Anza deals with COVID-19

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food pantry
The Anza Electric Cooperative’s FIND Mobile Pantry converts to a drive through food program due to new COVID-19 quarantine rules set forth by the county and the state. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

As the Anza Valley braces for the anticipated arrival of the novel coronavirus, residents prepare to respond to the crisis in a variety of ways. The small rural community is coming together to assist those that are isolated, food challenged or unable to acquire the necessities of life.

Amid the fear, uncertainty and unprecedented measures being put into place to stay the advancement of the virus, residents are rising to the challenge.

Russell Kitchen with the Soil Kitchen developed a plan to collect donated food and other supplies and have them picked up or delivered to those in need. Bentley Hunt has taken the reins of the project, directing people to contact her to request food or to donate goods.

“If anyone needs food, they contact me by messaging me at https://www.facebook.com/ssr.ranch.9, and I tell the guys at the Soil Kitchen who’s coming,” Hunt said.

So far, donations are keeping up with demand, she said.

The monthly FIND mobile food pantry at the Anza Electric Cooperative Saturday, March 14, was transformed from a walk-up event to a drive through opportunity. Though confusing, the program gave out about 11,000 pounds of food to a record number of participants.

To comply with county requirements regarding public safety, the Friends Uniting Neighbors group also turned their weekly food program into a drive through, with cars winding around the Anza Community Hall’s parking area and into the dirt lot next door.

State mandates have required that nonessential workers stay at home to reduce exposure and transmission of the disease. Many Anza residents are affected by the order.

“I am home working but life goes on,” Patrick Vesey, a senior business analyst at Abbott Vascular in Temecula, said.

He has been sharing cooking videos on social media to help inspire others isolated in their homes.

“I haven’t left my house in over a week,” Lake Riverside Estates resident Tia Osburn said. “I’m diabetic, but I also have asthma, upper respiratory distress disorder, kidney disease and heart disease. Most of that is from diabetes. I’m also a cancer survivor. It’s a very scary and dangerous time for me. If we need anything, such as meds, food or other supplies, my husband Rick goes to town. We have sanitizer right inside the front door. I’m not afraid to be sick. I’m not even afraid to die. I’m afraid to leave my kids behind.”

Many people in the Anza Valley are used to prepping for uncertain times and are better prepared than most to brave the storm.

“It’s not affecting me too much,” Cezanne Ryerson-Jodka said. “The only thing I’m having to get used to is working around the hoarders. I’ve probably used up a tank of fuel just driving around trying to find the groceries we need. The hoarders are the worst aspect of this whole situation. Selfishness and ignorance at its finest. My husband went to the grocery yesterday and noticed as he drove by Home Depot that the parking lot was jammed so I don’t think most people are taking this too seriously.”

With the schools being closed, families with students have had to totally rethink their routines.

“On a personal level, we’ve had to adjust our schedule a bit. Our three boys are essentially being home-schooled because of the school closures, so there have been some growing pains while we try to set up times for each of them to get on the computer to do their lessons. I’m also a full-time college student at MSJC working on getting my bachelor’s degree in business management, so I also have to try and find time to complete my schoolwork. On a positive note, I love having them home with me,” Jennifer Deiter said.

Essential businesses remain open in Anza, and the Anza Electric Cooperative is no exception. The office is closed, but the staff is up and running almost as usual.

“Everything has changed in such a short time. I am so lucky I work for Anza Electric,” Kelly Brenz said. “My job hasn’t been affected like my sister and brother who are effectively unemployed because they work for a restaurant and are trying to file for unemployment.”

The stay at home orders are wreaking havoc on the normally social town, limiting church gatherings and all scheduled spring events.

“We can’t attend church, but it is livestreaming services,” Bill Donahue said. “My wife Noel and I typically go out to eat on a date night once a week. That has stopped. Doing the food distribution through the F.U.N. Group has been challenging. The 10-person limit is unclear whether we are limited to 10 volunteers or like a grocery stores, exempt to function as normal. Our activity and involvement in other groups such Sage Town Hall Association have ground to a halt while everyone focuses on this pandemic. The Community Hall board is having most of their discussions over electronic media rather than in face to face meetings.”

Common Grounds has made drive up grocery shopping available in Anza, with phone orders being filled for necessities such as ground beef, butter, rice, chicken, eggs, beans, yeast and even commercial rolls of toilet paper. Residents are grateful for the opportunity to purchase these items locally, limiting their exposure to the disease by not having to travel to more populated areas.

The food cart and coffee shop has access to food vendors such as U.S. Foods that the general public does not, and they ordered supplies that are scarce in the stores at this time.

“If there is something else we can get, we’d be happy to check with our rep as long as there’s enough people to split a case,” owner Robyn Garrison said.

Mountain Sky Travel Center has gone above and beyond the prescribed measures set forth by the county, having staff continually disinfect gas pump handles, open doors for patrons and offer smiles to haggard shoppers. Six sanitizer stations are available outside and inside the store. The casino is closed, but the gas station and convenience store remain open.

“It’s an uncertain time for us, and we don’t know what the future will hold. But we’re doing our part to stay safe and healthy. I am optimistic that we’ll get through this, that important lessons are being learned and that we’ll come out of this even stronger than we were before this pandemic,” Deiter said.

For more information about COVID-19 and its local impact, visit the Riverside County Public Health Department at http://www.rivcoph.org/coronavirus.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.