Meeting Them Where They Are: The New Model for Food Access & Distribution

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Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego (CCDSD) is bringing more food to more people in need—not just in September during Hunger Action Month, but for the future of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

CCDSD’s Food Resource Centers served 23,195 meals to 3,233 unique households during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. This is a fantastic achievement, and we cannot thank our volunteers, donors and staff enough for their ongoing efforts. The Food Resource Centers provide essential groceries, hygiene products and guidance in an environment that preserves the dignity of each person receiving assistance. Now, it is time for us to build on the success of these centers, diversify our offerings, and multiply our impact.

 

Envisioning Greater Access

In April 2018, CCDSD launched a new program with the San Diego Food Bank distributing food in downtown San Diego. This location is adjacent to Rachel’s Women’s Center, our shelter and day center for women who are homeless or very low income. The first day drew more than 80 people—not just the homeless, but also seniors, youth and others in need of food—and now serves nearly 350 in just two hours of food distribution, once per month. It is a microcosm of what is to come from CCDSD.

A CCDSD volunteer assists a client at our latest food distribution location in downtown San Diego.

A CCDSD volunteer assists a client at our latest food distribution location in downtown San Diego.

 Partnering with Parishes

If one location, once per month, can more than double the number of people we serve each year, imagine if we replicated it again…and again…and again. Better yet, what if it took place at the parishes? Now you’re listening (and, as we embark on this mission, seeing).

CCDSD has identified 31 parishes within the Diocese of San Diego that could potentially serve as food distribution centers. The first centers are opening soon in Downtown and Barrio Logan, and we are pushing to onboard a new parish every month for the next 18-20 months. Instead of requiring the prophet to go to the mountain, we are bringing the mountain to the prophet—the prophet being the people in need and the mountain representing food distribution.

 

A Gateway to Additional Resources

Our new era of parish-based food distribution centers will also enable us to maximize our outreach. Those in need will be able to access food closer to home or, if they feel uncomfortable being seen receiving assistance in their neighborhood, farther. They will also have the option to find a location online. As they pick up their food, we will converse with them to understand their needs and explain CCDSD’s many other programs, services and partners. Some will even become volunteers themselves.

For example, a woman named Mary had been visiting our monthly distribution at our Downtown location, where she received commodities and saw an opportunity to help. Mary parked her cart and pet Chihuahua alongside the distribution line while she helped to stock items. She said it gave her a sense of pride to give back and has been a regular volunteer ever since. Mary and her pup are known as the “Gate Monitors,” ensuring the lines run smoothly and clients are quickly matched with a shopping assistant.

CCDSD’s “Gate Monitors,” Mary and her pet Chihuahua. Her infectious smile is a familiar site at our Downtown location’s monthly distribution.

CCDSD’s “Gate Monitors,” Mary and her pet Chihuahua. Her infectious smile is a familiar site at our Downtown location’s monthly distribution.

 Putting Faith in Action

Nurses, doctors, community members, volunteers in parishes — they will all be empowered to contribute their time and talent at parish food distribution locations, with CCDSD standing as the backbone. This is what we mean by “meeting them (those in need) where they are.” We will create better access in more neighborhoods. There will be more helping hands and higher hope for all.

We are not waiting for or expecting to create the perfect system. Instead, our approach is to design and implement now, learn as we go, and continually redesign to meet the community need.

Vino Pajanor