MONTEREY COUNTY — Food Bank for Monterey County has begun food distribution throughout the Salinas Valley, with a recent operation in King City seeing 525 cars show up to obtain food.
Members of the California National Guard were present to place the food into vehicles, as they have done so at different sites in the county, including Gonzales, Soledad and Greenfield.
“We provide the food for all of our pantries in the county, and the need is so unprecedented,” said Melissa Kendrick, executive director of Food Bank for Monterey County.
Kendrick explained that many food pantries are operated by seniors and volunteers, and because of shelter-in-place orders, many organizations don’t have enough personnel to continue operations, especially when the need has caused hundreds of families per site to need food.
“Our numbers have quadrupled,” said Kendrick, who called the situation “unbelievable.”
The need has been so tremendous, she said, that the Food Bank has stepped in at most towns to manage the mass distributions.
“The problem here is we’ve been hit on all fronts,” Kendrick said. “First we’ve had a pandemic requiring people to shelter in place… So many individuals are now out of work. We were already a county that had very high levels of food insecurity and hunger.”
Kendrick cited the high cost of living in Monterey County, where a minimum-wage paycheck would require 92 hours to get by in many cities, as one reason the food bank feeds one in four adults in the county.
“It’s been extremely difficult,” she said. “It’s hard to see so many of our neighbors in need right now. Every distribution we add another 100 and we run out of food.”
The warming months where seasonable laborers can return to agricultural work should mark a slowdown in the need for help, but Kendrick said the food bank has already seen its numbers spike by 20 percent just in February.
The growing need for assistance, coupled with the effect of reduced staffing on the food bank’s own personnel, was eased by assistance from the California National Guard.
“They’re helping us everywhere now,” Kendrick said. “They are just amazing individuals. They are so caring.”
At the food bank warehouse, National Guard members bag food to reduce infection risk, as almost all food must now be bagged. A testing scare with two volunteers caused the food bank to no longer have volunteers work in the warehouse, cutting their personnel down by 500 per month.
Now, only food bank employees are able to show up to work. In order to increase safety, the troops are temperature-tested every day and wear different-colored ribbons to show their testing status.
“Because of the critical nature of what were doing, we can’t afford to be closed down,” Kendrick said.
At the sites, local law enforcement or other city or school staff help direct traffic and prepare families by having them pop open their trunks, tailgates or hatches. From there, the troops load bags of food into the rear of the vehicles, avoiding contact with the drivers or passengers. Once food placement is finished, the guard closes the vehicle and sends the motorist on their way.
Though an efficient system meant to be quick, where a car can be loaded and off in less than a minute, the massive number of those in need can still back up.
In King City on April 8, the line of cars had to be split into five different rows filed through the parking lot of the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds, yet still backed into the lanes of Division Street. Those moments of traffic disruption didn’t last long, however.
“The National Guard are so good at logistics,” Kendrick said.
She credited the guard with establishing the protocol since the Food Bank for Monterey County had not conducted such large-scale drive-throughs in the past.
At normal food distributions, whether conducted by the Food Bank or through its local partners, walk-ins were welcome and were the normal way things flowed. But with social distancing being the current norm, notices about distributions advise people to show up in their vehicle, with warnings that walk-ins will not be served.
Kendrick said walk-ins are certainly not encouraged, but that they will make sure anybody who is without food will get food. She noted if there are seniors or others sheltering in place for other reasons, they can contact the Food Bank ahead of time to make special arrangements.
“All due to COVID-19, we’ve had to completely reimagine the way we do things at many different sites,” said Kendrick, noting that things like distribution to walk-ins and even food and cooking demonstrations are not currently possible.
“We’re asking that everybody have patience,” she added. “We will have food for everyone. We will make sure that nobody goes hungry in this county. We are bringing enough food and supplies so everybody waiting in line will get food.”
Kendrick said everyone is in this situation together. She also said the cities in South Monterey County have been of tremendous help in distributions.
“What’s really helped out is local municipalities that worked with us to set up these operations on a huge scale,” she said.
For more information, or to donate, contact the Food Bank at 831-758-1523 or visit the website foodbankformontereycounty.org.
South Monterey County food distributions for April
12 to 1 p.m.
Chualar Elementary School, 24285 Lincoln St.
9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
St. Theodore’s Catholic Church, 116 S. Belden St.
10 to 11 a.m.
Our Lady of Solitude Church, 235 Main St.
10 to 11 a.m.
American Legion Memorial Hall, 615 El Camino Real
10 to 11 a.m.
Salinas Valley Fairgrounds, 625 Division St.
12 to 2 p.m.
Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church, Cattlemen Road and College Street