By Emily Hansen, Community Food Programs Coordinator

The food distribution at Nipomo Elementary is one of our most attended sites. Every second Tuesday of the month, from 4:00 to 6:00pm, a group of dedicated volunteers work to feed SLO County’s food insecure. Marla Eaton, Mary Anne Morgan, Janice Chagoya, and Rosemary Cleaves manage the distribution, and coordinate the approximately 50 volunteers that donate their time each month.

Their mission began years ago when they saw a need for a food distribution in San Luis Obispo’s South County; there were no other food distributions in the area at the time. Janice was working at Nipomo Elementary, along with a few other schools in the area. They knew an elementary school was a good place to start, as their main goal was to reach children and families in need. They started their first distribution at Nipomo Elementary over 7 years ago packing food for 96 households. Within the first two years numbers gradually reached a peak of 228 households.  As the Food Bank expanded, more distributions were established in the South County, easing some of the pressure on the Nipomo Elementary distribution.

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A group photo of volunteers from a distribution in 2017.

The volunteers at Nipomo Elementary go above and beyond in their service to the community. While the distribution time is from 4:00 to 6:00pm, volunteers get there as early as 1:30pm to start preparations. A volunteer is always available to help participants walk food to their car. They make efforts towards sustainability, using donated, reusable bags at their distribution. Participants are encouraged to bring the bags back the next time they attend the distribution; the returned bags are then cleaned and packed the following month. They provide more than just food too; a local thrift store donates clothes that participants can choose from after they’ve picked up their food.

After each distribution, Marla, Mary Anne, Janice, and Rosemary meet to discuss what went well, and what improvements can be made. They take suggestions from volunteers, and are always open to changes that will make the process easier and enjoyable for all involved. Rosemary shared how she appreciates what each group contributes to the distribution. The volunteers rely on the Food Bank to provide the food, and the Food Bank couldn’t distribute to those that need it without the support of volunteers. Rosemary also shared appreciation for the produce the Food Bank is able to provide, saying they feel their “clients are getting a good, balanced diet”.

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Volunteers are packing bags of produce before the distribution.

Rosemary said her favorite aspect of being part of this distribution is the community; bringing people of all different backgrounds together, and getting people doing something for their community with “their hearts and their hands”. If you were to attend this distribution, you’d see each volunteer wearing a name tag – they want everyone to know each other on a first-name basis. Rosemary said she’s seen firsthand how connections are made between volunteers, participants − everyone involved. Volunteers have seen families grow up, and some of the children from those families have even returned to volunteer and give their time back to the organization. The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo thanks all the volunteers at Nipomo Elementary for their work in alleviating hunger and creating a healthier community.

If you have a site or volunteer you’d like to see featured, please contact Emily Hansen at ehansen@slofoodbank.org or by phone at (805) 235-0919.