No break from food in summer

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Bags of food are being distributed at Kimball Elementary school every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon throughout summer.

National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said the city is “getting back to normalcy” after ranking as one of the hardest hit communities during the COVID-19 pandemic but food insecurity still exists. Three days a week, balanced-nutrition bags of food are handed out to local families.

“Food sustenance was an issue prior to COVID-19 and right now during the summer months, while kids are on vacation, we know there is more demand. Kids are in the house on vacation and while mom and dad are out working, they need food at home,” Sotelo-Solis said.

Each bag of food also presents an opportunity to reach local families with additional items, Sotelo-Solis said, growing the food distribution into a place to find other items that change as the pandemic shifts. Past handouts have included vaccination information, personal protective equipment, COVID home test kits and other items.

SBCS Community Engagement Director Rachel Pinuelas-Morineau said the organization formerly known as South Bay Community Services has been hosting food distributions for years but has seen an increase in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since early-2020, student volunteers have handed out food packets at National City Middle School, the mayor said but with this summer session, the goal is to make sure people are registered with SBCS.

“There is an increase in need during summer. We’re also seeing visitors from transitional foster youth and emancipated youth and we encourage them to register with the San Diego Food Bank,” Pinuelas-Morineau said.

After registration, participants are issued an identification card which allows them to attend other food banks in different areas.

Staff at food distributions can assist people with registration so they can walk away with that ID card and easily access food and resource distributions across the county. The San Diego Food Bank also has resources for weekends or other days when food banks are not in operation.

Additionally, Pinuelas-Morineau said, Calfresh and MediCal information is kept on hand and SBCS offers information on utility assistance in National City as well as wraparound services like mental health services, housing information and emergency rental assistance.

“Our philosophy with SBCS is to make sure we’re assessing a family when they come in for a bag of food, asking why, looking at how we can assist them. Is it employment, do they need utility services,” Pinuelas-Morineau said.

“The food distributions are run by SBCS staff and we have volunteers who have also gone through training,” Pinuelas-Morineau said.

Distributions are intentionally staffed so volunteers and staff are casually dressed and there is no apparent difference between someone working the event and someone there to pick up food. Few questions are asked, Pinuelas-Morineau said, and SBCS makes efforts to welcome people and meet their individual needs.

“If it’s a senior we don’t have them stand in line but shift them to where they can be served faster or sit down. There are different languages being spoken and everyone is there to help. This isn’t for people who are poor but for people who need a little extra to get through the month. We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Pinuelas-Morineau said.

Staff operates from a trauma-informed perspective and have all gone through crisis management training; volunteers have gone through similar training, Pinuelas-Morineau said.

“This distribution point is amazing and even though this started during the pandemic, we’re very excited to continue the partnership,” Sotelo-Solis said.

Visit www.sandiegofoodbank.org for an interactive map of county-wide food distribution points.

No break from food in summer