An interview with Rozene Pieri Enloe, a Community and Volunteer Outreach Coordinator with Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes— a community-based organization dedicated to alleviating hunger in Santa Cruz County, California.
- 40% of those served by Loaves and Fishes are children
- Homelessness in Santa Cruz County is 5x the national average
- With only four full-time staff members, the nonprofit relies on volunteers
Tell us about your organization’s mission and why volunteers are critical to serving that mission:
Founded in 1989, Loaves and Fishes is a grassroots organization that the community can count on for food assistance, reliable service, and care. As a community-supported kitchen and pantry, our mission is to assist the people of the Pajaro Valley with nutritious food, education, and referrals in cooperation with other agencies. Our community kitchen and pantry assistance programs provide families and individuals with supplemental groceries. Last year, we were lucky to have 360 volunteers serving over 16,000 volunteer hours with only four full-time staff members. These volunteer hours are essential to running Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes.
“Feeding others feeds my soul.” — Corrine Flanagan, pantry volunteer of 15 years
What kind of challenges did your organization experience during the pandemic, and how were you able to overcome them?
During the pandemic, we never closed our doors. A large part of the volunteer base was 65+ in years, and we experienced a sharp decline in volunteer support but a large uptick in food needed by the community. In March 2019, we served 2,515 unique individuals, and in March 2020, 4,717—a 53% increase!
Our pantry services were moved outside, even in the rain. Almost every opening hour, we had a line stretching down the block.
What is an important statistic or fact about the need your organization addresses that you think we should know?
Our area, Santa Cruz County, has a very high homelessness rate of 826 per 100,000 people. This is five times higher than the national average and the highest per capita rate in that nation. For 2019-2020, UCSC estimated that 23% of the need for food assistance went unmet in our county, and 1:3 county residents are defined as “at-risk” for food insecurity.
Share an inspiring story that celebrates volunteering.
Our location is nestled between a residential neighborhood and industrial sector, operating out of a refurbished Watsonville Victorian house on Second Street. Often it has the atmosphere of an extended family as the kitchen staff sautés bell peppers on the stove for fajitas and dishes lunch out for 150 people. Concurrently, the pantry might be assisting a new family with registering and receiving groceries while volunteers garden out front.
Volunteering at Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes is so inviting because of how close our volunteer base is. We have couples who volunteer in the pantry together, friends who spend hours chatting as they chop carrots, and those who make friends here as they spend the day in the dish pit. I’ve personally returned year after year for regular volunteer service because of the culture the organization champions, that of community.
The meals we prepare and the programs we run are meant to provide nutritionally balanced food for our clients, yet treatment with dignity and respect to those we serve is equally important.