Staff and volunteers of North Valley Caring Services deliver groceries to people's cars in San Fernando Valley, abiding by the rules of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Silvia Robles and Catalina Roldan.)
Staff and volunteers of North Valley Caring Services deliver groceries to people's cars in San Fernando Valley, abiding by the rules of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Silvia Robles and Catalina Roldan.)

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, accessing nutritional food has become challenging for many, but for people who have lost their jobs or who are struggling financially, the situation is even worse. To help support those in need, various food banks in Southern California have found safe and innovative ways to serve the community during this time of uncertainty, including members of the Latinx community.

While many Americans are worried about the economy and their health, some members of the Latinx community are even more concerned about their financial situations and their day-to-day lives.

According to a recent article from Pew Research Center, a survey found that about 34% of the U.S. population as a whole view COVID-19 as a major threat to their personal financial situation, but 50% of Hispanics are concerned that the outbreak will affect their personal financial situation.

The article also said that Latinos who make up 60 million members of the U.S. population are among the most affected by the current health crisis and that it is difficult for many of them to work remotely at home since they have jobs in leisure, hospitality and other service industries. For low-income seniors who are at higher risk of contracting the virus, it can also be unsafe to leave their homes to go to the store. Moreover, some might not have access to food delivery services.

Food banks across Southern California are stepping up to address these growing concerns in Latino communities

North Valley Caring Services, a non-profit organization in the San Fernando Valley that serves local low-income youth, families and individuals through various programs has implemented a weekly drive-thru food pantry to continue its community support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting on March 19 and March 20, volunteers and staff gathered at NVCS in North Hills, Calif. to distribute 1,000 pre-packaged grocery bags to help feed the homeless and families in need. This event takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday and Friday.

To keep everyone safe, the food distribution is only open to participants with cars. Staff helps guide participants through the process both in English and Spanish. They prepare the grocery bags on Wednesdays so that they will be ready for distribution later in the week.

Catalina Roldan is a graduate student studying Social Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business. She also works with NVCS as a Volunteer Coordinator and is in charge of Communications for the non-profit organization. She shared her experience working for the drive-thru food bank in a virtual interview with Dímelo.

Roldan said that participants arrived in masks, gloves and were not able to exit their vehicles at any time.

“In terms of the volunteers and staff, all of us are trying to the best of our ability to follow the health requirements,” said Roldan. “The basics — washing our hands, trying to stay far apart from each other, wearing gloves, changing the gloves.”

NVCS worker Catalina Roldan wearing a protective mask while distributing food during the drive-thru food bank. (Photo courtesy of Silvia Robles and Catalina Roldan.)
NVCS worker Catalina Roldan wearing a protective mask while distributing food during the drive-thru food bank. (Photo courtesy of Silvia Robles and Catalina Roldan.)

Roldan also believes that the coverage of COVID-19 has led more people from around the area to show their generosity and have asked about ways that they can help whether it be donating supplies or their assistance.

“The entire situation has been special because we all have different roles in the organization, but at this time all of our efforts are going to one thing,” said Roldan. “Everything has been stopped and all of our energy, all of our planning goes directly to the food bank.”

Operating under a pandemic is a first for many organizations, but they are continuing their weekly food pantry to help support those in need. According to Roldan, NVCS staff are learning as they go and evaluating the dynamics of their service day by day.

“Unfortunately, it’s something that we can’t predict and that makes us feel uneasy, but yet we understand that food security is important to everybody and at this point, regardless of the income, the instability level is affecting all of us.”

Cars wrap around the Honda Center in Anaheim, California as they wait in line to receive groceries at a drive-thru food bank hosted by Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. (Photo by: Jillian Russell.)
Cars wrap around the Honda Center in Anaheim, California as they wait in line to receive groceries at a drive-thru food bank hosted by Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. (Photo by: Jillian Russell.)

Meanwhile in Orange County a local hunger relief organization, Second Harvest Food Bank also distributed food to those economically affected by the coronavirus in their cars on March 21 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif..

The organization began internal preparation and planning in late February in anticipation for a coronavirus outbreak to discuss how they would continue their service to the community if a crisis did strike. They organized an all-staff meeting and conference call on Mar. 2nd to plan and set strict hygiene protocol and to emphasize the importance of social distancing during their duties.

The line to get into the Honda Center parking lot extended onto the California 57 freeway and wrapped around several blocks.

Second Harvest Food Bank staff and workers wore protective masks and gloves while they greeted cars and waved drivers through the line and into the arena’s parking lot. Sergio Villa and Jeremy George directed cars at the busy intersection leading into the Honda Center, counting vehicles as they passed through to keep track of participants.

“We have served over 2,400 (so far) and we built for 4,000,” said Villa.

Once in the parking lot, Second Harvest Food Bank staff handed drivers a paper with instructions in both English and Spanish to make the food distribution quick and easy while also minimizing the interaction between people.

Drivers were instructed to place their car in park, to put their parking brake on and to unlock or pop their trunk from inside their vehicle, following social distance practices and keeping everyone involved healthy and safe.

When people arrived at the food distribution station, workers and volunteers smiled at them through their car windows and approached their vehicles before they placed a bag of groceries in their trunk and quickly shut it. After each car received a bag with two types of produce, canned food and other dry goods, they exited the parking lot, thanking food bank staff and volunteers for their service from the safety of their cars.

The pop-up drive-thru food pantry was set to occur every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, but with growing concerns over spreading the coronavirus, Second Harvest food bank suspended every Distribution Center volunteer operation. The organization changed to a shelf-stable food box distribution to ensure the safety of its staff and the community.

Second Harvest is also offering door to door food distribution, virtual food drives that you can donate to online and many other community resources in its updated COVID-19 food distribution plan. Second Harvest is also in search of new volunteers to help support their field distribution team, preferably healthy people ages 18 to 55 years old who have flexible schedules and can endure physical labor.

If you would like to donate to these organizations, get involved or hear about upcoming events, visit their websites to learn more.