OAKLEY – The young mother is standing on the patio in the dark, eating a frozen burrito from a cooler placed outside.
“He hasn’t eaten in three days,” said Heather Ochoa, who left a burrito on her porch for anyone who was hungry. The corona virus pandemic was in its early stages and Ochoa already realized that the need for food was increasing.
So she started preparing food from her kitchen and extra groceries to help feed her hungry mouth.
“What would he do if I weren’t there?” Ochoa said about the woman on the veranda. “He’s going to starve. She gave all the food she could get for her children, not for herself. “
Brentwood’s mother had found Ochoa through the Facebook group, “See Needs, Meet Costa’s Needs,” and have messaged her asking for help.
Social media posts and word of mouth helped spread the word that Ochoa, a mother of four, almost always had leftovers. That even though he himself was laid off from his job at the local school last spring.
“The pandemic has me putting it out on my veranda,” Ochoa said, noting she has an extra fridge and a large kitchen to store extra food.
So successful was Ochoa’s kitchen and delivery of her food to those who couldn’t make it to her that she now has her own Facebook group, “The kitchen … Where God guides, He provides,” to share the news of his daily food gifts. A non-profit organization with the same name is also at work and friends have started GoFundMe page to help with legal fees.
Ochoa’s charity scheme started much earlier when she moved to Brentwood in the early 2000s. A new member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, she began volunteering for the Friday meal held in connection with St. Petersburg. Vincent de Paul. He later also invented an annual toy drive to help out during the holidays.
“I’ve always wanted that (volunteered) – that’s what God asked me to do,” said Ochoa.
But realizing many of the city’s older residents could not drive or have the means to get to church, and others were unable to attend during the giving hours, the young mother started a delivery service to distribute food.
“When it suits everyone, I make myself comfortable for everyone,” he said.
Ochoa then moved to Summer Lake in Oakley and continued his work, both from his home on Sycamore Drive and through his delivery to those in need, including seniors, cancer patients, and others temporarily because of their luck who did not qualify for the assistance program.
“Driving to Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pittsburg, Antioch and Concord – that’s what I did,” he said. “I like to go to their house and meet them and give them food. Not everyone can afford a car…. I helped many families who had cancer or were sick, disabled or elderly. Some cannot afford to buy groceries for a week or they cannot apply for food stamps or government assistance. “
Every day Ochoa takes out expiring food donations from shops and bakeries, which she gives to those who need it or is added to the foyer kitchen, open daily from 1 to 8 pm. She has regular stops on different days, bringing food to elderly families in Brentwood and Bethel Island and to families with children.
When her 2007 Nissan Armada SUV covered 149,000 miles and stopped working, she had to borrow her husband’s much smaller pickup truck to continue the journey until she could save money on repairing her vehicle.
“My husband said he didn’t know I was working too hard until we started sharing trucks,” she added with a laugh.
When his homeowners’ association quoted him for eating on the veranda, nearly 1,850 community members signed a plea support his work. Ochoa now has a shorter, less visible table and at a HOA hearing later this month she intends to request a humanitarian exemption so she can guard her kitchen during the pandemic.
“Heather Ochoa selflessly volunteered to organize a food kitchen in her home for those in need during this unprecedented pandemic,” wrote Jeanne Reeves in the petition she launched three months ago. “We support Heather in this act of selfless kindness 100% and we don’t want her to be quoted or asked to change her arrangements to provide this food to our community.”
Lacey Yamaguchi, a mother of five, is the one who benefited from the Ochoa kitchen after her husband’s salary was cut.
“Heather’s kitchen has helped so many people in our neighborhood,” she said. “I have received from giving members of the community and I can give in the kitchen when I have extras.
Vicki Aiello, a diabetic, also said he was grateful for Ochoa’s regular food delivery.
“I want you to know how delicious the kitchen is,” he wrote in a message. “They took him to our house and that was very helpful.”
During the holidays Ochoa also provides plenty of Christmas dinners and toys.
“Whenever we need food or whatever, we can really count on it. “She is best through thick and thin,” said Sonia Bryce.
In addition to delivering to individuals, Ochoa frequently visits homeless camp areas to distribute leftovers and, occasionally, can openers. Other local mothers also helped, he said.
“We go out and serve what they need,” said Ochoa. “We are all in this community together. People are sick now. There are a lot of people who have to sell their houses … I am always here and never there to judge you or never deny anyone. “
Ochoa’s three daughters, all of whom have special needs, sometimes help out, bagging the food needed to cook a full meal.
“My kids go to serve with me all the time,” she said of her daughters aged 8, 12 and 14. “They make blessing bags for the homeless, they wash clothes and put them together for the homeless.”
Ochoa said he and others, including churches and nonprofits, “work in partnership with one another.” So when the others had leftovers, he would often pick them up to add to his kitchen, and when they ran out of food, they might send clients to him.
“There are tons of outlets out there,” said Ochoa. “There’s no reason for anyone to feel hungry anymore.”
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