On a warm, borderline hot, Wednesday morning, Sara Cruz stands on the blacktop of Rosa Parks Elementary School directing volunteers. Everyone is hard at work. It’s nearly 9 a.m., and it’s almost time for the Pop-up Food Pantry to open.
However, Sara wants to check in on the line before the Pop-up Pantry opens. While the school is tucked away in a shady enclave, it sits at the nexus of Western Addition, the Filmore District and
Japantown – meaning even with shelter-in-place traffic levels, the majority of the line snakes along some busy streets.
As she moves at a fast clip, she reminds participants to maintain a six-foot distance from one another and to keep the sidewalk clear for passersby. Sara is also using this opportunity to touch base with volunteers and disaster service workers stationed to manage the line. She makes sure they have enough water and an understanding of their role for the day.
Sara and her husband Edison are co-leads of the Pop-up Pantry at Rose Parks Elementary School. Every Wednesday, they welcome the Food Bank delivery truck, instruct the volunteers, pack food bags, greet participants, and hand out food. Sara is part of the Food Bank’s Young Professionals Council (YPC), where she first heard about the opportunity to co-lead a pantry. Since Rosa Parks is walking distance from Sara and Edison’s apartment, it was a convenient way to engage with their community during this time.
10 Weeks in and the Growing Need
Rosa Parks was one of the first emergency Pop-up Pantries the Food Bank opened after shelter-in-place went into effect. With the help of countless community volunteers, it now serves around 1,200 households every week.
At the end of what turned out to be a half-mile long line, Sara told one patient participant who lined up early, “we start around nine, things will start moving soon.”
Rosa Parks is just one of 25 pop-ups and 217 neighborhood pantries that remained open after shelter-in-place. Overall, the Food Bank is serving nearly twice as many households as it was before the pandemic.
Stepping Up with Their Community
This is only possible because community members like Sara and Edison saw a need and stepped in. “I am so surprised by how proactive and supportive the community has been,” said Sara. “The volunteers we’ve seen on-site are extremely willing and able; they just want to help out and support as best as they can.”
For the couple, doing this work feels personal – both Sara and Edison were laid off at the end of last year. “Neither of us is working right now, so we understand that the pandemic is affecting a lot of people in adverse ways,” explained Edison. “This was an easy opportunity to give back to the community.”
Sara echoed that sentiment. “When we look back and ask ourselves: ‘What was I doing to help during this time?’ I can say we were doing this,” she said. “We’ve met some really interesting people through this experience – many of them have become our friends.”