The Community FoodBank of San Benito has seen a drastic rise in its number of clients since last March, and has had to adapt its practices to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Sarah Nordwick, community outreach director, “the need has tripled.”
In a normal month before the coronavirus, the food bank would pass out approximately 6,000 bags of food each month.
“During the pandemic, the numbers over the last couple months have been a reach of over 16,000 [bags],” said Nordwick, who estimates that most families visit the food bank four times per month. “So we have worked really hard to step up, to obtain more food, to make sure we are meeting that need.”
The Community FoodBank of San Benito, located at 1133 San Felipe Road in Hollister, collaborates regularly with local school districts, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County, and the Food Bank for Monterey County. Looking at data from these food banks, and extrapolating data from San Benito County, led Nordwick to estimate that the 17% of San Benito County residents who were “food insecure” before the pandemic has now risen to 25%.
Though she said the cause of that increase could be attributed to the stay-at-home orders, it’s hard to say exactly what the cause is, “other than the obvious loss of jobs or work hours.”
New clients are mostly people coming to the food bank for the first time. “It might be a family that lived very comfortably before, and has come upon a hard time and just need that extra help to get back on their feet,” Nordwick said. “We’ve seen a bigger influx of younger families, families with younger kids, that never were before.”
Food recipients can register over the phone, and while they need to be San Benito County residents in order to get assistance, if they cannot provide an address the food bank will take them at their word.
“We’re going to assume that if they’re coming to us, they’re hungry,” Nordwick said.
Volunteer Ruby Rivas, a student at San Benito High School, noted the mix of clients: “Sometimes there’s people who don’t have cars” in line for food. “It’s cool to see that you’re helping them.”
Warehouse Manager Victor Alarcon has been one of Community FoodBank’s nine paid employees since 2015. “I had other jobs, [where] I used to dread going to work,” he told BenitoLink. “But this place, seriously, I wake up in the morning and boom, I’m already thinking about it.” He said that even though “a lot of people are tired, they’re loving the feeling of, ‘Hey, we helped out a lot of people.’”
Volunteer Ann Griffin agreed. “As a teacher I was really busy teaching, and I wanted to do community service, but it seemed like I never had much time for that. So it means a lot to me now to have the time to be able to do community service, to give back and help others.”
Four National Guardsmen, including Supply Specialist Carlos Lopez and Private Isabel Carrillo, have helped out at the food bank since they were deployed earlier this year. They expect to be in the county through March.
Lopez said that he had “always been a volunteer. In my community I volunteered at the youth programs, so I’m used to helping out.” Carrillo told BenitoLink that “it’s been very welcoming. This community needs us. It’s a nice town to help.”
The food bank relies on the services of 36 volunteers every week, and while it doesn’t particularly need more help right now, Nordwick said “we always have a call out for volunteers.”
Nordwick said that the food bank has been “getting creative with different ways to get food out: doing our pop-up marketplaces, having a number where people can leave a message if they need emergency food during our off-hours,” and reopening the “agency store,” where 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations like the Salvation Army, Migrant & Alternative Education, Chamberlain’s Youth Services and Emmaus House can pick up food for their own clients. The food bank is also partnering with the city of Hollister to prepare a new “Mobile Pantry” program to reach clients who can’t drive out to San Felipe Road to get the food they need.
Nordwick said she’s proud of how the food bank has handled the pandemic.
“We’ve had no outbreak here and our goal is to keep it that way, because we can’t shut down,” she said. “People need us.”
BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.