The Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry’s mission statement has never been clearer than in the past several weeks as our nonprofit in the small building on Railroad Avenue in Newhall has confronted waves of challenges due to the health and economic crises.
With a mission of “addressing food insecurity in our community,” a core group of volunteers hasn’t missed a beat as they face every day an unprecedented situation with courage, kindness and humble caring for their neighbors who need a helping hand.
And with the help of many kind people who have donated food to us despite empty shelves at the market, as well as our wonderful grocery store partners who are still trying to give us what they can, we are being propped up by a community that cares. And we thank all of you.
Wave No. 1 hit us when the hoarders hit the grocery stores and bought up everything in sight. They bought up the stuff we really need — pasta, rice, beans, milk and meat. Food donations, which come largely from our grocery stores, plummeted by nearly 80%.
Wave No. 2 then came along when more than half of our 100 volunteers, many retired, couldn’t risk leaving the house to do their regular hours at the food pantry. Companies who send delegations of volunteers in normal times stopped that practice, too. This left our other regular volunteers to continue our operations. Some younger people in our community have come to our aid and this has been extremely valuable.
Wave No. 3 is now hitting as many clients coming to us are new. They’ve either never needed the services of a food pantry or haven’t needed us in many years. A few days ago, most of the 40 families who visited us were either new clients or homeless.
Last year, we fed nearly 25,000 people at the pantry. With the current economic crisis, we expect our numbers will increase.
We have changed our operations to deal with the challenges of decreased donations and social distancing guidelines. The pantry is open our normal hours serving clients five days a week. We are getting fresh produce and bread from our grocery stores, which is great, but we are lacking staples such as meat, pasta and rice and some hygiene products.
Our generous local grocery stores can only give us what they have left over from their inventory that customers haven’t purchased.
Just as critical as food donations is the need for volunteers. We have implemented all safety precautions for staff and volunteers. We are sanitizing throughout the day, throughout the building, and wearing masks and gloves as we stay as far apart from each other as possible. We are passing our clients their food through a door using a 6-foot-long table to the street. Six-foot markers have been placed on the sidewalk in the front of our building to help clients keep the recommended distance from each other. Because of our location on busy Railroad Avenue with little parking, drive-through pickup is not practical and some of our clients don’t have cars.
We need more volunteers to get us through. Crucial to our operation is the sorting of donated fresh food and produce. Time is of the essence with these products so they don’t spoil, and we need more people to accomplish this. This is done in the back of our building and exposure to others is minimal during the sorting.
Without our volunteers we would not be able to stay open during these trying times. And these are times when we are needed most.
We are extremely grateful to our core group of volunteers who have been coming in on a regular basis. Thank you, thank you. You are the best.
Thanks also to our hard-working part-time staffers Mario Sierra and James Espinoza. Your support is much appreciated.
Thanks so much to our local grocers who are still supplying us with the food they have. You are keeping us going with your donations. You are still there for us despite your own tremendous demand. We are also grateful for our partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. which helps us feed the hungry.
Thanks to everybody in the community who donates financially to us. We are very appreciative. We are grateful to all of you who are standing by us and our neighbors who need you more than ever.
Go to scvfoodpantry.org to make a donation or learn more.
Susan Caputo is executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry.