By Luise Gleason, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 10:30 to 11:00 a.m., volunteers and recipients get together for our Public Neighborhood Distribution at the Community Church in Cayucos where they share laughter, meet new people and talk about current events. Many of the visitors come on a regular basis. That includes grown-ups like Connie as well as two-year old Isabella who snacks on raisins and apples while her mom fills their bags with food for the next few weeks. The distribution of produce and shelf-stable food items might be the main reason they all come together, but when one looks upon all the smiling faces, the food appears to be rather secondary.
“We all agree that we come here not just for the food but also to be around people and to catch up on whatever happened since we last saw each other. Sometimes new faces walk in and we get a chance to make new friends,” declares Connie who lives right across the street and walks to get here.
It quickly becomes clear that an amazing team of volunteers is responsible for making everyone look forward to coming here. Among them are Sina, Robin, Sarah, Marge, Maria, Judy, Terry and John, just to name a few. Their commitment to this distribution is what makes this experience so personal and comfortable for everyone involved. They often arrive as early as 9:00 a.m. to prepare everything inside the building. That includes setting up a long line of tables for people to walk by and pick the food items they want, arranging groups of chairs in the waiting area where recipients can sit and talk while they wait, and, most importantly, the positioning of a board with 100 small round key tags on top of the sign in table.
These key tags are another secret to this distribution’s amazing success and wide-spread positive acceptance within the community. Each tag has a unique number that is assigned to a certain individual. When a person attends the distribution, they take their number from the board so that the volunteers know who is there. New visitors get an open number. This number system makes the whole process smooth and fair. Smooth because the volunteers can simply call out five numbers at a time. Fair because the starting number rotates every week so that different people get to go first.
Connie, who has number 63, explains, “The volunteers do a wonderful job. They are incredibly kind and they address everybody by name. Their number system provides the best and fastest way to handle this situation. Once you’re called, you walk through the line, pick your food, and at the end, you leave your number tag in a little basket so that it can go back on the board. If you have food that you don’t need, you can leave it on a table on your way out so that someone else can take it.”
Connie, who survives on $350 per month from social security, is thankful for everything she gets. Without this distribution she wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. The food she receives is plenty, and sometimes she gets to enjoy little surprises like cheese or chicken.
Many of the visitors also bring clothes and household items that they don’t need anymore. This way, they are all benefiting from each other and mutually improving their life within their community. It is, as Connie puts it, and Isabella’s wide open eyes confirm, “a meeting place for everyone to share and enjoy.”