Chris Smith: The near-miraculous F.I.S.H. food pantry hungers for a home

F.I.S.H, the busy free-food operation near Coddingtown, has until the end of the year to find a new space.|

There’s a story in the Bible of Jesus of Nazareth taking up a few loaves of barley bread and small fish, and multiplying them to feed a crowd of thousands of people.

Six days a week, every week, the volunteers of Santa Rosa’s F.I.S.H. pantry do something not so terribly different.

The simple, leanly funded, grassroots organization wields the magic of community to dispense groceries, for free, to a steady flow of individuals and families unable to consistently keep food on the table.

“We feed 6,000 people a month,” said Kaarin Lee, unpaid director of the 47-year-old F.I.S.H., or Friends In Service Here.

She said demand for food jumped with the firestorms of 2017 and remains high - these days 24 percent more people are coming to the pantry north of Santa Rosa’s Coddingtown Mall than came a year ago.

“It’s been an amazing uptick,” Lee said as volunteers bagged and handed people paper bags containing eggs, apples, cereal, frozen and canned meats, milk, onions and such.

Lee said many recipients “can pay their rent and they can pay their utilities, but they run out of money for food.”

Meanwhile, F.I.S.H. is running out of time.


IT NEEDS A HOME. You may recall that in 2012, the industrious food pantry had to vacate its longtime, no-rent home in an antique former city firehouse on Benton Street at North Street.

That property was subsequently developed into housing and dubbed the Benton Veterans Village.

F.I.S.H. moved into vacant offices that are located on McBride Lane near State Farm Drive, and are owned by former Santa Rosa City Council member Dave Berto.

He and the pantry volunteers knew that the McBride Lane space would be a temporary home for F.I.S.H.

Nearly seven years later, said Berto, “I have plans to put up senior housing in the area they’re in.”

F.I.S.H. must prepare to move.

“We have to be out in about five months,” director Lee said.

Obviously, a busy, Monday-?through-Saturday food pantry can’t operate out of just any space.

The volunteers envision at least 2,500 square feet of space in a part of town where neighbors won’t be put off by having people line up for food in the mornings. The location should be close to transit lines and safely accessible by bicycle.

Lee figures the organization can afford to pay as much as $3,000 a month.


SHE DREAMS of a philanthropist, or two, or three, purchasing a building and making it available as the pantry’s forever home. She welcomes calls to the F.I.S.H. line, 707 527-5151.

Supporter and current landlord Berto said the pantry “has been a good tenant,” one he would love to see F.I.S.H. and its supporters mount a capital campaign to build a pantry.

“They need to find a permanent place,” he said.

Lee said F.I.S.H. is able to gather and give away tens of thousands of pounds of groceries each month only because of the support it receives from donors and volunteers and Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Safeway and Target.

Now she and her approximately 50 fellow volunteers search for the essential pantry’s new home, or for the community members who’ll help them find or create it.

Said Lee, “I know something’s out there.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 or

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