A Look Back: Cully Neighborhood Food Box Delivery Program

Fresh produce in boxes prepared to be delivered.

In March of 2020, when the news of stay-at-home orders first broke, Living Cully and Verde staff knew that there would need to be a temporary shift in our work. In-person meetings and organizing with community members were on hold. Yet, there was still a need to stay connected with the community members we had built strong ties with. This was also a chance to forge new connections in our community. Understanding that the situation would be temporary, staff set to work putting together a food box delivery program for Cully residents in need. At the time, nobody knew that this temporary shift would last for over 18 months. The weekly door-to-door food box deliveries began with a modest list of 45 recipients. When the program wound down at the beginning of September 2021, the list had grown to over 180 Cully residents receiving a total of roughly 230,000 pounds of food over the course of the program.

In non-pandemic times, neither Living Cully (LC) nor Verde provides direct services. This meant that for the food box delivery program to work, it would need to be a collaborative effort. We contacted Community Cycling Center (CCC) and Northeast Emergency Food Program (NEFP) to see if they had any interest in partnering with us on this effort. Community engagement coordinator, Mayra Torres, was already developing a similar program with NEFP. Naturally, they were on board with the idea. CCC has a program in Cully that encourages community members to walk and bike called Andando en Bici y Caminando (ABC). They felt that this program was a great fit for their shift in efforts during the pandemic. The combined power of these four organizations allowed us to secure food (NEFP), coordinate the process and organize volunteers (LC and Verde), and even deliver some food boxes via bike (CCC)! All four partners had to be flexible with each other to ensure that the food boxes were ready to go every Friday. We were even able to deliver the food boxes during the fires that occurred last September. This was only possible thanks to everyone’s dedication and with the help of community partner C3 Church. According to LC staffer Mayra Torres, “The scope and scale of coordinating this program can’t be understated. It was like hosting a mini-event each week.”

Volunteers hand out food boxes to resident recipients at Arbor mobile home park.

Through Living Cully’s connections to the community, we created a modest list of folks who could benefit from the food delivery program. Through our other COVID relief programs, including renter relief, the original list grew to over 180 recipients at certain points during the program. Cully food box recipients also connected us with their friends, family, and neighbors. This allowed us to expand the impact of the program throughout the community. Food box recipient Claudia Fidencio stated, “When covid started we were left with no job, so any help we received was a huge help for me and my household.”

Living Cully coalition members Hacienda CDC and NAYA Family Center also operated their own food programs to serve their residents and community members. These programs show the ability of community organizations to collaborate and innovate to provide direct aid to the communities that they serve. Since we are not usually a direct service provider, our ability to reach out to other community organizations for ideas made this program a success. One of the unique and beneficial aspects of this program was that the food boxes were delivered directly to recipients. Food box recipient and volunteer Maira Galindo mentioned, “Having food boxes dropped to people’s porches is something I’ve never seen. I know there are places to go and get food, but it was amazing to just receive food to your porch so people didn’t have to worry about leaving their home.”

Volunteers preparing food boxes to be delivered.

The partners did a great job working together to ensure that things ran smoothly. This effort would not be possible without the help of dedicated volunteers. Rain or shine, they showed up every week to help out their community in any way that they could. Several of the volunteers had never volunteered for anything before. After only a few weeks, many volunteers had gained valuable new skills. Volunteers felt empowered and gained valuable leadership experience. Additionally, they made meaningful connections to their community. As volunteer and recipient Maira put it, “Being able to meet my community and help my community, now I know most of the people from my [mobile home] park and that is good and also a reward.” The impact of dedicated volunteers in making this program successful was invaluable. We are truly grateful for their commitment to the program and their community.

An issue that was always looming over the program was the potential of someone transmitting COVID to others. This was a concern throughout the effort, even more so early on in the program, when there was no vaccine available. Staff from the four partnering organizations put reducing the possibility of COVID exposure at the forefront of the program. The processes and procedures that they created helped to ensure that everyone stayed safe. Volunteer Maira pointed out, “Volunteering during the pandemic was scary but at the same time, I still wanted to do it and help people out.” While there were a few instances of potential exposures that forced the team to take a week off from deliveries, there were ultimately no instances of COVID transmission during the food box program.

We are thankful to all the wonderful volunteers that came out in support of their community. We are grateful to all the staff for taking on this program and ensuring that everyone was safe while doing it. Cully community members in need of food should look at this list of resources we have compiled: CLICK HERE.  Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram accounts for new announcements and to learn about any other available resources.

Volunteer appreciation party after one year of program.

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