A network of drive-through food pantries is popping up in Orange County to help feed people devastated financially by the pandemic and stay at home orders.
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One of those drive through food pantries is run by the Power of One Foundation, a non-profit that aims to fight hunger and poverty through food assistance.
This Saturday, they will be hosting a drive through food pantry at the MainPlace mall in Santa Ana from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Basically for the last 15 years we’ve been doing food distributions providing food to low income families and also the homeless. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, we saw that there was an even greater need for food assistance,” said Andre Roberson, the executive director of the Power of One Foundation.
“People have lost their jobs or they’re furloughed from their jobs. Besides the normal need that we have with families that just need food assistance.”
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County is also offering such services on Saturdays at the Honda Center from 9 a.m to 12 p.m. Last week Second Harvest served over 6,000 cars with shelf stable food, this week the non-profit is prepared to feed 7,000 cars.
Harald Herrmann, the CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, said it’s hard to say what the golden standard is for a drive through pantry.
“Probably their greatest variability would be traffic management. What are the surface streets like and what kind of support does each drive through food pantry have and how are our cars moving? I think that’s really what separates some from others. How long someone has to wait I guess would be the best indication,” Herrmann said.
Second Harvest notes the times cars enter lines and leave to monitor wait time.
Drive through pantries have increased the amount of food they are able to hand out because the number of people driving up for food increases since they first started to pop up in response to the pandemic.
“The first week, we were able to feed 3,000 families. The second week, we were able to feed 5,000. The third week, we were able to feed 5,000 families and prepared to feed more, but we had to shut the food distribution down because the site was just too small. The car demand was way over what we expected,” Roberson said.
Herrmann said the increase in demand every week is probably consistent across all drive through pantries.
“It’s really tied to the increases in unemployment that are taking place,” Herrmann said. That population continues to grow week over week. And until that plateaus, I would imagine demand will continue to rise.”
This week the Power of One Foundation is preparing to get through 5,000 cars. Last week they were also prepared to feed 5,000 families at Santa Ana College but could only service 2,234 cars because of traffic that stretched 10 miles long and forced them to close early.
Herrmann said a problem many drive through food pantries have are space and traffic.
“You really need these large parking fields and good access and open space and unfortunately that doesn’t work for many,” Herrmann said. “The reality is most pantries cannot just switch over to a drive thru because they just don’t have the facility to accommodate that use.”
The Power of One Foundation has held food distributions for years out of the Magnolia Science Academy. When the virus hit the County, that’s where they first started their drive through pantry.
Now the organization’s mobile food pantry will be moving to a larger location to address the overwhelming response to the need for food assistance. As the situation changes every week so does the location of the food bank.
“We’ve had to turn away people every week that we’ve been doing this because we go till we run out of food,” Roberson said. “We’ve answered by moving our locations, adding more distribution stations, adding more foods to the delivery service, so that we can cover more meals.”
“If there’s anybody in the community who is well off and can donate some resources, and donate financial support, that helps us buy boxes.”
He also said the nonprofit could use hand sanitizer, gloves and masks to keep volunteers safe as well as cardboard boxes and food containers.
The organization has gotten support from many including the community, Farm Fresh, the Orange County Food Bank, Northgate Markets, the Gaming Commission and Taqueria Guadalajara who are providing hot meals as people wait in the drive through lines that spill out to the street.
Roberson said the items inside the boxes of food handed out vary but include cans of vegetables, fruits, pasta, pasta sauce, rice, peanut butter, shelf stable milk, oatmeal and even produce. They are enough to feed a family of five for two to three weeks.
This week there will be whole chickens, fresh tomatoes, grapes, and watermelons.
Herrmann said Second Harvest will continue their drive through pantry at the Honda Center through May and will determine what happens in June in the weeks to come.
But will these drive through food pantries be sustainable?
“Our drive through last Saturday cost us $98,000. One day. We have to raise money to pay for that, that just doesn’t happen. And so when you reference sustainability, that’s going to tie back to the ability of any food bank, any food pantry, anybody that’s kind of brought this new construct to life to serve as a safety net,” Herrmann said.
Other drive through food pantries in the County include:
- Laguna Food Pantry
20652 Laguna Canyon Road Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Monday-Friday 8:00 am-10:30 am
- Yorba Linda Community Center
4501 Casa Loma Avenue Yorba Linda, CA 92886
Every Thursday 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.
- The Salvation Army Southern California
1515 West North Street Anaheim, CA 92801
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
10200 Pioneer Road Tustin, CA 92782
Tuesday-Thursday 1-4 p.m.
For more food assistance options visit 211 OC.
If you operate a drive through food pantry in Orange County and would like our newsroom to be aware of your efforts, reach out to Hosam Elattar at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.