COVID-19: Hayward food line routinely turns away 200 cars, rations food to last longer – The Mercury News
HAYWARD — Volunteers at the food line here carry jumper cables. Sometimes, people line up so early to get boxes of free groceries that their cars die.
Sometimes, people who have no cars at all walk up open-handed, grateful to carry home whatever they can.
And more often than not, the city of Hayward that has been distributing food in the Chabot College parking lot for months has run out. Organizers routinely turn away 200 cars.
“We try our best to stretch out what we get to last as long as we can,” said Zachary Ebadi, who has been running the program for the city since April. “It’s just the need is greater than what we have.”
With the coronavirus pandemic entering its 10th month and job losses mounting with the latest lockdown orders issued last week, demand has been unrelenting. Searing images from coast to coast of thousands of cars snaking through parking lots for free food illustrate, in desperate relief, the pandemic’s staggering consequences. The Bay Area, where the cost of housing is so high that many people barely have savings when times are good, has seen the same.
“We never see it go down,” Ebadi said. “We only see it increase.”
At another food distribution site, in Oakland along the Highway 880 frontage road, 1,000 cars line up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In San Jose, the nonprofit Hunger at Home had to move its food giveaway when cars backed up so far they blocked the freeway.
Second Harvest Silicon Valley and Alameda County Community Food Bank are the two major suppliers that distribute for a network of nonprofits across the region. Each has doubled the number of people they serve, jumping from a quarter-million people a month pre-pandemic to a half a million now.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, estimates that by the end of the year, 50 million people in the U.S. won’t have enough to eat, up from 35 million in 2019.
A September report commissioned by the national nonprofit Food Research & Action Center found that 21% of those who lost their jobs nationally during the pandemic reported not having enough food, and that Black and Latinx households, women and children have been especially hard hit.
Even with a vaccine in sight, a long road to economic recovery is expected, and food lines continuing well into 2021 seem inevitable.
“We just know from past recessions and emergencies that it takes a long time for people to get back on their feet,” said Michael Altfest, spokesman for Alameda County Community Food Bank. “We could come out of this and people will have their jobs and have homes, but still owe thousands in back rent. There’s so much now that is stacked against our community.”
In Central San Jose on Wednesday morning, Patricia Festa idled in her car in an industrial neighborhood waiting for the traffic control volunteer to wave her in. She never needed this kind of help before the pandemic.
At age 56, she’s living with her parents. In March, she lost her job as a waitress. Her mother lost her job at the gym. Her father lost his job as a dishwasher. There were weeks here and there when she and her mother were brought back to work, but after the new restrictions were put in place, their financial prospects only worsened. The food line helps make ends meet.
“They’re very nice here,” Festa said of the volunteers at Hunger at Home that added two new sites to its distribution calendar to meet demand. “We don’t feel like, oh, poor people. We feel like it’s a hard time for everybody.”
Vincent Malate, 63, lined up early. He lost his job in food service at Marriott Hotel in San Jose and has been mowing lawns of friends and neighbors for $15. “That doesn’t go too far,” he said. “It’s hard to survive.”
It’s one thing to read about the need, or even see pictures. But for Laura Cabral, who came to the San Jose food line to make a company donation last week, seeing it for herself was shocking. She couldn’t find a place to park at first.
“This is crazy. I didn’t expect the enormity of it,” said Cabral, vice president of Sandis civil engineering company in Campbell. “It really gets real when you see people lined up.”
In Hayward, volunteer Shareen Purcell has been helping distribute boxes of onions, potatoes, spinach, oranges, canned goods, and meat and other food since spring.
“It’s out of control. People are desperate,” she said. “We’ve been going nonstop since April.”
Carl LaRue, 56, is unemployed and his wife’s work hours have been dramatically curtailed. They live in a mobile home park in Hayward and “we’re just trying to get by.” He cues up in line every week by 8:30 a.m.
On Thursday, 815 cars filled the Chabot College parking lot, the third-highest number in 33 weeks. The giveaway is supposed to open at 11 a.m., but “we start earlier and earlier because there are so many people here,” Purcell said.
Sometimes, people have been in line so long, they fall asleep behind the wheel and have to be rousted to keep the line moving.
Ebadi, who runs the Hayward program, says they do the best they can, but it’s heartbreaking to turn people away — and it’s a depressing task he reserves for himself. The week of Thanksgiving, they handed out boxes of food to 750 cars, but it wasn’t enough.
“I went out myself and apologized to them that we were out of food,” he said. “That was pretty rough.”
Like he always does, Ebadi gave his volunteers a pep talk Thursday, thanking them for their help and reminding them to wear their masks and gloves. But with a long line behind them, he also made a request:
“With the meat, let’s limit it to three packages,” he told them. “It will last longer.”
Published at Sun, 13 Dec 2020 14:00:00 +0000