Atascadero Loaves & Fishes, which provides food and other nutritional supplements for the needy in the North County, is looking for a new location with a bigger storage space because the current 2,500 square-foot office/warehouse space on El Camino Real is grossly inadequate for the food storage needs of the pantry, especially with the growing number of people requiring food assistance. 

With the increasing population of poor and homeless people in San Luis Obispo County and the state, food security for the less privileged is becoming a social challenge. This underscores the importance of the food and nourishment program of the Atascadero Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, which was established in April 1985. Last year, 331,121 pounds of food products were served by ALF to its various clients in Atascadero and beyond. There is no doubt that the ALF has become an important resource for those who are in dire need of food assistance. Each client receives enough food to last three days under a food dispensary system that respects the dignity of the clients. The more members a family has, the more the corresponding quantity of food that is given to the family.

The storage problem is quite critical for the organization because of the perishable nature of some of the produce that it distributes. Terry Vail, Pantry Manager, said that “we are looking to relocate to a bigger place that is at least 5,000 square feet because the current office and storage space which is 2,500 square feet will not be able to accommodate the new freezers and refrigerators that we intend to bring in.” 

Various food items require specific storage arrangements. The pantry currently has 15 freezers and refrigerators. It has plans to increase the number of freezers and refrigerators to 19 as soon as there are available spaces for them.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

Kathleen Aragon, volunteer coordinator, explained why the new appliances would be very useful to the pantry.

“We have made substantial efforts to increase the quality of food that we serve to our clients by bringing in more high-quality vegetables and fruits as well as other food items that need to be stored under the appropriate food conditions,” she said. “We are making efforts to ensure that the quality of food that our clients receive from us are of the best quality, hence the need for the collected food to be stored in ways that preserve their freshness and nutritional value.”

While bagging and displaying food items on the tables, Pantry Manager Terry Vail said that the ALF’s focus has changed to the provision of more nutritious foods to its members such as high-quality protein products — lean meats, chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables and other produce that will enrich the dietary value of what the people are served.

He said the growing number of people who use the pantry is not unexpected because “even though we are based in the City of Atascadero, Atascadero Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry serves people from the neighboring communities of Templeton, Santa Margarita, Creston and California Valley.”

Apart from the problem of insufficient storage space which the pantry is trying to resolve, it does not have the manpower to accomplish the various tasks that it needs to undertake in order to serve its members. 

“We are completely dependent upon volunteers for everything that we do,” Vail said. “We are always looking for people to handle daily tasks, such as bringing food out from the storage and arranging them in an orderly manner on the tables for easy distribution to clients each day. This has to be done before clients arrive. Volunteers are also required for logging in and interviewing clients, to update their information and generally assisting them with their shopping lists.”

Kathleen Aragon strongly believes that volunteering to serve at the ALF is quite rewarding because “our schedules are flexible — and meeting other volunteers and clients is enjoyable and rewarding! We also know that the services that we provide to our clients are very much appreciated by them.”  

The importance of volunteers cannot be overemphasized as they help to pick up surplus food from local markets and growers, as well as to break down bulk items and stock the shelves. The food pantry also relies on volunteers to input client data and to prepare and send out the in-house newsletters to various stakeholders in the county. The volunteers at the Atascadero Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry represent different age groups and the pantry is particularly popular with seniors who volunteer in numbers to assist in executing various tasks.

In order to meet the food and other nutritional needs of its clients, the ALF appreciates the support of the public and strives to ensure that it serves its clients with respect. This aligns totally with its vision, which is to strive for “an end to food insecurity in the areas we serve. We will work to achieve our vision by operating a food pantry staffed entirely by volunteers and providing groceries, other foodstuffs, clothing and propane vouchers to clients who qualify to receive these services.”

Volunteer orientations are held on the second Saturday of odd months. The next volunteer orientation will be from 9 to 11 a.m., on Saturday, November 9, at ALF, 5411 El Camino Real, Atascadero.

If you or a family member would like to volunteer, contact Atascadero Loaves & Fishes by email at contact@atascaderoloaves.org or by phone at 805-461-1504