February 3, 2014 • Jennifer Best / JBest@BestFamilyAdventures.com
On any given Friday morning, Sue McGilvray and a dozen volunteers from Orcutt Presbyterian Church can be found packing grocery bags for their customers — nearly 100 Orcutt families in need of a hand up.
Meanwhile, in a warehouse across the valley, Bill Mountford and two dozen volunteers prepare bags for Saturday morning distribution behind Rancho Bowl.
In the heart of Santa Maria, volunteers at Salvation Army prepare complete meals for anyone who walks through the door, and in Lompoc, Jeannie Begley and her cohorts at Catholic Charities wrap up another week of distribution groceries to more than 600 families in need.
Nearly two dozen churches in northern Santa BarbaraCounty have taken it upon themselves to feed the hungry throughout the year with regular grocery distribution, farmers markets and prepared meals supported by Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, grocery stores and community donations.
“My thing is: If people need food, I try to get them food. I can’t question if someone drives up in a Rolls Royce and needs food. That’s just the way it is. People can hit hard times, so we get to accommodate them,” said Mountford, lead volunteer of the Pacific Christian Church Angel Food Program.
Groceries are distributed six days a week in Santa Maria, five days a week in Lompoc, and hot meals are provided in both communities Mondays through Fridays. GuadalupeFoursquareChurch offers weekly mobile farmers markets, and Church at the Crossroads in Buellton offers the service monthly.
“Lompoc has this incredible program, Lompoc Valley Community Kitchen, where churches throughout town share their kitchens. The volunteers can move from location to location. It’s a huge organization. It’d be great if we could do something like that in Santa Maria,” said Jamie Nichols, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County director of operations.
While the holidays bring the big annual push for food bank and pantry donations, food distribution and service volunteers never let up on their efforts to serve kindness and food to residents who have fallen on hard times.
“Produce gets kind of low this time of year, and donations are usually slowest in February and March, but we’re doing all right right now,” Nichols said.
Volunteers don’t see an end to the need for food assistance, with reports of slowdowns in government aid programs and drought-threatened crops casting a shadow over the coming year.
“(There is) the end of unemployment for a lot of people, the increase in our utility rates, the drought that will have a lot of farm workers without work, and the price of food could go up,” said Begley, Lompoc Catholic Charities’ client services regional coordinator.
She said this winter’s particularly generous donations couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The Foodbank gives U.S.D.A. food free, veggies free, but everything else you buy. Those donations just happened to come in the right year. We’re going to need that so we can buy enough food to make it through,” Begley said.
Whether the pantries purchase the food or pick up donated goods, those in need never see a bill.
As customers take a number Saturday morning to line up for their pickup behind a bowling alley, Mountford notes the need for more weekend distribution sites. Pacific Christian Church offers the only weekend pickup location.
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“It gives working people the chance to get out and get some help, too,” Mountford said.
As for giving up his free time to volunteer, Mountford echoed the sentiment of most volunteers contacted for this story.
“It’s a good feeling seeing that you’re helping people, and that they appreciate getting some food. They’re in need, and I’m OK, and
I can just go do it. People have different hobbies,” he said.