Laguna Food Pantry celebrates its 25th anniversary as a force for good in the community.
By Tanya A. Yacina
For 25 years, Laguna Food Pantry has served the community and now provides free, fresh groceries to more than 400 Orange County households each week—that’s 80 to 100 individuals or families per day. In September, the organization celebrated its achievements, silver anniversary and continued mission during the Come to the Table fundraiser at the home of pantry volunteers Sharon and Roger McErlane.
The pantry also recently received commendations from the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Laguna Beach City Council. But the pantry and its volunteers don’t do it for the accolades. Borne out of necessity, the pantry began as the Laguna Relief and Resource Center in 1993 to assist those in the community with emergency needs during times of natural disaster, says Anne Broussard Belyea, the pantry’s executive director. Food, clothing and furniture was provided as many local residents had lost everything in the fire and, later, the flood and landslides.
Early on, the importance of an ongoing community partnership to address the challenge of food insecurity was realized—and now the organization focuses solely on food. About 10 years ago, the pantry moved from a small home on Laguna Canyon Road to its current location, also in the canyon. More than 100 in-house volunteers and 30 volunteer drivers collect and distribute over 4,000 pounds of groceries to local families daily.
“We [gather] rescue food from eight local grocery stores, seven days a week,” Belyea explains. “Rescue food” means items that are overstocked, aren’t selling well or are nearing their expiration dates, produce that isn’t cosmetically perfect and post-holiday items. “Also, we purchase rescue food from Second Harvest Food Bank at an incredible discount,” Belyea continues. “Four to five days a week, we are buying about $400 to $800 worth of eggs, milk and produce to supplement what we rescue.”
Laguna Food Pantry is located in Laguna Beach, but shoppers are not required to live in town, and while identification is appreciated, it is not required. The pantry only requests that shoppers limit visits to once a week. “In a clean, friendly, grocery store-like setting, our shoppers are welcome to choose what they’d like, depending upon what we have in stock that day,” Belyea says. “Typically, each shopper takes home about 50 pounds of groceries for their family.”
According to Irvine-based Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, there are more than 300,000 people—which includes one in six children—who face the risk of hunger every month in this county. Many affected are the working poor who struggle to make ends meet with this area’s high cost of living.
“The people who shop at the Laguna Food Pantry are just like you and me. It’s merely life circumstances that bring them to our doors—a lost job, a death in the family, medical expenses, a fixed income, divorce, disability, injury or they are just having a difficult time making ends meet in Orange County,” Belyea says. “Some of these shoppers are now volunteers [and are] giving back.”
Shikira Paul began helping at the Laguna Food Pantry when she returned to town after college, and says she and the other volunteers enjoy the positive environment as they work together for the same purpose. She assists at the pantry three days per week, but also comes in on her off days as needed.
“We have so many incredible volunteers because everyone is willing to help in different ways. Every job we have is essential in contributing to the success of running the food pantry,” Paul says. “The feeling that we can make a big difference and impact in the lives of others is indescribable and completely remarkable. Together, we are all helping make the world just a little bit better.”
It Takes a Village
Belyea explains that the community’s need for the pantry’s assistance is year-round, however, summer is a busier time because school-age children are not benefiting from subsidized meals on campus. During the holidays, another peak time, the pantry teams up with other community groups for additional help.
Volunteer Tim Hankins drives to pick up grocery store donations for the Laguna Food Pantry. He also shops at the Second Harvest Food Bank for produce, canned goods and dry foods for pantry patrons.
“My largest load from Second Harvest was over 1,700 pounds, mostly canned goods, at a cost to the pantry of zero dollars. I am especially proud of that day’s shopping. The usual load from Second Harvest is about 700 pounds,” Hankins says. “The pantry’s mission is important to me personally because there are too many people, especially those with children, in need of food and shelter.”
In addition to grants, Belyea says the pantry receives donations and funding from individuals, corporations, foundations and other organizations.
“Our board of directors is amazingly generous with their time and resources, devoting time inside the pantry and out supporting our mission to make sure no one goes hungry,” Belyea says. “The pantry will continue to fulfill its mission because of the dedication of our board of directors, the community and our volunteers.”
How to Help
To donate money to Laguna Food Pantry, visit the organization’s website, lagunafoodpantry.org.
Volunteers are also welcome: To get involved, email Volunteer Coordinator Lesli Henderson at [email protected] to set up a time to see the pantry in action and learn more.
For those interested in donating food, items needed are peanut butter, tuna, rice, beans, pasta, pasta sauce and cereal. Items may be dropped off at the pantry, 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, Unit B, or placed in the collection box at U.S. Bank, 310 Glenneyre St., during business hours.
For more information, contact Laguna Food Pantry at 949-497-7121.