As the San Gabriel Valley enters its second month of stay-at-home orders, thousands of jobless families across the region look for different ways to get meals on the table.
“Our vulnerable and at-risk clients, living in our bridge housing and supportive housing sites, as well as hundreds of our clients staying in motels and apartments, now depend on us for food,” Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station, said in a press release. “In this time of crisis, we are showing how we live our core philosophy of meeting our clients ‘where they are at’ — physically and emotionally.”
Union Station provides food and in-kind donations such as hygiene kits, books and laundry supplies to its clients in the region.
Prior to the pandemic, they provided 2,200 meals weekly. At the beginning of the crisis, Union Station ramped up its production supplying families and individuals with 5,000 meals across the SGV. Now, as the crisis persists, the nonprofit increased its production to 8,000 meals.
“So far we have been able to meet the demand,” said spokesperson Dana Bean. “When we originally planned for this, we thought it would go on for a matter of weeks and now it’s looking like we’ll need to sustain this for the course of several months. We are absolutely still trying to collect more donations, more partnerships to make sure we can sustain this throughout the pandemic.”
Union Station provides these meals in three ways. First, the nonprofit sends 6,000 pre-packaged meals to clients living at Centennial Place, a single-room occupancy building converted from the old YMCA building on Holly Street, and various motels and apartments in the region. The other 2,000 meals are provided to individuals in need of emergency food and supply deliveries and the clients at the Adult and Family centers, who receive three meals a day.
“It is all about time management,” food services manager Marissa Gamboa wrote about how she handles the increase in orders. “This means I have to organize everything and think it through the day before. I have to have a tight timeline and task list for everyone to get it all done.”
While food production rose, the amount of helping hands decreased. In order to comply with social distancing protocols, Union Station drastically reduced the number of volunteers allowed in the facility.
“Due to social distancing, I am only able to have four volunteers on-site at a time,” Gamboa wrote. “I am used to so many more helping hands. Our staff of three with a couple of people from the staffing agency have had to really step up and take it on.”
According to Bean, pre-pandemic the chefs typically received help from eight to 10 volunteers while preparing the 2,200 weekly meals in the kitchen. Bean described the volunteers as the “backbone” of Union Station.
“It certainly put on an additional strain,” she said. “ We’re being asked to do more with less volunteers and less space.”
Due to social distance protocols, the chefs and volunteers needed more space to work and prepare the food.
“We did have to create a mobile kitchen so that we had additional space to do the work,” Bean said. “We’ve created almost a mirror of our physical kitchen outside. [It] is tented with rented equipment so that we have enough space in order to work.”
Even with the shortage of volunteers and adjusting to working in a new environment, Gamboa strives to complete the meals for those in need.
“We have to do it. These people are counting on us. We can’t let them down.”