Ocean Beach neighborhood food pantry, like others in San Diego, is struggling
It’s 9:00 o'clock on a Monday morning and the people gathered at Sunset Cliffs and Saratoga Avenue in Ocean Beach have already been waiting for hours for food distribution to begin.
“Next is to cook, to cook," is heard.
The voice is that of Patrick Swanner, saying the next person in line gets a bag that has items for cooking. There are also no-cook bags.
Swanner is the pantry coordinator for Loaves & Fishes, a food pantry supported by six different churches in the OB-Point Loma area. He’s been doing this for more than two and a half years.
“This is the first time since I’ve started that I’ve actually been worried about feeding people," Swanner said.
He said pre-pandemic, Loaves & Fishes got all the food they needed from donations and from the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego.
Then the pandemic hit; terrible in most regards, but not for Loaves & Fishes.
“I know this is going to sound terrible, but the pandemic was great for the benefits that was happening. So the government did open up their hands, they opened up their hearts, and they were like, 'We’re ready to help,'" he said.
But that financial help dried up in March. Donations only make up about 30% of the food they need. The rest, they have to buy from the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego.
“Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank has it cheaper and that is great. It helps us out," Swanner said.
But the pantry has to buy some items themselves, he said.
"Some items are really expensive, and they’re items that we care about, like peanut butter and tuna and soups," he said.
As you might imagine, Loaves & Fishes, like other neighborhood food pantries, operates on a shoestring budget.
“We’ll have volunteers go buy stuff out of their own pockets and the generosity of everybody has just been so awesome," Swanner said.
But even with that, it’s getting harder and harder to put together bags of food for people who rely on Loaves & Fishes, like Richard Searle.
“I’m 80 years old. I shouldn’t be in this line," Searle said.
Searle is a Vietnam Veteran. For him, Loaves & Fishes is about much more than food.
“I was losing it. OK? And the only thing that kept me together was being able to come here and just ... you know," Searle said as he began to tear up.
Loaves & Fishes also hands out feminine hygiene products, and they hand out dog and cat food. Paula Boyd leads the team that gets the pet food ready.
“(Pets) are so important to (people's) mental health. They are vital to their mental health," Boyd said.
Through these tough times, Swanner said he never loses hope.
“All we have is hope so even if we run out of food, I’ll still be giving hope. I really believe in that. And so no, I haven’t lost hope yet. It’s just been harder to find it," he said.
If you’d like to help the website is sdloavesfishes.org.
Of course Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank can always use donations as well; donations that keep hope alive for so many.