At the Redwood Empire Food Bank on Wednesday, by 8 a.m. the first two delivery trucks have already been packed full of produce, breads and other staples, all of it headed to a trio of spots across Sonoma County where those in need can drop by to pick it up on a daily basis.
The food bank is a central hub for food donations across the county and the wider North Coast. And it has been in overdrive since last month’s fires, taking in double its normal amount of donations — 2 million pounds in October — and getting those supplies out to displaced families and others lacking for food.
“We are essentially the 911 for hunger,” said CEO David Goodman. “Nobody (else) is coming. The cavalry isn’t coming.”
The day before Thanksgiving, like most days, work started at 4 a.m. when the first employees arrived in the dark to ready orders to be shipped to the food bank’s partner agencies. In all, almost 48 tons of food would be delivered to 32 sites across the North Coast.
“They’re work horses,” Erika Carstensen, REFB logistics manager, said of her team of employees at the sprawling Brickway Boulevard headquarters. “They get in, and they have probably close to an average of 25 orders they need to load. It matters in what order they’re loaded. It matters what truck leaves first. Everything matters.”
When not readying deliveries, the team is unloading truckloads of donations. On that front, things have calmed down quite a bit since the outpouring sent in during the wildfires, Carstensen said. The flood of donations required the food bank to quickly acquire more space. In the end, it settled into a donated 40,000-square-foot warehouse in American Canyon.
Now, the number of trucks that arrive throughout the day has returned mostly to normal, with only a few unscheduled deliveries, Carstensen said. And though the extra level of support has waned, the need in the community has not.
“These national food manufactures were contacting us and sending out loads, and you need to strike while it’s hot,” Goodman said. “You need to squirrel away the food for the months to come because (the help) will turn off as fast as it turned on. It’s just the people, they’re in emergency response mode and the empathy runs high. And the next week, there’s a new disaster and the empathy weather vane goes to the next disaster.”
By 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday the first volunteers began to arrive. Ella Watson, a 14-year-old freshman at Cardinal Newman High School, signed up for a 3-hour shift with the food bank.
Her family was evacuated from their Bennett Valley home for two weeks. It was spared in the fires but seven of her friends lost their homes.
“A lot of families from the fires, they need help,” she said of her choice to volunteer at the food bank.
The number of volunteers signed up to help at the food bank grew substantially in the fires’ wake, though as with donations, that’s dropped off a bit, too, said Helen Myers, volunteer services coordinator.
In all, about 200 volunteers signed up to help Wednesday.
“I think we’ve had a lot more inquiries from people from a greater distance,” Myers said. “It is really great to have that increased number of people inquiring because now we can really put them to work.”