Services face social distancing challenges

Both the Atascadero (ALF) and Paso Robles Loaves and Fishes (PLF) continue operations during the coronavirus outbreak. As evident by the empty grocery store shelves throughout San Luis Obispo County, many people are beginning to understand the fear of food scarcity. Unfortunately, there are many families in the North County that rely on food donations all year long. 

“We serve a lot of the working poor, and we serve a lot of elderly people,” PLF Executive Director Maria Madrid Sabi said. 

Although the organizations share the Loaves and Fishes name, the Atascadero and Paso Robles food assistance programs are separate entities with different hours of operation. Each nonprofit has seen an uptick in people participating in their programs and have made changes to how they are operating to help accommodate the most people possible. Both have waived in-depth, face to face interviews generally performed to determine the level of need of the applicant. To deter the spread of the virus, both organizations also asked people not to drop off donations, but instead donate money online to help with the purchasing of food. 

“We are right now figuring out a way that we can serve people that are 65-years and older and are not able to come here,” Sabi said. “That was already part of our vision that we were going to roll out this year, but now we’re doing it a little bit sooner. It’s a different circumstance, but it is really the same thing we had in mind to do this year.”


Both nonprofits are distributing pre-packaged food parcels with as many of the standard items as they can provide based on supply lines.   

“Clients are allowed to select food items and hygiene items off a menu, so that we don’t waste anything and they don’t get anything that they don’t want,” Pantry Manager Terry Vail said, “but we have had to modify that because of the social distancing recommendations.”

ALF and PLF officials said they are seeing the results of people’s panic buying and hoarding food. Though still able to provide those in need with food, supply chains are being strained. 

“We get a lot of food from a program called Fresh Rescue,” said Vail, “where we get the dated food items from local supermarkets, and normally that’s a good supply for us for dairy, meat and some shelf-stable items, but because the supermarkets have pretty much been wiped out that has dried up almost completely. But we are still getting major produce, and shelf-stable items from the SLO Food Bank and that is sustaining us along with the purchases we make.”  

Being a faith-based organization, the Paso Robles Loaves and Fishes wanted to stress the reliance and faith in God as a source of strength and hope during this trying time. The name itself is derived from accounts of miracles in the Bible when Jesus fed thousands of people with only a handful of bread loaves and fishes.

“Really, what I want to say that God is in control here,” Sabi said, “I believe God’s in control, he’s got this, and everything is going to be just fine.”

Located at 5411 El Camino Real, Atascadero, ALF serves the residents of Atascadero, Creston, Templeton, Santa Margarita, and California Valley. The nonprofit operates Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 3:00. Clients are asked to wait outside or in their cars for a volunteer to approach them. For additional information or to donate, visit, email, or call (805) 461-1504.

PLF is located at 2650 Spring Street, Paso Robles, with operating hours of Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. For additional information, to donate, or volunteer, visit or call (805) 238-4742.