Poway Community Food Connection needs more volunteers to help those in need

People seek help from The Community Food Connection at Poway for a number of reasons.

Some have lost their jobs, according to Kim Rearick, who started a food pantry with her husband, Bill, in 2012. Others are seniors whose limited incomes have been increasingly pressured by inflation. Then there are single parents or multi-generational families who have joined together in a household to make ends meet. Others are homeless, living in their vehicles.

For 40 years Rancho Bernardo resident Caryn Cooper it’s been a combination of things – the difficulty of getting into a new position after a career as a dental assistant for orthodontists and the rising cost of food. To pay his bills, he does various jobs, such as walking dogs and handing out flyers for real estate agents.

“It’s hard to watch the prices go up,” Cooper said of his trips to the grocery store where he only buys the essentials. “It really helps. There’s a lot of variety, with sweets, bread, meat, fruits and vegetables.”

Cooper has been picking up pantry boxes about three times a week for the last two years and sharing its contents with his neighbors. Cooper’s box was among the 1,200 or so filled with food by volunteers and put into long lines of cars that winded through the Trinity Church parking lot and along Twin Peaks Street during distribution time.

Demand has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Now the food pantry needs more volunteers to meet the demand and continue to help thousands of people in the area, said Rearick.

The program has 140 volunteers but needs at least 10 more. Volunteers pick up food donated by the grocery store each day, sort the food in the facility behind Trinity Church, fill boxes to be distributed, and place them in vehicles during three designated pick-up times.

The food bank, which started in 2012 helps about 100 families once a month, now provides as many as 1,200 food boxes weekly to those in need.

“It’s just growing,” says Rearick, of Rancho Peñasquitos. “A pandemic is when the craze starts. Before we did 250 boxes per distribution, then we saw it going to 300 to 350. Now we’re 400 to 450.”

He attributes the need to two factors — people out of work during the pandemic and recent inflation.

“It’s too high to go out and buy groceries,” says Rearick. “If we can provide all the food they need, their income can be used for rent and utilities.”

An example of a pantry box before dairy, meat, and other refrigerated foods is included.

An example of a pantry box before dairy, meat, and other refrigerated foods is included.

(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

Cooper said he was happy with the variety and what was provided.

“(The food) comes from all the major stores and it’s still delicious,” Cooper said. “It may not have a very long shelf life, but I do what I can to use it (quickly).”

The food bank received several turkeys recently and Cooper was first in line, so he brought one home. Cooper said he would give him meat for a few days.

Boden Quiner volunteers bring food to vehicles at The Community Food Connection.

Boden Quiner volunteers bring food to vehicles at The Community Food Connection.

(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

Poway resident Carlos Leon said he had been coming to the food bank for about a year. He was laid off when his employer reduced the workforce, he said, and he and his wife needed help.

“It’s really good and a complete complement to us,” says Leon about picking up a pantry box once or twice a week.

Starting a food distribution program was the idea of ​​Reverend Bob Maddux, founding pastor of Trinity Church.

“He had a vision, he wanted to feed the people here and he wanted to do more on a larger scale,” Rearick said.

Maddux approached the Rearicks, who were members of his church, in 2012, asking if they would help with the project. Initially 10 church members volunteered.

“We don’t know what God has planned,” Rearick said. “Take off late 2019, early 2020. Donations have increased because of the pandemic.”

He said the church helps cover expenses such as the rent on the building where his food is stored and utilities. With the pandemic, grants are available to food banks, so they can get industrial-style fridges and freezers to replace the old household fridges they find for sale on Craigslist.

One of the fridges is stocked with donated food from a local shop.

One of the fridges is stocked with donated food from a local shop.

(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

When it started, food was provided by the San Diego Food Bank to those enrolled in the federal government’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP).

“(Recipients) will come to church, sit down and… volunteers will get what they need,” Rearick said.

Some time later, Feeding San Diego named The Community Food Connection as one of its partners, which qualified Poway’s food bank for grocery pick-up. Stores are donating too much food, it’s close to expiration or the packaging is damaged and can’t be sold.

Foods can vary from fresh, prepackaged items that require refrigeration such as pre-made salads and sandwiches, to produce, non-perishable boxed and canned goods, frozen goods, meats, dairy products, eggs and baked goods. Some items are seasonal, such as holiday candy.

Volunteers used their own vehicles to pick up from 25 stores throughout North County, including Vons, Albertsons, Sprouts, Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and Costco.

“We earn thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds a week,” said Rearick.

They received so much that the program is considering buying a few more warehouses for site expansion.

“We’re running out of space to store all the food,” Rearick said. “But we also need volunteers to accommodate that. … There has been a tremendous growth spurt.”

Saber Springs resident Jeannie Lowrance has been volunteering for three years. He started just weeks before the pandemic, replacing a friend who was volunteering but had to quit with a broken leg.

“He asked if I wanted to help,” Lowrance said. Then the pandemic started and for six months Lowrance had plenty of free time, so he volunteered three times a week. Now he has cut back to the weekly and is leading the insider on Friday. He oversees up to half a dozen volunteers filling food boxes.

“I feel it is a good use of my time, I am close and really help the community,” he said.

Scripps Ranch resident Lakshmi Mullaguru started volunteering last year. He filled the food box.

“I was looking for a place to volunteer and loved coming here,” says Mullaguru. “It is a beautiful place. … Everyone here is amazing and very kind.

Boden Quiner, Alex Christensen, Mariah Carnagie, and Ellie Strong volunteer weekly as part of their missionary work.

Boden Quiner, Alex Christensen, Mariah Carnagie, and Ellie Strong of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteer weekly as part of their missionary work.

(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

A team of young adults doing their two-year mission work through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also among the weekly volunteers. Boden Quiner from Alaska, Alex Christensen and Ellie Strong from Utah, and Mariah Carnagie from Oklahoma helped by loading food boxes into the vehicle.

“I love the volunteers,” says Quiner. “It’s great to know these people and it’s great to see the people coming.”

“I met so many different people coming through,” says Strong.

Volunteers Lisa Helm and Constant Wilson screened those seeking food assistance Friday at The Community Food Connection.

Volunteers Lisa Helm and Constant Wilson screened those seeking food assistance Friday at The Community Food Connection in Poway.

(Elizabeth Marie Himchak)

Poway resident Lisa Helm says she started volunteering about 18 months ago and is now board secretary and treasurer.

“I was looking for a way to serve God by serving His people,” said Helm.

Recipients find out about food banks through various methods. Someone called 211 looking for a food bank. Others are enrolled in the federal government’s emergency food program, have heard of The Community Food Connection through other agencies, seen media news coverage or heard it through word of mouth.

There are two different food distribution programs. Those on EFAP must present a card showing they are eligible to receive food through a federal government program at the start of each month. These include milk, meat, other sources of protein such as peanut butter and items such as canned goods and tortillas. The amount received depends on the number of people in the household.

This recipient and all others who need help also receive a pantry box — a box filled with food donated by stores and members of the public. Each pantry box contains an assortment of items, including fresh food and produce, meat, canned goods, baked goods, and anything else that’s donated. Sometimes dog food, cat food and baby formula are available upon request.

Pantry box recipients are first given a form to fill out and return the next time they come for distribution. That way they can be included in the system for planning purposes.

Because the community didn’t need to mention what day they would come to pick up the boxes, said Helm, the volunteers estimated how many boxes to prepare. They almost always make enough.

“We don’t reject anyone,” said Helm. “We rarely run out, but even if it’s close, we give them something.”

Those interested in volunteering at The Community Food Connection must be at least 16 years of age. If doing food pickup they must be able to lift 40 pounds, use their own vehicle and it must be large enough, such as a truck, van or SUV. Volunteers can choose their shifts.

To register as a volunteer, email [email protected] or call 858-751-4613.

Food distribution occurs between 3pm and 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays behind Trinity Church, 14047 Twin Peaks Road, Building C in Poway. Recipients have been known to queue an hour or more before distribution begins. For details, visit TheCommunityFoodConnection.com.

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