Western Eagle Foundation’s food box program helps feed low-income families in Temecula Valley

Jamie Espinoza of Murrieta visits the Western Eagle Foundation (WEF) in Temecula once a week to get donated food, which helps feed her family. She and her husband have three young sons and live on a limited income due to illness. “My husband’s been really sick so we’ve been coming here to get groceries to get us by,” she said as she held her youngest son, Ashton, who is 9 months old. “Money’s really tight. The food from here is getting us through.”

For the past year, Espinoza has participated in WEF’s Food Box Program. For $20 she gets a box packed with rice, pasta, beans, baking mix, cereal, soup, juice, assorted canned goods, bread, milk, yogurt, cheese and fresh produce. Each box feeds a family of four for a week. Espinoza said all the food is good and her sons Alex, 7, and Anthony, 2, enjoy the fruit snacks they get. “It makes you feel good to be able to provide for your family,” she said. The last time she visited WEF she didn’t have $20 to pay for the food. So, she offered to work for it but she was told that wouldn’t be necessary.

“If you don’t have money, you’re still going to eat,” said Robert Sieja, WEF’s president and chief executive officer. He explained they ask people to pay $20 for the food so they can see its value and don’t feel like it’s charity. “It makes them feel like they’re getting a bargain and not a handout,” he said. WEF doesn’t require people to fill out applications and prove they’re low-income to receive food. They trust that the people seeking it actually need it. The Food Box Program aids approximately 400 families in the Temecula Valley each week. About 40 people a day visit WEF’s main warehouse on Diaz Road to get a box of food and Sieja estimates that 60 percent of them are Temecula residents.

The WEF began in 1991. Sieja said it was founded by an ex-pilot who flew mercy missions and air cargo to Mexico and South America and that’s how the organization got its name. In 1993, Sieja became WEF’s chairman and concentrated its efforts towards supplying food, clothing and personal hygiene products to the needy throughout Southern California and Mexico.

The organization operates out of a 25,000-square-foot warehouse that has a 2,400-square-foot freezer. In addition to its Food Box Program, it distributes food and goods each week to 120 nonprofit organizations so they can use them in their programs benefiting the needy. Most of the food and goods come from major warehouses in Los Angeles and were returned or discontinued items. Some items waiting to be distributed to groups such as the Salvation Army were canned soda, bottled water, potatoes, zucchini, mangoes, grapes, cantaloupes, potato chips and hair dye. Steve Johnson, a warehouse manager, joked that some people needed the hair dye as well as the other items.

Sieja, who was in the grocery business for 40 years, pointed to dozens of small rosemary plants resembling Christmas trees and said they would be distributed too. “Somebody overbought them, so we’ll give them to the groups today,” he said. It takes a lot of manual labor to load trucks with food and goods and Sieja said volunteers do it. The volunteers are in rehabilitation programs and come from Victory Outreach in Pomona and Free and Deed in Perris.

The organization doesn’t receive public funds and Sieja said it’s supported by its Bargain Store, which is located next to its warehouse. The store sells new merchandise, including clothes, furniture, health and beauty care, notions, linens and baby items. It also has a mini-mart where edibles like juice, chips and fancier food items are sold.

The WEF is located at 28075 Diaz Road and open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (951) 695-7206 for more information on the Food Box Program and the Bargain Store.

Other local organizations offering food to the needy

• Community Food Pantry of Murrieta: 40365 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd., #13, Murrieta — (951) 677-6347

• Temecula-Murrieta Community Pantry: 41910 Main St., Temecula — (951) 676-8022

• Menifee Valley Community Cupboard: 26808 Cherry Hills Blvd., Sun City — (951) 301-4414

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