her mom fills their bags with food for the next few weeks. The distribution of produce and shelf-stable food items might be the main reason they all come together, but when one looks upon all the smiling faces, the food appears to be rather secondary.

“We all agree that we come here not just for the food but also to be around people and to catch up on whatever happened since we last saw each other. Sometimes new faces walk in and we get a chance to make new friends,” declares Connie who lives right across the street and walks to get here.

It quickly becomes clear that an amazing team of volunteers is responsible for making everyone look forward to coming here. Among them are Sina, Robin, Sarah, Marge, Maria, Judy, Terry and John, just to name a few. Their commitment to this distribution is what makes this experience so personal and comfortable for everyone involved. They often arrive as early as 9:00 a.m. to prepare everything inside the building. That includes setting up a long line of tables for people to walk by and pick the food items they want, arranging groups of chairs in the waiting area where recipients can sit and talk while they wait, and, most importantly, the positioning of a board with 100 small round key tags on top of the sign in table.

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The Human Side of Our Public Neighborhood Food Distributions

Every 3rd Tuesday of the month, residents of downtown SLO have the opportunity to visit our public Neighborhood Food Distribution at the senior center on Santa Rosa Street from 9:00 to 10:00am. In August 2019, I had a chance to visit and talk to both the volunteers and recipients.

Since the first individuals on site are usually our volunteers, Jerry and Mary were already setting up the tables and preparing produce bags when I arrived. Jerry, who has long been retired, has helped out in our warehouse before but prefers to lend a hand where food actually gets distributed to people struggling with hunger.

Mary, who works just down the street as an attorney, has been volunteering at this site for several years. She comes every month because it fits perfectly into her work schedule and because she enjoys supporting an organization with a great mission. From time to time, she also helps out in our warehouse during our monthly all-ages volunteer day with her 14-year old daughter.

As the clock slowly approached the full hour, a waiting line with about half a dozen individuals began to form. Among them were Paula* and Caroline*. Paula has, as she recalls, volunteered at Grace Church’s food pantry from 2010 to 2015, but is now at risk of hunger and grateful for everything she gets. Today, she is excited to hear that turkey breast and a whole chicken are included in the food bags that every visitor can take home.

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Public Food Distribution at 2nd Baptist Church in Paso Robles

All of our Public Neighborhood Food Distributions are well attended and received within each community. 2nd Baptist Church in Paso Robles is no exception. Every 1st Thursday of the month, people from all different walks of life make their way to the site between 9:00 and 10:00 am.

Of course, the volunteers always arrive long before the scheduled start time to set up the tables and food boxes that arrive with one of the Food Bank Coalition trucks. While some of the helpers volunteer for the church and others belong to the Promotores (Center for Family Strengthening), all of them are here because they enjoy serving their community. “Whenever the Food Bank Coalition provides food samples during a distribution, we get a chance to talk to the people and educate them about improving the nutrition of their children and their family,” says Yolanda Murillo, a volunteer from the Promotores.

Among the first recipients of the day is Sebastiana, a mother of three children. She tells us that she appreciates all the fruits and vegetables she gets because it helps her cook healthy meals for her family.

Next in line is William who is disabled because he got stabbed in his spinal cord in Honolulu when he was 21 years old. After raising three sons, he and his wife now survive on social security alone. For the past 12 years, he has helped out as a volunteer at the exact same site, but is now also grateful to be on the receiving end of the distribution. He only needs to come once a month because the food he picks up lasts a while for only two people. His favorite items are the bread and the great variety of vegetables.

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Senior Farmers Markets: Opening Access to Precious Produce

It’s always been a fair measure of a community to see how we care for our most vulnerable among us. Seniors all face a decline in some aspect of their independence as years go by.

For many seniors in San Luis Obispo County the advance of years can lead to a growing sense of isolation, especially among the home-bound.

Here’s where programs like the Food Bank Coalitions’s Senior Farmer’s Markets (SFM) can help create community within senior housing.

One goal of SFMs is to make available the fruits and vegetables which are recommended for keeping us healthy as we age. And for seniors living on a fixed income, eating healthy can actually present a financial hardship as they choose between covering basic needs like housing and healthier food which often costs more.

At eight sites around the county, SFMs connect low-income seniors with fresh fruits and vegetables in senior housing complexes.

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Our Teen Farmers Market Helps Feed Food Insecure Youth

Teen food insecurity is on the rise and threatening American youth and their well-being. According to a report by the Urban Institute research group in collaboration with Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger organization, an estimated 6.8 million youth between the ages of 10-17 years are facing food insecurity. Teenage years are vulnerable and critical in shaping an individual’s future. Being food insecure can have serious ramifications, especially on teenagers as they navigate their way into adulthood. Out of the 46,000 residents in San Luis Obispo who are struggling with hunger, 40% are children and teens.

Having a monthly Teen Farmers Market at the Lopez High School in Arroyo Grande is how we work to alleviate hunger for this extremely vulnerable population. Lopez High School is a continuation high school and is recognized for its programs that offer a safe environment for at-risk students to succeed. The school offers independent study programs to support pregnant and teen parents and even has on-site day care.

Every month, we hold a teen farmer’s market at the school where the students can choose various fruits and vegetables to take home with them. On January 18th, 2019 we distributed different fruits and vegetables, including oranges, pears, spinach, and radishes. We also had the chance to interview the students who shared recipes they try from the food they choose from the market. They also expressed how it helps them save a trip to the grocery store. To continue our efforts in providing convenience in healthy living for these teens, we hold nutrition education classes on various topics like eating healthy on a budget and many more. We also offer cooking classes to assist in developing important life skills. One of our former Dietetic Interns from Cal Poly, Alyssa Los, taught a class to young parents on infant nutrition which was very well-received and immensely appreciated. A former intern from Atascadero State Hospital Program, Emily Montemayor, held a classon “Eating the Rainbow”, which included a cooking activity.

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Nipomo Elementary Food Distribution

The food distribution at Nipomo Elementary is one of our most attended sites. Every second Tuesday of the month, from 4:00 to 6:00pm, a group of dedicated volunteers work to feed SLO County’s food insecure. Marla Eaton, Mary Anne Morgan, Janice Chagoya, and Rosemary Cleaves manage the distribution, and coordinate the approximately 50 volunteers that donate their time each month.

Their mission began years ago when they saw a need for a food distribution in San Luis Obispo’s South County; there were no other food distributions in the area at the time. Janice was working at Nipomo Elementary, along with a few other schools in the area. They knew an elementary school was a good place to start, as their main goal was to reach children and families in need. They started their first distribution at Nipomo Elementary over 7 years ago packing food for 96 households. Within the first two years numbers gradually reached a peak of 228 households.  As the Food Bank expanded, more distributions were established in the South County, easing some of the pressure on the Nipomo Elementary distribution.

The volunteers at Nipomo Elementary go above and beyond in their service to the community. While the distribution time is from 4:00 to 6:00pm, volunteers get there as early as 1:30pm to start preparations. A volunteer is always available to help participants walk food to their car. They make efforts towards sustainability, using donated, reusable bags at their distribution. Participants are encouraged to bring the bags back the next time they attend the distribution; the returned bags are then cleaned and packed the following month. They provide more than just food too; a local thrift store donates clothes that participants can choose from after they’ve picked up their food.

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Holiday Spirit in the California Valley

“Don’t forget our Christmas party on December 15,” shouts Nancy Glowski as another person walks away with a shopping cart full of food. Nancy, who has lived in this area off and on for the past 24 years, knows everyone personally. She got very well acquainted with being the reference person when she was running her own grocery store and restaurant. Now she volunteers for the SLO Food Bank and spreads information about the food distributions through word of mouth.

Twice a month, one of our warehouse workers drives 90 minutes to deliver food to this remote distribution site within a community of 300 people. Usually more than 50 of them show up to pick up the fresh produce, meat, bread and shelf-stable items. Not everybody can make it today, though. It’s December and many residents cannot drive on the streets that have been flooded with mud after recent rainfalls. But thanks to Nancy, they will still be able to receive the help they need. “This is a wonderful community, and I love everyone of them,” she says joyfully as she fills her car with food items that she will later deliver to her home-bound neighbors’ houses.

Two of the first people waiting in line are Richard and Carol with their dog Buddy. The couple first started to use this community support twenty years ago when they had just moved here from the bay area to live closer to her parents. Both of them remember that the initial distributions were held inside the library building. Nowadays the food is handed out next to Food Bank truck outside where Richard and Carol still thankfully accept their share. “The Food Bank has helped us tremendously over the years,” states Carol who always hopes for bread since she knows many dishes she can make with it. “We especially appreciate the support during the holidays because we are able to feed our whole family from the food we receive.”

A little while later, a young man with a radiant smile on his face appears. His name is Skylar and he is very excited to tell everyone about his big plans for the upcoming new year. “I want to become a fire fighter or police officer,” pronounces the 18-year old proudly who is already taking night classes to pursue his dreams. He was born in this area and has helped fight some of the local fires that have occurred recently, but his ambitions are spurring him on to go to Fresno, San Luis Obispo or Santa Maria. But for now, he has come here to supply his parents with healthier food options.

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From Nipomo to Texas and Beyond

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.

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