As the National Guard leave the Coachella Valley, high levels of food insecurity amplify the need for volunteers
INDIO – On Thursday, March 31, the National Guard will officially end its two-year mission at FIND Food Bank. Initially deployed in March 2020 to assist food banks across the country during a historic hunger crisis and dire volunteer shortage following the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, the guard remained a vital part of FIND’s response to the prolonged economic crisis.
FIND Food Bank is the Desert’s Regional Food Bank serving over 5,000 square miles, including eastern Riverside and southern San Bernardino Counties, from the Hi-Desert and Joshua Tree across the Coachella Valley to Anza, down to the Salton Sea and the border of CA and AZ. FIND is the largest hunger-relief and food rescue organization in the region.
At the pandemic’s peak, 30 guard members reported to FIND’s warehouse to help sort, pack, and equitably distribute food supplies to 190,000 people in need of food assistance, many for the first time. The guard helped FIND double its distribution of healthy foods into the community from 12 million pounds before the pandemic to 24 million pounds annually in 2020 and 2021. They assumed a workforce role after FIND lost over 75% of its volunteers to stay-at-home orders. FIND volunteers pre-pandemic was equivalent to at least 8 full-time staff members.
“Since their arrival, the guard has served over a million hours at FIND Food Bank. Volunteer work is essential to FIND’s efficiency. Because of their hard work FIND is able to distribute over 20 million meals annually with only a $4 million annual operating budget. This means approximately $25 can supply over 100 meals to the community,” explains FIND CEO, Debbie Espinosa. “The guard has filled a critical role in our operations since volunteer numbers never quite returned to where they were prior to the pandemic.”
Natalie Zarate, a Specialist in the Army National Guard in California, was deployed to FIND Food Bank in July 2021 because FIND needed more help than other food banks. Zarate shares, “There was the least amount of guards and volunteers, this was truly one of the food banks that needed the most help, and I’ve worked in LA, Orange County, San Bernardino, and even El Centro.”
“We’re grateful for the guard’s assistance through two of the most challenging years in our community’s history,” says Espinosa. “We welcome companies, clubs, HOAs, and any organized group to volunteer at FIND to keep the momentum going while food insecurity remains high due to inflation and supply chain shortages.”
Learn more about volunteer opportunities at FIND Food Bank and sign up for an event by clicking here.
- National Guard deployed to FIND Food Bank: FIND Food Bank