By Chris Weber
OCEANSIDE — COVID-19 and its effects on the economy have left many thousands of families in San Diego hard pressed to put food on the table every day.
The San Diego Food Bank has been working with other nonprofit groups in the county to fill that need. During the month of June, the Food Bank extended an invitation to 500 food distribution groups in San Diego County to join their new “Super Pantry” program.
On July 1, the Food Bank awarded a one-time $20,000 grant to each of the 35 selected partner programs to help expand capacity at those centers. These grants were made possible by the many donors to the Food Bank’s COVID-19 Response Fund. The Food Bank expects that the grants will help the 35 centers to bolster their infrastructure with more refrigeration units, freezers, shelving, storage, and other necessary supplies. These improvements will allow the Super Pantries to stay open more hours and more days each week to serve more households, more safely, more efficiently, and more quickly.
Mission San Luis Rey Parish in Oceanside is one of the 35 food distribution centers that received the grant from the San Diego Food Bank. Angel Ibarra leads the parish’s Social Outreach Ministry. His core group of 20 volunteers includes teens and young adults from the parish youth groups, Friars from the Mission’s Franciscan community, and other members of the parish.
“What we do is provide the best possible care we can in the Spirit of St. Francis for those who are in need,” Ibarra said.
This tradition of social justice has been exemplified by the Brothers from the Province of St. Barbara in the Order of Friars Minor.
“Our Franciscan brothers have been very engaged in working with our volunteers and getting outside the church and into the public,” said Ibarra. “They pick up food from the Food Bank and work side by side with our volunteers serving our guests. Everyone is really growing in their understanding of the Franciscan value of service to the poor and creation.”
Ibarra reported that the number of volunteers that can help this ministry directly is only limited by the social distancing requirements applied to the relatively small size of their Loretto House headquarters on the parish grounds.
“One good thing about this grant has been we’ve been able to purchase more PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to keep our volunteers and guests safe,” he said. “We’ve also been able to upgrade our facilities and infrastructure. We bought a new freezer and a new refrigerator. That lets us provide fresh produce and frozen items. Our goal is to provide the most nutritious meals that we can, so this grant of funds has been a big help.”
Since the beginning of this health and financial crisis, the number of families receiving aid at Mission San Luis Rey Parish has increased rapidly. Before the massive furloughs from local businesses, the Social Outreach Ministry had served 187 households with 600 individuals in need. By May, those numbers had risen to 252 households and 1,027 individuals. Many of these families need support weekly, so such households are only counted once a month.
Thanks to the Food Bank grant, the program is now open one additional day a week, increasing the hours of service by 50 percent.