“We got a lot of help in the beginning with COVID-19 because a lot of people lost their jobs or were working from home, and we got more younger, well-rounded people who are able to come in and help,” said Irene Lennox, a pantry supervisor at Holy Cross. . . “Gradually over the past year they are back to their normal lives, and we’ve found that we don’t have many suitable people to help us.”
The pantry is one of the many community services offered by Holy Cross Church on High Street near Mission Plaza in Santa Cruz. The Holy Cross Food Pantry may serve 50-200 people per day and serves about 300-600 people per month. To help unload, organize and distribute food, the pantry needs about 10 people per shift. However, she currently works with approximately five volunteers per shift. For comparison, the Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Cruz County, which distributes food at no cost to the Holy Cross Food Pantry, has about 850 volunteers and feeds about 75,000 people a month.
“Volunteers are always the one thing we’re lacking,” said Holy Cross food pantry manager Al Richard, who has volunteered at the pantry for 22 years. “We are always in need of volunteers.”
Before the pandemic, Lennox, Richard, and other veteran volunteers mostly relied on the older community to help run the food bank. After the outbreak of the epidemic, to ensure the health and safety of its patrons, the warehouse crew decided to move operations outside the building, which meant that they needed to carry several heavy tables and produce boxes and other food items on a narrow journey from the stairs to the service area on the sidewalk.
“Retired volunteers can’t handle stairs at the best of times, and they certainly can’t carry heavy tables and crates of fruit and vegetables,” Lennox said. “I am in this position now because my age is good, and we need at least one or two young, decent volunteers for every shift.”
The five people working in the warehouse on Friday morning were old volunteers. Due to their expertise, and despite the small number of employees, the team was able to prepare food and distribute it to a long line of customers in an efficient manner. All the volunteers seemed to enjoy their work, and in between filling the bags with produce and canned goods, they were keen to mention the relationships they develop with the regular sponsors.
“The thing I love about volunteering here is that you develop relationships with people and families,” said Carol DiCarvalho, who has been volunteering with her husband, Frances. “And I get to know people by their names and what they like to eat so we can customize what we offer them.”
The Holy Cross Food Pantry operates from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. Volunteers’ shifts in the pantry take two hours either in the morning to prepare and distribute food or in the afternoon to get everything back upstairs. In addition to volunteers who can lift more than 50 pounds, Lennox hopes to get volunteers who can serve as supervisors.
“We are in dire need of additional volunteers,” Lennox said. “It would be great if we had a lot of volunteers, so we could take the pressure off the current volunteers. They don’t complain, but they have their own lives to live.”
For information about volunteering at the Holy Cross Food Pantry, visit holycrosssantacruz.com.