Since 1978, Food Share has been feeding their community of Ventura County. The food bank began in a family garage, then quickly outgrew a donated fire station, and now operates in Oxnard, Calif. with three warehouses with a combined 46,000 square feet.
More than 40 years later, Gina Howey (pictured below) and her husband, Walter Burstein, were busy family doctors in Ventura County before they went into semi-retirement and began volunteering with Food Share in 2020.
“One of Food Share’s Harvester newsletters came to the house, and I was reading about volunteer opportunities,” said Gina, explaining how she and her husband found a new occupation “doing the bread run” every Monday morning.
“I saw one of the opportunities was to drive a truck. I always really liked driving to the point that my mother-in-law had a joke with me that if medicine didn’t work out, then Plan B was to be a truck driver. It was a perfect fit!”
For the uninitiated, “doing the bread run” involves picking up unsold food of all types — not just bread — from retail partners like Vons and Ralph’s. Several teams do the run every Monday morning and the resulting food supplements the items that Food Share purchases providing a more diverse selection of foods, including bread, meat, and dairy products.
A lot of times people are eating badly because they don’t have the money to buy vegetables and fruits. Good nutrition is critical to good health.
Gina Howey, Food Share Volunteer
As doctors, the couple have seen the impact of food insecurity on health and wellbeing. “I had longtime patients — a couple. They were well off and would talk about trips they were taking and the restaurants they would go to,” Gina explains. “Some years after the husband passed away, I saw the wife and she had lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t figure out why until she finally confessed that she didn’t have enough money for food. It was so hard for her to admit it coming from the lifestyle she had been used to.”
This is only one example of how hunger can hide in plain sight. Countless studies have shown the impact that food insecurity and poor nutrition has on mental and physical health, children’s academic performance, and older adults’ ability to remain active and independent. Food Share’s work is critical to providing a healthy future for thousands of people in Ventura County.
Never has this been more vital than during the past three years as the number of people seeking assistance has skyrocketed. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to cope with the increased demand coupled with the closure of a quarter of Food Share’s network of community pantries, the organization began running “pop-up” emergency, drive-thru, food box distributions. The boxes contain shelf-stable pantry items like rice, pasta, peanut butter and canned proteins like chicken and tuna. And, with the support of the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family Program, they’re supplemented with California-grown, seasonal fresh produce. When available, milk and cheese are also distributed.
Initially, the expectation was that the distributions might be needed for a few weeks, but those weeks quickly turned into months, and those months into years. Nine hundred and fifty distributions later, Food Share is entering its fourth year providing emergency food boxes. We at CAFB are so grateful for our partnership with Food Share, and for all of the work that they do every day.
To learn more about Food Share Ventura County, check out their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
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