Church and non-profits in Orange County have been using food pantries to distribute food to people for years. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, they are stepping up those efforts as more people start to find themselves without an income.
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“Our church has been doing distribution for over 40 years and it’s so dear to our heart. When the crisis hit, we had a choice to either wait it out or actually run towards it and push through,” said Lambert Lo, who oversees community outreach at Vineyard Anaheim Church in a phone interview with the Voice of OC Thursday.
Before the pandemic, the church held two onsite pantries and three mobile ones. Since the pandemic they are distributing food everyday sometimes more than once at the church or one of their 8 offsite pantry locations.
“Everything here has exponentially grown. Our food intake but also our food output is the most in the history that we’ve been doing this. I think as the need grows, we’ll be here,” Lo said.
In partnership with the City of Anaheim, Vineyard Anaheim Church will host a mobile food pantry at Brookhurst Community Center from 1-3 p.m on Saturday and they deliver groceries to seniors in Anaheim on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The church holds drive through food distributions on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9-11 a.m. at the church. This week they served over 840 cars at their drive through pantries.
“You’re going to get a week’s worth of high quality groceries,” Lo said. “Everything that you would want at a grocery store, you’re going to find it. You’re going to leave with 100 to $200 worth of groceries, sometimes the car trunks are not big enough.”
Since the start of the pandemic various nonprofits and churches have started to offer drive through service to distribute food to the County as more and more people turn to unemployment because of business closures.
“It’s not as simple as just opening a drive through,” said Harald Herrmann, the CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County in an interview Tuesday.
Pantries need to account for safety, challenges and from a “food distribution standpoint there needs to be a real focus,” he added.
“I have witnessed a couple of distributions around the county that I would consider to not be the safest model with foods that require refrigeration that are being handed out, or food being stored on the ground and not up on pallets and including traffic management,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann said their weekly Saturday drive through pantries at the Honda Center only provide shelf stable foods and do not hand out meats or diaries for safety reasons. The pantry operates from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
People can get meat and dairy through the Vineyard Church Anaheim pantry.
“Everything that we give out in dairy and meat is frozen,” Lo said. “The food bank probably has different standards than we do.”
Herrmann said one of the other challenges food distributions face is fundraising.
“Whether you’re a church or an organization of some type and residents have been coming to you to pick up food, that’s one construct. It’s very different to then take that off premise into a parking lot.”
“That does require additional resources.”
Second Harvest food distribution costs about $100,000 a Saturday which the nonprofit works hard to raise to be able to sustain that model, Herrmann said.
“We have a budget to buy food but we didn’t budget Coronavirus,” Lo said. “The finances are a part of the equation but it doesn’t lead us we know that. There’s so much generosity out there and people are stepping up to give.”
Lo said that they believe God will provide and that businesses, organizations and schools will come together to help for the unexpected cost of expanding their food distribution efforts during the pandemic.
“That’s how we make up for whatever shortfall that we may have at this time or whatever we didn’t budget.”
This week the city of Costa Mesa adopted an emergency ordinance to waive permits for food distribution sites like drive through pantries and farmer markets to operate in vacant parking lots across the city for the extent of the local emergency.
This makes it easier for more pantries like these to open up in the city.
Herrmann said as long as the pantries are not too close to each other more food pantries would be a way “to move more food to those that are at risk and certainly in an appropriate manner.”
Lo said in a text message to Voice of OC that the church helping other organizations start new there own pantry.
For the church’s food distribution the pandemic has posed a different and unique situation for them, he said in the interview.
“It’s not one we want to keep having but every week we see the needs increasing. We’re seeing families that we’ve never seen before at the pantry come through because people are losing jobs every day,” Lo said.