Help OC Food Bank for the Holidays
By Dianne Anderson
There is a little less anxiety about getting basic needs to to the community than at the start of the pandemic, but food distribution is still a far cry from the family-friendly delivery model that Mark Lowry remembers.
There was a time when food baskets and boxes were given away with a smile, some words of encouragement, and sometimes a hug.
But since March, food distribution is more about popping the hood, throwing in the boxes, and the consumer speeds off. It may continue that way for a while as folks are served out of the necessity of social distancing.
“There are things that are lost. You can’t share empathy with people. There’s no conversation that you can share,” said Lowry, Orange County Food Bank Program Director.
This holiday, he is nostalgic that the community won’t be sitting down to Frank Garcia’s hot Thanksgiving meal, a time-honored tradition that has expanded over 34 years at the Honda Center, serving thousands of people.
“They had warm meals on Thanksgiving day sitting side by side a table, fellowship, that can’t happen this year,” he said. “This holiday, it’s going to be a Thanksgiving drive through, or walkthrough, no sitting at tables.”
But for all its limitations, Lowry is thankful for what they do have. Turkey meals with trimmings are available, prepared frozen. People can take them home and pop them in a microwave.
He is also asking for more help with volunteers and donations. In the 33 years that he’s been providing free food, he said he hasn’t seen anything like this.
“Not since the Great Depression has there ever been so many people unemployed in America. It’s a huge demand, that doesn’t necessarily translate into more help, more money or more food,” he said.
Philanthropists and corporations gave big donations when COVID started, but attention and donations have since waned. He said matching supply with the demand has been a roller coaster.
Eventually, the USDA pulled through with their farmers to families program bringing prepackaged boxes to food banks, which greatly benefited his program, and they averaged 120,000 boxes a month. But they thought that the program would end on October 31. It is now extended to December 31.
He expects boxes will start showing up again this week, and supply the food bank until the end of the year, but food is going out as fast as it comes in.
“Now we’re safe. We won’t have all the food everyone needs, but we’ve ordered truckloads of turkeys and hams. We will have a respectable amount of food for November and December,” he said.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the Conservation Corps have all been a great help, and he emphasized that they have a strong need for more volunteers. Masks and gloves are provided.
Christopher Powell, region one project leader with AmeriCorps, said he also supplies volunteers to the Orange County Food Bank and Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
He said AmeriCorps has had to get creative to compensate for short-staffing at food banks during the pandemic. Particularly Orange County, a lot of families can’t afford the basics due to high housing costs and the cost of living expenses.
Even diapers for moms are a luxury because that money goes for rent instead, he added. Those who have jobs are not getting paid enough.
“They come to pick up food in the most expedient way possible, you have to pack emergency boxes for the community. Some people are down to their last meal, or they just can’t adequately feed their family,” he said.
Powell is calling on the community to come out or donate in any way they can this season.
“A lot of the nonprofits are short-staffed. The food banks could use the extra staffing to pack those food boxes, coordinators, or maybe a retired grant writer, if they can donate to support their local nonprofit or food bank, that could really help a lot.”
To help with time or money donations, see