Photo by Oliver Rivero / el Don
By the time the gates at Santa Ana College opened at 8 a.m. Saturday, the line of cars waiting to drive through the campus for a free week’s supply of food was over a mile long. Parked cars backed up on northbound Bristol all the way to the last intersection before the 22 freeway. Down 17th Street, a single-file row of cars stretched towards Harbor Blvd.
Without signage or a time frame, some people got frustrated after a few hours of waiting and left. Others stayed put despite not knowing if they were in the correct spot for entry. Santa Ana police officers came out to direct traffic. Volunteers compared it to the “Disneyland line.”
“We were not ready for this response. We anticipated it but you never know until you’re in the fire,” said Andre Roberson, president of Power of One Foundation, which organized the event. “We have some adjustments to do. We need to get to a bigger site. We need to add four, five more lanes maybe… We need to get to more cars faster.”
Santa Ana Police Department and SAC Safety and Security staff allowed the food drive to continue an hour and a half longer than it was originally scheduled. At 2 p.m. they tagged the last 500 cars still in line and disbanded the rest due to traffic issues.
By 3:30 p.m., food distribution was finished and over 4,000 cars had snaked through the line and into Lot 6, where they popped their trunks and received a box with enough food and produce designed to feed a family of five for a week. Organizers estimate that the food distributed will feed about 20,000 people.
Boxes included donated milk, apples, oranges, 10 cans of non-perishable goods, four different kinds of vegetables, grains, boxes of macaroni and cheese and servings of pork, ham and orange juice.
Food insecurity was a significant issue for SAC students even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread job loss and economic uncertainty. According to a student survey conducted last fall, more than half of all students reported having to choose between buying food and purchasing other resources. About 65% said they have experienced an inadequate food supply more than once this semester. 13% went without eating more than five times per term.
To address the needs of food-insecure students, Associated Student Government launched the Don’s Corner, a weekly food pantry, on Feb. 27.
“We have a need amongst our students,” said Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee Claudia Alvarez. “I know we had the farmers market. It’s one of the biggest projects our ASG president has talked about, and we made it happen. Unfortunately, we only had two of them then the pandemic hit, but that’s not to say we are not aware of the need or that we are not going to address that need.”
The drive-through emergency food assistance distribution program was organized by Orange County-based nonprofits Power of One Foundation and Official No One Left Behind, which has been holding weekly food drives since last month. This weekend, the two organizations partnered with the city of Santa Ana, Santa Ana College, Orange County Food Bank, Goodwill and local companies such as Northgate to secure food items.
Roberson said his organization has fed about 20,000 families over the last four Saturdays of food distribution. He helped organize the first drive-through emergency food assistance program last month when the novel COVID-19 was slowly spreading throughout the nation.
For the first three weeks, the food drives were held at the Magnolia Science Academy, but the response of people attending was too overwhelming for that site and it was moved to SAC.
Roberson said they now need an even bigger site and will be moving next week’s emergency food assistance distribution to the Main Place Mall on Saturday, April 18. He wants to talk to the City of Santa Ana about keeping the Santa Ana College site open as well.
Organizers advise people to come early and to be patient. Distribution begins at 8 a.m.
“It’s sad that it’s that many people that need food, but it’s great that we are able to provide for them today,” Alvarez said.