Driving Out Hunger

Lisa Fontaine

On a sunny January morning, 82-year-old Irene slowly made her way toward Clubhouse 7 in Laguna Woods. Impeccably dressed in head-to-toe purple, she looked ready for a party or special event that would typically be held at the clubhouse. But on this particular day, circumstances she hadn’t chosen brought her there for an unexpected need: to receive food from Saddleback’s Mobile Food Pantry. Irene had preconceived ideas about shopping at a Food Pantry, but none of them included discovering how God’s love would transform her feelings of shame into comfort.

Once inside the clubhouse, Irene hesitantly stepped up to the Food Pantry check-in table. Like most seniors, she had always worked hard to care for herself and was ashamed to be reaching out for help. At the table, she leaned forward and quietly revealed to Food Pantry staff member Carrie Miranda, “I’m 82 years old and I’m so embarrassed to be here.” With a gentle touch, Carrie reminded her that we are all in this together, there is no shame in getting help, and they were happy to be there for her. That compassion instantly comforted Irene, melting away her uneasiness and misconceptions about receiving assistance.   

Hunger does not discriminate. It does not target a specific gender, race, financial class, or age. In Orange County where most people don’t think twice about making a trip to the grocery store, there are hundreds of thousands of people who face hunger every day—including senior citizens. The number of food-insecure seniors in America above the age of 60 has more than doubled in the past decade. But programs like Saddleback’s Mobile Food Pantry are on the road to help put an end to hunger in our local communities.

Stories like Irene’s are all too common. Even at a time when the stock market has reached record highs and housing prices have rebounded, there are people who are struggling financially and going hungry. The idea of senior hunger may come as a surprise to people, but it’s very much a reality. Seniors who’ve spent their lives working are now living their golden years finding it difficult to get by. Limited income and savings combined with rising living costs and medical expenses make budgeting difficult. Choosing between buying groceries or paying for medication is becoming an increasingly frequent decision.

Saddleback’s Mobile Food Pantry supplements the services of the main Food Pantry located in the Lake Forest PEACE Center. It is specifically designed to reach people in need who have physical or transportation limitations that preclude them from visiting the main Food Pantry location. For the past six months, the Saddleback Mobile Food Pantry has been serving the needs of 65 families in a Lake Forest senior community. In January, more than 75 volunteers helped launch Saddleback’s first regional campus Mobile Food Pantry in Laguna Woods. Going forward, it is anticipated that this location will serve 75 families every month. By the end of 2014, the Mobile Food Pantry will begin making monthly distributions at each of Saddleback’s seven SoCal regional campuses.

It’s an incredible concept—bring food directly to the people who need it most. But getting it there is no easy feat. A special truck is used to deliver food and supplies to Mobile Food Pantry locations. Preparation for distributions begin a week in advance at the Food Pantry main warehouse using donations collected from all Saddleback campuses. Once the food is prepped on pallets, it takes approximately 25 volunteers to load and unload the food from the truck, set up tables for shopping, serve families, and repack any remaining items at the end of the day.

The Mobile Food Pantry offers many of the same items found in the main Food Pantry location. Food is organized on tables in accordance with a shopping list, allowing shoppers to easily find items that meet their family’s needs. Fresh produce, meat, canned soups, pasta, cereal, bread and pastries, perishable items, rice, and peanut butter are among the wide selection of groceries. In addition, essential household and personal items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and shampoo are available.

The end of shopping is not the end of the Mobile Food Pantry experience. Saddleback’s Food Pantry program focuses on sharing Christ’s love with every person who walks through the door. Volunteers help families take groceries to their car and then spend time talking and praying with them before they leave. It’s the heart and compassion of the volunteers and staff that turns a visit to the Food Pantry from a trip of despair to one of love, hope, and encouragement.  

Hunger is a rampant yet often invisible problem to most of us in Southern California. The good news is that with little effort, you can make a big difference in the lives of local families who are faced with the daily reality of not having food to eat. The Food Pantry’s work would not be possible without support from the community. Through donations and volunteering, we are working to end hunger and transform the lives of our neighbors— young and old—who are struggling to feed themselves.

For more information on ways you can help or to donate online, click HERE to visit The Food Pantry online.