COMMERCE, California – Working indoors during a pandemic might make some people uncomfortable, but Kevin Caceres says he doesn’t mind. She spends her time helping out at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s large warehouse facility in Commerce.
“I just follow the guidelines and I socialize as much as I can,” said Caceres. “I wash my hands and sterilize as much as possible.”
Caceres began volunteering in June as part of an Americorp internship, packaging and distributing food supplies that are given to 22,000 families a week throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Caceres, who graduated from UCLA in December, grew up in Lynwood and said he saw first-hand the problems facing underserved communities, including food insecurity.
“I think it’s very satisfying, helping others in need,” said Caceres. “I also want to be a doctor in the future, so I feel that getting this experience will help me in the future to become a great health professional.”
About two dozen foreigners volunteered along with Caceres, but only five have appeared in the past. Since the pandemic, the food bank has lost 90 percent of its volunteer base, which is largely a group of corporate employees.
Ana Martinez, LA Regional Food Bank’s volunteer coordinator, said she saw a 125 percent increase in food demand from struggling families.
“Some of them never go to food distribution because of them [didn’t need] food aid, “said Martinez. “However, because of time, they may have shorter working hours, leave, they get laid off.”
Martinez says a food package can last a family of four for about two to three weeks and includes protein, fresh produce, shelf-stable foods such as pasta and dairy products. All food should be arranged in a box before sharing.
Since early April, 60 members of the California Army National Guard have helped collect more than one million emergency food kits.
“Without them, I really don’t know where we will be at the moment,” said Martinez, adding that many of the guards have been deployed to other duties over the past few weeks, and only 20 are left.
With the number of volunteers dwindling, Martinez said he was worried about gathering enough equipment to get through the holidays because he hoped more people would need food. There are some permanent volunteers but Martinez said people are reluctant to help out in warehouses for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus. Food banks follow CDC guidelines on protecting volunteers and staff from the coronavirus, and that includes temperature checks, following social distancing guidelines and wearing personal protective equipment.
Caceres said he likes helping even a small part of the family.
“They tell you the number of boxes you made at the end of the day,” says Caceres. “You make like, 1,500 boxes, and that’s going to impact 1,500 families, and that makes you feel very comfortable.”
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