There have always been efforts on the Coastside to provide free meals to people in need, but nonprofits report the number of people coming to them for food has more than doubled since the pandemic began. That spurred the expansion and initiation of new programs, as well as a wave of volunteers to get the job done. Here are a couple of those volunteers.

Elaine Rotty, Abundant Grace

One afternoon in March, Elaine Rotty showed up at the Abundant Grace Coastside Workforce Development Center to help organize donations of clothes. The next day, the county shut down and Abundant Grace closed its doors. Regardless, she knew Abundant Grace would still serve those experiencing homelesnenss, so Rotty asked Executive Director Eric DeBode what she could do. DeBode asked if she could provide burritos for the upcoming Sunday.

“That’s how it started,” Rotty said.

Very quickly after that, Rotty grew a network of fellow congregants at Community United Methodist Church to deliver homemade sandwiches to Abundant Grace on a rotating basis every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. The network expanded to friends and friends of friends. There are now 45 volunteers who have made and delivered sandwiches.

“I thought, we’ll do this for more than two months,” she said. “Now we’re in our eight month.”

Steve Hurlbut, Coastside Hope

Every Tuesday and Thursday since the pandemic began, Steve Hurlbut has been arriving at the Coastside Hope back office pantry.

Hurlburt, a live sports broadcaster, found himself without work as the pandemic canceled in-person games. He said volunteering was a way to make himself useful.

Though he knew the food pantry was a needed service, the months assisting at the food pantry opened his eyes to how deep the need was.

He treats volunteering like a job. Executive Director Judith Guerrero said he’s consistent and calls days in advance to let the staff know when he’ll be out, which helps her plan how to staff the pantry. Hurlbut insists it’s the least he can do.

“I get more out of it than I’m putting in,” he said.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Hurlbut helped unload three dozen boxes of fresh produce donated by a local family farm.

“This is an example of how the entire Coastside has stepped up to help our neighbors in need,” he said.

Leslie Robertson, ALAS

Leslie Robertson had volunteered with ALAS in the past, but it was the CZU fire in mid-August that prompted her latest effort. In recent weeks, Robertson gathered donations and coordinated with the local Safeway to purchase 200 bags worth of Thanksgiving ingredients, including chickens, potatoes and sparkling cider.

“The goal is to say ‘thank you’ to the farmworker community for picking the food we’ll be eating. And it is essential that these essential farmworkers are getting something for Thanksgiving too,” Robertson said.

On a recent Saturday, she donned the same green hoodie other volunteers wore with the slogan “Our Veggies are Moon Raised.” Many of them were youth like high-schoolers Elizabeth Mendez and Jacqueline Miguel who have been helping pack and deliver bags of food since the drive-by pantry began in March. That Saturday, there were also 350 pies donated by Mercy High School students.

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