The excitement and anticipation were palpable at the Friends Uniting Neighbors Group food ministry Thursday, March 26, at the Community Hall in Anza.
Food box recipients waited patiently for hours as volunteers equipped with gloves and masks prepared crates filled with nutritious entrees, snacks, produce and beverages.
Usually held as a walk-up event, the program is now a drive-up distribution, to limit contact between people due to the coronavirus outbreak. Cars, SUVs and trucks pulled up to be loaded with the food boxes.
“The fight against COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our program,” organizer Bill Donahue said. “The order from the Riverside County Health Officer didn’t specifically exempt privately operated food distribution programs from the 10-person regulation. It did exempt grocery stores and publicly run nutrition programs, which left us in a gray area of uncertainty of whether we could operate as we had been, with the current order. We also had to take into account that a high percentage of our volunteers fall into the high-risk category. Therefore, we have erred on the side of caution by limiting the number of volunteers inside for the safety of both the volunteers and people being served. At the same time the number of people being served is rising.”
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the F.U.N. Group modeled their program after the example of gleaning in scripture. It established the F.U.N. Group’s guiding principle of offering a hand up rather than a hand out.
“Therefore, we asked everyone who was not house-bound to help in some way,” Donahue said. “We deliver boxes to people who can demonstrate that they are house-bound and have no local family or friends who can pick up a box for them. Our volunteers who deliver these boxes are paying for their own fuel, so our standards to qualify for home delivery are fairly strict. We want to help people help themselves. We are not a free food delivery service.”
The group also offers help to people who are struggling financially. The group said they need a funding mechanism for the program, so they offer paid boxes in exchange for suggested donations of $15 or $30. On average, each $30 donation allows them to give out six boxes for free.
Recipients were advised to show up Thursday morning, March 26, at 10 a.m. and give their names to the person at the double doors, then get into their car in line and wait. The organizers put together an accurate number of boxes; the unprecedented amount of food delivered took extra time to organize, sort and pack.
“Last week the count was off by 13, and we were scrambling to make more boxes. I know arriving at 10 a.m. when we can’t be ready to give out boxes until 11 a.m. or later is a long wait but given the circumstances that is how the program must work,” Donahue said.
The F.U.N. Group has increased the size of their food order to compensate for the increase in demand due to the stay-at-home order announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and subsequent layoffs. That increase in the food order increases their costs, making the boxes given out in exchange for a donation even more important than ever. This program would not and could not exist without a mechanism to pay for the food. Those boxes in exchange for a donation is their primary funding mechanism although some people do make cash donations.
The F.U.N. Group received a $1,000 donation from the 2020 Campaign to Re-Elect Chuck Washington as Anza’s county supervisor. Washington saw that the group was struggling to meet the extra demands on their food program and contacted Donahue, asking if he could help.
“What a great day at the food ministry. Between the generosity of Chuck Washington, Common Grounds, Amy Procop, Gary Worobec and Herb Mundon, we were able to send everyone home with boxes of food overflowing in abundance,” Donahue said. “Chuck’s donation is just another example of the quality of the man I have gotten to know over the past few years. He truly cares about the people in his district.”
Common Grounds supplied hot chili and garlic bread for the tired volunteers.
The F.U.N. Group was established as a gathering of like-minded people that joined together to benefit the community. Members from multiple area churches, civic organizations and other groups come together as friends and neighbors united for the good of the community. Their sponsorship of the food ministry is ongoing.
To learn more about the F.U.N. Group, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/128592854205460.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at email@example.com.