Area food pantries needing nonperishable foods for distribution to families impacted by COVID-19

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Western Eagle Foundation
Jose Cueva, a volunteer at Western Eagle Foundation in Temecula, selects produce to fill a box of food items for sale at $15 a box. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

The coronavirus has changed the way southwest Riverside County food pantries distribute food to their families.

The demand for food at the food pantries continue to rise as stay at home orders from the Riverside County public health agency reaches into a second month.

While some community pantry shelves are still stocked, the number of volunteers to help pack boxes of food and hand them out to the lines of people in cars has been decreasing. Other pantries also said their storage shelves are beginning to empty because of an increasing demand.

Steve Johnson, longtime warehouse manager of the Western Eagle Foundation, explained the changes to food pantry distribution brought on by the pandemic.

“We’ve been blessed with an abundance of food,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Monday, April 20.

He said the Western Eagle warehouse at 40940 County Center Drive serves almost 25 nonprofit organizations, food pantries and food banks across the three-county area with perishable and nonperishable foods.

He said the warehouse has all of its 100 pallets filled with food waiting to be distributed. His workers and volunteers have been filling up 1,000 to 1,200 boxes of food every week as compared 600 or 700 before the pandemic. The full boxes are sold for $15 each to anyone who needs them. Every Thursday dozens of trucks from the nonprofit food banks and charitable groups pick up the boxes for distribution to their clients in need.

“They are really big boxes of food,” he said.

They contain meat, dairy products and many staples to feed a family for some time.

“There is no question about it. We are meeting their needs. But we don’t know how long it will last,” he said.

He said many of the local food banks are having a problem finding enough volunteers to hand out the packed boxes to the hundreds of waiting families who must wait in their cars and trucks wearing masks and maintain social distancing.

“It used to be the food bank volunteers came from the able-bodied 60 or older crowd, but now they are afraid to leave their homes because of the virus,” Johnson said.

Other major Riverside County food banks are facing similar food and volunteer help shortages.

The Hope Food Pantry at 506 Minthorn St. in Lake Elsinore said that their food supplies are sufficient for the hundreds of families seeking help thanks to the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, which because of the school closures due to the coronavirus have shipped their food stores to the pantry.

Patti Londot, director of Hope Food Pantry, said they were able to locate other freezer storage units as well to keep the extra food. The pantry has received many offers for volunteer help now, but a few weeks ago, that was not the case, she said.

“In mid-March, a lot of our volunteers fell off because their children were out of school and a lot of our senior volunteers were just afraid to come out,” Londot said.

She said after that decline the office workers changed their schedules and began working from their homes and the method of handing out the food was done by volunteers at the drive-thrus.

“Now we are drive-thru only,” she said. “We are doing well.”

In its first three weeks, Hope Food Pantry handed out more than 2,000 boxes of food and is currently providing the free food boxes Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Valley Community Food Pantry at 191 S. Columbia St. in Hemet serves more than 200 clients per week and said they currently have enough food to continue helping the families in need.

Pantry director Jim Lineberger said, “Two and one-half weeks ago we were out of food, money and volunteers, but now the food is OK.”

He said when the local stores, who provide most of the surplus food to the pantry, were hit with the initial hoarding brought on by the stay at home orders in March, they found their essential goods and foods were almost gone and donations to the pantry all but stopped.

“But now, they are restocked and we are OK. We may have two months or more, but I don’t know after that. We are always, always in need of food of course,” Lineberger said.

He said they also have more temporary drivers help to bring food to the shut-in and now, stay-at-home seniors in the community. However, unlike some of the other pantries in the area, Lineberger said their real need is money to help seniors with their home and apartment rents they haven’t been able to pay.

“We really need donations for them, who are the majority of our clients,” he said.

He said the dynamics of the food giveaways at the Hemet pantry have changed since the coronavirus crisis as all the clients park in marked stalls and the food boxes are delivered to them at their vehicles by volunteers.

“I kind of like that idea, might do it afterward,” Lineberger said.

The Valley Community Food Pantry serves its clients Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon. Donations may be received at the location or by making arrangements by calling 951-929-1101 or through their website https://www.vcpcares.org.

The Menifee Valley Community Cupboard at 26808 Cherry Hills Blvd. in Menifee now serves more than 300 Menifee and Sun City residents. The food pantry has enough perishable foods to give out but it is running low on single item nonperishable foods like beans and rice, Dawn Smith, director of the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard, said.

“We are writing a new page on how we are doing things,” she said, since the coronavirus shut down began. The biggest change is their clients need to call in for appointments at 951-301-4414, and the Cupboard’s thrift store, which is their main source of income, has since closed. The food pantry is still making deliveries to shut-in seniors.

Smith said the center, which mostly serves the senior population, has seen an increase in the number of new clients since the coronavirus lock down began.

She said they have many volunteers with the help of the Interfaith Council and the many local churches which have rallied to help. The perishable food donations are remaining steady, but the nonperishable small single-count items are becoming hard to find in the big box stores.

“We might get a big bag of nonperishables, but we have a hard time breaking down the items,” she said. “We can’t keep these things on our own shelves.”

She said small donations of nonperishable foods are welcome at their facilities, but donors should call ahead.

The regular hours for clients by appointment are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Donation hours are from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

To donate to a local food pantry, contact them directly to determine their exact needs.

Other food pantries throughout southwest Riverside county include:

Feeding America Riverside and San Bernardino, 2950 Jefferson St., in Riverside, 951-929-1101

Bread Basket Food Bank, 2385 S. San Jacinto Ave., in San Jacinto, 951-658-5098

Food Pantry for H.E.L.P. Inc. 53 S. Sixth St., in Banning, 951-922-2305

Helping Hands Pantry warehouse, 1455 E. Third St., in San Bernardino, 909-796-4222

Community Settlement Associates, 2366 Bermuda Ave., in Riverside, 951-686-6266

Salvation Army Riverside Corps, 3695 First St., in Riverside, 951-784-4490

Community First Church of God, 31371 State Route 74, in Homeland, 951-926-1345

Salvation Army Moreno Valley, 14068 Graham St. Suite 101, in Moreno Valley 951-656-1822

Inland Empire Community Foundation, 3700 Sixth St., Suite 200, in Riverside, 951-241-7777.

The Murrieta United Methodist Church and Food Pantry at 24652 Adams Ave. in Murrieta is closed due to the coronavirus, but church services continue online.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.