Volunteers at a Mission Viejo grocery distribution feed hundreds

Volunteers work together to prepare and load groceries. Brandon Chavez/Lariat

Volunteers work together to prepare and load groceries. Brandon Chavez/Lariat

Church-run drive-thru provides food for those in need

Saddleback and Rock Harbor Church members and patrons of the community distributed groceries Saturday, Feb. 8 in the parking lot at Los Alisos Intermediate School. The event, hosted by both churches, supplied low-income families with fresh produce, dairy, and deli, all while providing emotional support and spiritual guidance. Jennifer Rohde, the distribution coordinator, described the process as quite the challenge.

“On average, you can serve about 150 cars per hour,” she said. “We have a lot of people, including ourselves who are hurting.”

Volunteers were adamant about social distancing, opening up both a drive-thru and parking lot to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Guests pulled up near a designated spot and masked volunteers would do all the rest, loading the recipient’s trunk with enough to feed their whole household.”

“Every ticket marks a family and the number of people in a household,” Rohde said. “Four people per family is one ticket.”

The grocery distribution wasn’t just an opportunity to give to others, it was a chance to alter lives. For some, that meant putting food on the table and avoiding an empty stomach. For others, it saved a trip to the supermarket and allowed them to conserve resources.

“We don’t have time to visit the grocery store,” said Luz Rodriguez, a middle school student. “Mom is a single mother and works six days a week.”

Nate Haan, a volunteer directing traffic, was jobless himself, laid off in March due to the pandemic. Despite this, he was adamant about assisting other people, even in his time of need.

“I just feel led to help those that are less fortunate than I am,” he said. “It’s such a blessing, God is able to provide for me so I can provide for others.”

Human interaction was a key factor of the grocery distribution, with numerous teams engaging in conversation and working together to accomplish a singular goal. For Eugene Halim and his family of volunteers, it was the thing they needed to get through the pandemic.

Jennifer Rohde explains procedures to a few volunteers. Brandon Chavez/Lariat

“You’re confined, you have no place to go, this is the remedy,” he said. “When we do food banks, it’s not just us serving people. It’s people serving people.”

Participants ranged from younger children still in middle school, to working adults and senior citizens. Skill and past training weren’t required either, with a good amount of volunteers being recent additions to the team.

“You don’t have to be a Christian, you don’t have to be a member of the church,” said Amanda Simmons, a middle-school volunteer with seven years of experience. “Anyone can do this.”

Tom Peterson, leader of a small religious group, was afraid and hesitant when he first heard about volunteering. He has since found that it was a perfect fit for him because he enjoys helping other individuals.

“If people have felt that call, that feeling you should volunteer, do it,” he said. “It might not be the thing for you but try it.”

The grocery distribution was a valuable resource for middle school student Matthew Halim. He took it upon himself to knock out some volunteer hours while feeling good in the process.

“If college students need volunteering this is the place,” he said. “Even when you had a bad day you help someone, you know you made a difference.”

Saddleback and Rock Harbor Church have headed grocery distribution events all over southern California, including Anaheim, Newport Beach, and Mile Square Park. Since the start of the pandemic, over half a million people have been fed through their services and the effort won’t stop once conditions return to normal. Post-COVID plans see a transition into a food pantry, where volunteers will serve a traditional buffet.

The church website provides additional information on current events, including dates, times, and locations for all of their upcoming grocery distributions, as well as opportunities to assist.