Latino Health Access is seeing increased demand while funding runs thin ahead of the incoming food cliff, like many other community organizations throughout California.
It comes as additional federal food benefits are expected to dry up by the end of March – something food bank officials throughout the Golden State warn will lead to a cliff, leaving millions of Californians without enough food.
The Santa Ana-based nonprofit Latino Health Access, which is also aimed at helping people secure health care and addressing quality of life issues, has been regularly distributing food to roughly 1,200 people a week – with lines sometimes stretching through Downtown.
And they’re unsure how much longer they can keep their weekly food distributions alive without additional funding.
These distributions have helped ensure that mothers like Maria, a recent immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico, have enough food to eat every week and have also provided diapers for their children every month.
“I asked around the community where I could get help with resources for food, I was directed here,” she told a reporter at last week’s Latino Health Access distribution.
Leaders of the nonprofit say they’re caught in a pincer: they are wrestling with the pressure of an expected food cliff while they look for additional funding and donations to keep their efforts alive.
Across California, food bank leaders warn that record inflation coupled with an expected end of temporarily increased COVID CalFresh benefits – food assistance for millions of low-income families – will drive an already elevated need for food even higher.
[Read: Millions of Californians Are About to Lose COVID Food Benefits; OC Braces for ‘Food Cliff’]
Ahead of the food cliff, Latino Health Access leaders worry their efforts will collapse without additional funding.
Rosalia Vargas, the coordinator for the food distribution, said in Spanish on Friday that they are looking for ways to keep those efforts alive.
“Our organization needs more patronage to sustain these programs. We need grants to sustain our employees,” she said. “We need more support to keep doing this. It’s hard to keep this going without money.”
The community group – based in the heart of Downtown Santa Ana – stepped up not only to vaccinate residents amid the pandemic and bring down COVID death rates, but increased their efforts to feed people, scaling up the size of their food distributions.
Every week, they hand out on average 600 food boxes benefiting about 1,200 people, according to Maria Cervantes, a spokesperson for the organization.
Cervantes said in a Tuesday email that they’ve fed roughly 50,000 people between 2020 and 2022.
“During the last couple of weeks, the food distribution lines have grown, and we have run out of food one hour before our closing. We have about 80 to 100 new people arriving at our food distribution every week. With food prices increasing, we see a wave of people arriving at our food distribution,” she wrote.
Beyond their efforts to feed people, Latino Health Access was part of critical efforts in closing the COVID-19 vaccination gap the Latino community faced by distributing the shots to tens of thousands of residents in a city hit hard by the virus.
[Read: Community Efforts to Bring COVID Vaccines to OC’s Hardest Hit Neighborhoods Are Paying Off]
For those in need of the food, the group hosts a weekly distribution on Fridays from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. at their office in Santa Ana.
Rubi Gonzalez, facilities director at Latino Health Access, said at their distribution last Friday that they may see an increase of people coming to their weekly drives with the end of the emergency allotment of CalFresh benefits quickly approaching.
“We’re trying to make sure we get enough food for the people who are coming,” Gonzalez said. “You got to look for other resources to provide food for the community.”
The additional CalFresh food assistance funds are expected to run out by the end of March.
As Gonzalez spoke to a reporter, lines of people from all kinds of backgrounds coming for food stretched around the parking lot.
Many of the people in line were seniors.
Local Food Pantries & Banks Are Stretching Thin
Earlier this month, Santa Ana officials voted to spend half a million dollars out of their $128 million they received in federal COVID bailout dollars on weekly food distributions across the city over the next year.
The money will go towards two community groups: the Seva Collective, who have been on the ground since the start of the pandemic handing out food, and the Delhi Center, which received federal bailout dollars last year through the city to support their efforts to feed people.
[Read: Santa Ana to Consider Weekly Food Drives as OC Approaches a Hunger Cliff]
Last year, Latino Health Access also received federal COVID dollars through Santa Ana to distribute food to people in the community.
Like the millions of families throughout the Golden State, that additional funding source is coming to an end in March, Vargas said.
She said Latino Health Access relies on the local food banks and without the additional money coming in from federal and state governments, along with philanthropists, community groups like hers won’t be able to get food to families in need.
“The people who are going to be the most affected are the ones with the least resources,” Vargas said.
Since 2021, food bank leaders have been warning that the financial support they received from government and private donations at the start of the pandemic has been dwindling.
The efforts of food banks and Latino Health Access have been aided not just by money but by volunteers, many of whom are from Santa Ana looking to give back to a community they love and some of whom have received help themselves.
Volunteers are offered incentives that include receiving a letter of recommendation from the community organization for job hunters.
To volunteer with Latino Health Access, email Brenda Cervantes, the group’s Volunteer and Community Relations associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Some of The Volunteers Feeding The Community
One of those volunteers is Eva Jacobo, a 16-year resident of Santa Ana and a single mother of two. She says she’s trying to set an example for her kids by volunteering with Latino Health Access.
“It is important to set this example,” she said in Spanish on Friday while helping prepare boxes. “Values are learned first at home.”
Jacobo’s oldest son seems to be following his mom’s lead.
She said he is a local teacher in Santa Ana who also volunteers to support his community.
“He tells me ‘this is my community and my community needs help,’” she said.
Liliana Mendoza, a mother who has volunteered for two months at the distribution, echoes Jacobo’s sentiments.
“It is important for the young ones to see us help out,” she remarked, adding she hopes her three daughters will come help too.
“I like to help. In the past I used to receive help and I want to help too. I feel good helping,” Mendoza said.
She’s not alone.
Fidel Perez, a 50 year Santa Ana resident, has been helping out with the distributions for about four months and echoed Mendoza’s sentiments.
“I see people need support,” said the father of four in Spanish. “It relaxes me being here.”
Even after facing medical challenges that Perez said stopped him from working his old job, he is out there every week giving back to the community.
“I know the word of God and that is to help each other and care for each other.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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