LocationAlhambra , CA United States
On Saturday, Dec. 1, dozens of people lined up outside Alhambra High School, waiting their turn to pick fresh food that had been donated for families in need.
Inside the school, volunteers unpack and sort boxes of produce for the families to take home. These men and women are essential in making sure the food is of the best quality.
“Once you see something wrong with the fruits or vegetables, you want to peel the outside, you want to clean up to the best part,” said Flora Yeh, who coordinates the food bank for the Tzu Chi Foundation. “What we receive may not be in the perfect condition, but we want to put it in better condition to give to other people.”
Tzu Chi is a national Buddhist organization dedicated to service in the areas of health, the environment, medicine and relief. The organization runs a medical clinic in Alhambra and has organized monthly food banks with the Alhambra Unified School District’s mental health and wellness program, Gateway to Success, for the past two years.
Around 200 families attended the Dec. 1 food bank, said Monica Hernandez, Gateway to Success parent engagement counselor. More families were eligible to attend, but live outside of Alhambra and did not have transportation that day.
The collaboration started with Laurel Bear, Alhambra Unified’s assistant superintendent for student and employee welfare until last year. After meeting with Yeh, she visited Tzu Chi’s food bank operation in San Bernardino and wanted to start a similar program in Alhambra.
The district and Tzu Chi kicked off this initiative with a back-to-school program in August of 2017, focusing on the distribution of backpacks and school supplies. Since then, many organizations have donated fresh and nonperishable foods to the food bank every month, including pallets of fresh produce from wholesale farmers. The Tzu Chi Foundation accepts all food donations as long as they’re not spoiled and don’t contain meat, in line with the organization’s Buddhist beliefs in vegetarianism.
“People keep calling and ask ‘can we donate?'” Yeh said of the local community’s generosity.
Food isn’t the only thing offered at these events. The local community provides clothing and shoe donations, a book drive and even free haircuts. There are also activities for children who attend the food bank. “When the parents are busy getting the food, the kids can read or do some arts and crafts,” Yeh said.
At last Saturday’s food bank, Gateway to Success also held mental health workshop for students and parents, where parents ended up having a lot of questions for Hernandez and mental health counselor Tonya El-Hendi to answer. “We actually ran out of time so we asked parents if they were interested in a part two of the workshop and they all agreed,” Hernandez said.
“The parents had excellent questions related to not only good mental health which was the discussion but to successful parenting,” said El-Hendi via email. “We need to create more opportunities for parents to have the sort of dialogue that had taken place.”
Participants, who spoke to the Alhambra Source on condition of anonymity, said they appreciated the freshness of the food and the access to supplies for their children.
“I’m just really grateful for all the help that we get,” said one mother whose three children attend Alhambra schools.
“Sometimes you can buy stuff, sometimes you’re in situations that you can’t,” said another participating mother. “This brings a lot of communities together and it helps a lot of kids with school supplies.”
She added that the food bank also sets a good example for the students who benefit from it. “That helps them see that if you’re in a situation like that, you can get help from the community and you [can] offer yourself to help people too.”
If you’re interested in volunteering at future food banks, sign up here.
Updated Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 1:36 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 6 at 12:31 p.m.