Every Friday morning, hundreds of people converge at the SAC Norton parking lot in San Bernardino, California, United States, for a community produce distribution program, sponsored in part by Loma Linda University Health.
Launched in January 2022, the event is held from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. and serves some 400 families each week. Additional food supports nearly 20 community partnership food suppliers. As much as 2.5 tons of food are distributed each week.
The program has three key sponsors. Helping Hand Pantry secures the equipment needed to move the produce each week; Inland Empire Health Plan provides staff and technical support through an online registration portal and secures the delivery of more than 20 pallets of fresh produce and fruit; and Loma Linda University provides student volunteers and staff to manage the program each week and promote it among community partners.
Surplus produce comes from warehouses in Los Angeles and is delivered by semi-truck to the Jardin de la Salud (Spanish for “Garden of Health”), where it is distributed to families and partner organizations.
“In times like this, when fuel costs are skyrocketing, when housing is so expensive, even food is expensive, people are just so grateful for this resource,” Juan Carlos Belliard, director of Loma Linda University Health’s Institute for Community Partnerships, said. “It’s my end-of-the-week opportunity — it’s almost a spiritual experience to see so many grateful people, and many folks are taking a lot of this food to their neighbors or people who need it.”
Many families come to pick up food for their household, while community partners pick up larger amounts in vans or pickups for distribution to area food banks. Some people distribute food to people experiencing homelessness.
Approximately a dozen Loma Linda University students and staff are volunteering each week, and several Loma Linda University Health departments periodically send volunteers.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for departments to get out of the office to feel our Loma Linda University mission and experience the community side of things,” Belliard says.
Helping Hands Pantry San Bernardino provides many services to the hungry and those in need, with a food bank, college and grad student food assistance, help with feeding pets, pantry gardens, a program for the homeless, and more. The organization’s mission is to serve by providing a place where all in need can come for relief from hunger and find acceptance, while being assisted in finding other resources for their needs.