The Community Food Bank of San Benito County is roving around Hollister in its new Mobile Pantry van, stopping at scheduled locations four days each week to distribute food to those in need. The pantry is meant to restore choice to clients of the food bank, which both clients and food bank staff welcome.
The idea came to the food bank staff a few years ago, and it was supposed to be rolled out last year, but the plan was interrupted by the coronavirus. The virus also forced the food bank to stop allowing people a choice in the food they would take home from Friday- and Saturday-morning distributions. Currently, all clients must accept the same box of food prepared by volunteers and workers to minimize contact.
Food bank programs like the Wednesday Market and the Mobile Pantry, which began test runs on Feb. 10, restore some of that lost choice to its clients.
“It’s really empowering to give people a choice,” said community engagement director Sarah Nordwick. It also prevents waste since people don’t have to take anything they won’t eat. Selection includes seasonal produce, El Nopal tortillas, and greens from Taylor Farms.
“People are overwhelmed with having such a beautiful vehicle, having that ability for choice [since] we had to stop for COVID,” agreed Community Food Bank of San Benito County CEO Nancy Frusetta. “This is a beautiful experience.”
The pantry is intended to reach people who don’t have a car to go to the Food Bank, which is located at 1333 San Felipe Road, to receive food on Friday or Saturdays. These include people who are “homebound, seniors, the disabled, or otherwise without transportation,” Frusetta said.
The locations are chosen with reference to demographic data, drawn from statistics provided by the City of Hollister. The food bank is trying to work on the “big picture” with agencies, food banks, food growers, and nonprofits, but Frusetta said that it’s hard to predict how the project will expand.
The pantry will only make stops within Hollister, because of the Community Development Block Grant it received from the city.
The Food Bank ended pilot runs and set the Pantry’s permanent schedule two weeks ago, after evaluating the community response on each route.
“We’ve been getting pretty good turnout, and this is just on our test runs,” Frusetta said.
The Pantry does not report the information gathered from its clients, though the workers there do request food bank registration from clients, in order to keep numeric track of people served and food distributed.
“We’re really the ones that understand who is getting the food, who is not being reached,” Frusetta told Benitolink. The pantry is reporting 40-80 families served each day, which meets the Food Bank’s goal. “We hope it’s around 40 a stop, two stops a day.”
The fraction of the county which accepts food from the Food Bank grew from one in six families before the pandemic, to one in four families during it.
Sarah Nordwick said, “We’re also aware, on our stops, of homeless populations, so we include things that are easier to eat on the go.” These include peanut butter and jelly, Farmhouse Cafe soups, and other snacks.
A Mobile Pantry client, who asked just to be identified as “Martín,” praised the program. “It’s good for the community. It’s a small city, a small town.”
Overall, Nordwick said, “I think the biggest piece is, give people the power of choice. People are waiting when we pull up.” Frusetta said, “For us it’s a real step towards getting back to normal, with dignity in mind.”
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