By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- The Collection at River Park was a busy place, May 16, as Food Share Ventura County, along with Kirby Subaru Kia, was out in force, collecting and distributing food and much-needed supplies.
Many residents stopped by to pick up supplies, while others dropped off items for those who need them the most. One car dropped off masks, a full bag of them, as volunteers thanked and applauded everyone who stepped up to help.
As people struggle to get by while waiting for their unemployment benefits to start, food distribution events are a welcome sigh of relief for people who are out of options.
Food Share Ventura County Chief Executive Officer and President Monica White began the Food & Fund Drive to collect donations, but the people who are coming by need food.
"They hear Food Share and equate it with the distribution we have been doing," she said. "We had to go back to the warehouse and pick up three pallets of food, and we have been distributing more food than collecting donations."
She reflected on the "Good old Days" when the unemployment rate was at 3 percent, but unemployment is through the roof, and the newly unemployed need to find ways to make ends meet.
"They can come here and get shelf-stable food, produce and other distributions, as well," she said. "If people haven't gotten their unemployment or stimulus checks, they're going to need help at the end of the month to make ends meet. One of the things we do here at Food Share is to provide them with nutritious food."
Food Share Ventura County typically gets most of its food donated, she said, but because of the supply chain disruption, there is not enough food that they usually pick up.
"Everyone is stocking up at home," she said. "We had to purchase more food. We've gone from purchasing $50,000 worth of food a month to $300,000 worth of food every month. Our monthly expenses have doubled to feed the additional amount of people."
Food Share normally feeds 75,000 people a month, but in April, they served 130,000 people.
"We worked with The Collection's administrative team, and they very generously offered us space," White said. "If you would like to do something on a Saturday, we would love to host you. All of the places we've had our pop-up distributions have been more than willing to donate space, volunteers, and dollars to help us do what we do."
People who dropped off food have mostly given peanut butter, pasta, canned fruit, and vegetables.
"The cost of peanut butter has skyrocketed," White said. "It's valuable and nutritious to the people we serve. It's packed with protein, but it is expensive."
The Air National Guard got involved and packed a lot of emergency food boxes.
"They're still deployed with us, and we're distributing them as fast as they're packing them," she said.
COVID-19 has forced Food Share Ventura County to change and adapt.
"We had to develop brand new distribution models that we didn't have use before," White said. "We had to find new ways to source food and work with new programs like CFAP, which is the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through the USDA. They contracted out $3 billion worth of food, and we are going to be able to get more food out. We're expecting hundreds of thousands of boxes of produce. We need to tie those in with our current distribution model to get those out as soon as possible."
Kirby Subaru Kia Ventura Event Chief Executive Officer Bruce Holley takes the cars off the property and does events in the community with non-profits. The dealership feels passionate about helping people.
"We're heavily involved," he said. "Subaru America is donating 50 million meals through Feed America. We are doing our little bit here with Food Share Ventura County."
Kirby Subaru Kia got involved with Food Share six years ago at their Feed SoCal event in Simi Valley.
"That's a tie-in with Subaru in the L.A. region, along with ABC Channel 7, and us," Holley said. "That's been a great relationship. People like Jennifer and Monica have made it worthwhile to stay with them because of their dynamic personality and enthusiasm for doing this."
He loves Food Share Ventura County's mission and said feeding people who need help means a lot.
"Food allows people to be energetic, spontaneous, and it builds confidence," he said. "If you don't have food to fuel your body, it's about the mission."
Holley said the fallout from COVID-19 leaves a lot of pain in his heart.
"It does our hearts good at the Kirby Auto Group to give back," he said. "We've been around here in Ventura County for 55 years, and we have a lot of customers and families in this county that our loyal to us. It makes me smile to give back."
Kirby Auto Group has seen changes to its business model because of COVID-19, but the dealer has shifted gears and took a customer-centered approach to serve the community.
"We're bringing cars and paperwork to people's homes so they can do the deal in their driveway," he said. "As far as service goes, we're really COVID-19 conscious with masks and disinfecting, so when people bring their car in for service, they feel comfortable being on the grounds."
Food Share Ventura County and its staff are vital to him.
"A lot of these people are volunteers," he said.
Food Share Ventura County Grants Manager Kristy Pollard got involved with Food Share Ventura County when she moved to Ventura County. She was proud to be part of the event at The Collection.
"I saw there was a position available at the food bank, and I wanted to learn a little more about it," she said. "I have been with Food Share for 15 years. COVID-19 has created an unprecedented need for food, as the demand has nearly doubled. We are working in overdrive, and we ramped up to make sure that no one in Ventura County goes hungry.”
The current situation spawned the start of no contact pop up distribution in the county to serve the great need of its residents.
Pollard and Food Share volunteers and staff also tend to the emotional needs people have if they're on edge and emotional because of the situation.
"We tell them we're with them for the long haul," she said. "We'll continue to be here, and the community is ready to assist them in any way we can."
People who have benefitted from Food Share Ventura County almost always give kindness back.
"We get that quite often," she said. "We've also had folks tell us they are going to donate their stimulus checks to us."
She loves seeing the smiles on people's faces when they receive a box of food.
"You know they need it," she said.
Makayla Skelton is the reigning Miss California High School America, and part of her joys is to serve the community.
She greeted people as they arrived.
"There is no better way to give back to the community than helping with Food Share," she said. "I have a little sister who has a serious medical condition. I know from my family that it's hard, sometimes, to put food on the table. We've had to go to different organizations to get help, so to be able to give back and help a family like mine means the world to me."
For more information, or to donate food, visit foodshare.com for a list of all the available resources.