Veterans turn out for healthy dose of interservice competition at Santa Rosa food drive

Sonoma County veterans filled a bins full of canned food and other perishables Saturday in the parking lot of the Bridge Church off Fulton Street in western Santa Rosa.|

Sonoma County veterans filled a row of bins with canned food and other perishables Saturday in the parking lot of the Bridge Church off Fulton Street in west Santa Rosa.

Cars — in many cases driven by fellow veterans — pulled in to donate and chose bins, each labeled with a difference branch of the U.S. armed forces, in which to drop the items. Cheers would then ring out from volunteers with ties to the specific branch.

“She said Marine Corps!” yelled Matt Jensen, a veteran of the branch and an outspoken advocate for Sonoma County veterans, as one donor in a white sedan inched into the parking lot and was swarmed by eager volunteers.

Some bins, like those labeled for the Marine Corps and the Army, filled much faster than others, like one labeled for the Space Force — a branch of the Air Force inaugurated by former President Donald Trump in December 2019.

Friendly competition aside, all the food donations were headed to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, where they could be accessed by the area residents. The drive was called Operation End Hunger and was hosted by volunteers from the county’s veteran community.

“The goal was just showing people that veterans are out here to serve the community,” said Jensen, who works for the Sonoma County Veterans Service Office. “If you support veterans, they’ll support the community back.”

Jensen was joined by a small group of volunteers that included Santa Rosa City Council member Natalie Rogers.

The council member’s husband, Aundray Rogers, an Army veteran who traded jeers and cheers with Jensen, a retired Marine, as the donations trickled into the two branch’s respective food bins.

“There’s still a large need in our community and we’re doing whatever we can to fill that void,” Natalie Rogers said.

Lisa Cannon, a hunger relief worker with the Redwood Empire Food Bank, said the organization has struggled in recent drives to get the word out despite outreach in traditional media, and online through social media. But she was pleased, she said, by the quality of the food being delivered Saturday.

“This isn’t the most food we receive but it is the best food,” she said, because people donate at food drives with higher-quality items they purchased for their own pantry but didn’t eat.

Other givers follow the food bank’s instructions to purchase high-protein, non-perishable food items like canned meat and canned beans, specifically to donate at the food drive, she said.

For those who wish to donate but couldn’t make it to Saturday’s event, the food bank maintains barrels around Sonoma County — up year-round at Whole Foods and Oliver’s Markets.

Currently, the food bank also has barrels at Aqus Cafe in Petaluma, outside Orange Theory at Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa, and at Mercy Wellness and SPARC cannabis dispensaries around the county, among other locations.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

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