Lutheran Social Services of Southern California San Fernando Valley food recipient and volunteer shares how the food pantry has been there for her, her three sons and her husband
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank recently had the opportunity to learn how one of our partners, Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, has shifted operations to meet the heightened demand for food assistance in their community (read the related story). Jan shares that a big reason that their organization has been able to keep up with the unprecedented levels of need during this global pandemic is that, thankfully, there has been a solid amount of support from the community, especially those who can volunteer. One of those volunteers at LSSSC is Bricia Montano.
Two years ago, Bricia, a member of her neighborhood for the past 20 years, noticed an open door across the street from her. She decided to stop by to see what it was with another neighbor. That open door happened to be LSSSC, where she then realized a food pantry that was providing food resources, which she and her family needed. She also asked if she was able to volunteer. She has now been volunteering here three times a week, typically from 9 am until 12 pm after cooking breakfast for her sons, while also receiving food assistance and resources from LSSSC.
From Veracruz, Mexico, 53-year-old Bricia is a mother to 20-year-old college student Gustavo, college student 18-year-old Carlos and 15-year-old Diego. She lives across the street from LSSSC in a two-bedroom 1 bathroom apartment with her husband Eduardo, an essential worker for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. She shares that it has been stressful during this pandemic with everyone at home in their shared space and managing three boys.
Gustavo and Diego have dandy walker syndrome (a brain malformation that occurs during embryonic development of the cerebellum and 4th ventricle and symptoms typically include developmental delay, low lone or later high tone, poor coordination and balance). She says that they have no control of their head and body; however, they walk, speak, eat, and shower, but when they walk, she has to look out and why she is home to make sure they’re okay.
Having the Food Pantry across the street has provided Bricia and her family with invaluable resources. “I see my husband and he has a paycheck that goes to bills like the car payment, car insurance, rent, and when my kids and I go to the market, sometimes they want things but we are on a budget. Now that I have the Food Pantry, I’m able to get things we need like canned food – it’s a lot of help for my family.”
“Sometimes we don’t eat because it’s expensive. We watch for specials at the market to see if we can get any deals.”
With her husband being the only one in their household with an income, they must carefully budget and ration everything – including chicken sometimes. “I have a freezer that I pack with bread, chicken breasts that I’ve bought, cleaned and rationed and froze for us to make it last, including the food I get at the Food Pantry too. To come here is a lot of help for us.
Some of the items that Bricia will get include bread, peanut butter, jelly, fresh apples, bananas, other fruit and clothes. LSSSC provides Emergency Services (food pantry, clothing closet, rider relief/bus coupons and tokens, hygiene kits and food assistance), Social Services (referral services, case management and community resource referrals) and Transitional Services (housing counseling and payee representative services)
Because there are so many bills that their family’s sole source of income is spoken for, going across the street to this food pantry helps Bricia and her family. She says that while she cannot bring another paycheck home, she tries to help in other ways – even if it means getting bread home for the family. “The Food Pantry helps us be okay as a family.”
“It would be more hard for my family and me without the Food Pantry, especially with this virus, I don’t know what we would do without this place. I would have to go to the market, spend more money that we don’t have.”
She says that there is a market that is nearby but is expensive.
“A bunch of bananas is almost three dollars. Three dollars is three dollars. Tortillas are four dollars. But with the food pantry – I can get some of these items and get creative with making things last. For example, with bananas and multi-purpose flour I got here, I asked my kids to help me make banana bread and they said, “okay, mama” and then we will at least have some sweet bread for a couple of days.”
“This Food Pantry is a lot of help for a lot of people because I know a lot of other people in need and I can point them to the Food Pantry for help. It’s been helping my family and me a lot, especially my husband, because he used to go to Food4Less to buy bread for 2 for four dollars and now I can get the bread here, which helps a lot.”
“It’s hard to see your kids when they want to eat something and you have to say, I can’t provide that for you.”
Many people in her family often ask why she and her family are struggling financially if her husband works for the city.
“He works for the city, but they don’t see that he has to pay for everything. Nothing is free. The owner of our apartment building knows he works for the city and every first of the month, he comes around because he knows he would have gotten paid by then. My husband is trying to keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table. He says that I help him a lot by bringing some food to the table too from the Food Pantry.”
“It’s the little I can do to help and it’s thanks to the Food Pantry. I can’t leave the kids by themselves for too long because they are developmentally delayed and the Food Pantry has been so helpful, especially during the recent holiday season. For Thanksgiving, I was so happy that they were giving away a turkey. My little one, with dandy walker syndrome, asked if we were going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving and I told them that we would because of the Food Pantry. The kids were so happy to see the turkey and the Food Pantry also gave away ham so I didn’t have to buy it for the holidays. I didn’t have to tell my husband that we would have to go buy these things which would make him worry.”
“I wasn’t sure how we were going to do this past Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I’m thankful for this place, for Jan and everyone else here because we have food.”
You have to appreciate you have food – some people don’t have what you are throwing away. I applied for food stamps for my family and I and was immediately told we didn’t qualify because they said my husband worked and that that was enough.
“I told my neighbor – we have to appreciate what we have on the table. We have food – there are a lot of people who wish for just bread. I tell people that they have to appreciate what they have – that’s there are so many people suffering right now everywhere, whether they are rich or poor. The virus has made it harder for my family and me. My husband’s coworker passed away from the virus and my husband takes Covid-19 tests every week now. One of my cousins passed away from Covid-19 too. This pandemic is hard for everyone, everywhere.”
Being able to seek help and also provide help at the Food Pantry at LSSSC has been a saving grace for Bricia and her family, especially during this pandemic.
When Bricia volunteers, she helps with loading and stacking the shelves with food products and also helping with stocking and restocking the clothing closet, cleaning and organizing the space. “Coming here is like a paradise – it’s relaxing compared to being home, watching the boys. The night before I volunteer, I will usually prepare food for the boys the next day so that they will be all set while I’m volunteering. I feel in my soul I’m doing something good – even if it’s sharing the bananas that I get at the Food Pantry with my neighbors because they are so happy.
We take turns taking care of each other’s families and I help when I can. It feels good to help.”