Food Pantry celebrates 30 years of operations

15 year volunteer Eleanor Stahl fills bags for families at the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

One Santa Clarita organization is making sure no child goes to bed hungry.

The Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry is a community-based, volunteer-driven organization that distributes supplemental food to those less fortunate throughout the valley.  The Food Pantry serves families of all ages and demographics on the basis of income and need.

“Because we distribute year-round there always is a need,” said Belinda Crawford, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry since 2002.  “We have a very gracious community and so many people are very generous.”

As the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry approaches its 30th anniversary, it is experiencing an increase in need not seen before.  In July 2016, the Food Pantry served a total of 550 families and 1,300 individuals in unduplicated visits at its main site and axillary sites.

Overall, Crawford said the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry serves more than 3,000 unduplicated clients.

However, the organization serving thousands in the valley, once began as something much smaller.

History of the food pantry

Thirty years ago, community members experienced an increase concern for the number of hungry people in the Santa Clarita Valley and formed the Santa Clarita Valley Hunger Coalition.

From this coalition, the Food Pantry Formation Committee, including Hod and Mary Wadsworth and Rev. Lynn Jay of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and Sharon Rodes-Wickett of Santa Clarita United Methodist Church, established the non-profit organization in 1986.

Thirty-year volunteer Lana Clancey prepares food bags for clients in the reception area at the Santa Clarita Food pantry on Thursday.  Dan Watson/The Signal
Thirty-year volunteer Lana Clancey prepares food bags for clients in the reception area at the Santa Clarita Food pantry on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

According to the Food Pantry, on its first day of operations the organization distributed one item of cooking oil that was shared between two families.

As the number of clients grew so did the need for a larger facility.  The Food Pantry moved to its current location at Railroad Avenue in 1992.

In 2006, the organization developed the Senior Outreach Mobile Distribution Program to reach low-income senior citizens at seven unique locations.

According to Crawford, the needs of the Food Pantry have ebbed and flowed, but grown consistently, since its founding.

During the recession, when the nation’s unemployment rate doubled from 5 percent to 12 percent, the food pantry experienced a 117 percent increase in clients.

“In 2009 at the height of the economic downturn, we had 6,500 [families],”Crawford said.

Current operations and future plans

Currently, the Food Pantry delivers more than 2,500 pounds of food to more than 60 families each day.

It continues to serve families, seniors and children in the valley and distributes food on a need basis.  Every food and monetary donation to the Food Pantry stays in Santa Clarita to support the “neighbors helping neighbors’ mentality.”

“We do need the dollars because when we run low on specific items we can make sure the bags are well-rounded nutritionally,” Crawford said.  “We use those dollars to buy things like protein when needed.”

Crawford said the ongoing Food for Fines program with the Santa Clarita Public Library has also been successful for donations.

“We have received over $4,000 worth of food in the last three weeks,” she said.  “This program is a win-win because the library is getting books that they might not have… and we are getting more food.”

Crawford said the organization currently has three part-time paid employees, including herself, and about 120 volunteers.  She noted that the Pantry is in need of new volunteers.

“Right now we have a need for drivers and substitute drivers,” she said.

The Food Pantry also has a need for a larger space as their current 3,000-square-foot location is no longer adequate for the number of clients it serves.

“As the city grows, also those in need grow,” Crawford said.  “Even though the Santa Clarita Valley is a more affluent area, there are still pockets of poverty.  We mirror the stats of all of (county) District 5.”

Crawford said the organization needs a location double its size at 6,000-sqaure-feet so they can house everything in one central location.

When the Food Pantry does move, it plans on staying in the Canyon Country and Newhall areas near a bus stop.

“We want to be in a location that’s convenient for our clients and many of our clients take the bus service,” Crawford said.

Crawford noted that the organization is in the primary stages of a capital funding campaign to make this move and continue serving the growing needs of the Santa Clarita Valley community.

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