Columnist John Burns shares how Petalumans can lend a hand amid food crisis
“You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”
“Have you ever experienced hunger?” The question caught me off guard.
I was interviewing sources about the sudden spike in Petaluma residents needing food due to the pandemic-induced economic calamity and was speaking with Lynne Moquete, a Casa Grande High School teacher. In her spare time, she runs Una Vida, a nonprofit organization helping vulnerable families here in Petaluma.
Moquete wanted to know my perspective on the issue before we talked in greater depth about her own extraordinary endeavors to alleviate hunger for the many lower-income families she encounters daily.
I responded that I’d been fortunate to have never been personally touched by the problem now threatening a rapidly increasing number of local residents each week due to skyrocketing unemployment rates.
Moquete shared that she has personally known hunger, both as a child and an adult, and that experience drives her to help others suffering from malnutrition and undernutrition today.
“People are contacting me every day needing food,” says Moquete. “These are bad days. The situation is going to get worse over the next few months.”
At the Salvation Army building on South McDowell Boulevard, where people come to pick up boxes of donated food, longtime volunteer David Adams said the organization has seen the number of families needing food increase from 300 to 425 over the last month, a number he expects to climb as the economic recession deepens.
Much of the food the organization obtains comes from local grocery stores that donate day-old bread and nearly expired milk, eggs and vegetables. But these days, due to erratic shifts in food-buying habits, local grocers don’t have as much to give.
Every year in early May, local U.S. Postal Service carriers hold a food drive which has brought more than 50,000 pounds of canned food to the Salvation Army’s 5,000-square-foot warehouse where some is shared with residents at COTS, the local homeless shelter. But this year’s food drive has been canceled due to the pandemic and Adams is worried.
To give locals an opportunity to help, he told me that starting next week the Salvation Army will begin accepting canned food donations at their South McDowell Blvd. warehouse on weekday mornings.
Adams hopes that a similar City of Petaluma food drive, to be held in conjunction with the Redwood Empire Food Bank this Saturday, will also boost local food supplies. However, Adams notes that once those donations reach the food bank’s Santa Rosa warehouse, his organization must pay 19 cents per pound to have the food trucked back to Petaluma for local distribution.
If that sounds a bit inefficient, it is. But that’s just the way things currently work since the regional food bank, a vital resource for keeping people fed, must cover its costs for transportation and storage.
Elece Hempel, executive director of Petaluma People Services Center, says that there are many opportunities to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of food donation and distribution in the South County.
“What this virus has done has forced us to think more about how we can leverage regional support to meet local needs,” she said.
While fixing the problem is certain to be discussed, right now the priority is getting food to the people who need it.