Faith Community, Sprouts, and Feeding San Diego Join Together to Feed Clairemont

Walking into the garden courtyard of Community Christian Service Agency, across the street from Clairemont High School, you are immediately welcomed by the friendly volunteers and staff, and made to feel part of their circle. They know many of the folks who arrive, and ask after health and families. Participants talk with a case worker who can help work through bureaucratic or other issues they may be facing, including government benefits, healthcare obstacles, and educational needs. There’s a clothing closet with everything from infant onesies to business suits. But the main reason most people pour in is to get the high-quality food and fresh produce that comes via Feeding San Diego’s Retail Rescue program.

“Times are hard right now, they’re very difficult,” said Consuelo Villarreal, CCSA’s director and Feeding San Diego site coordinator. “People cannot afford a lot of the items. They have to think about whether to pay rent or buy a package of salad or bananas, apples, or whatever they need. We’re here to provide that for them. We’re here to find a little more produce and fresh food so they can afford to pay their other necessities.”

Sunlight spills into the garage converted into a food pantry on a farmers market-style display of tomatoes, bananas, peppers, apples, cantaloupe, and other fresh produce as two volunteers prepare bags for the dozens of families they’ll help today. Two large refrigeration units are filled to the brim with milk, cheese, eggs, juice, and fresh produce. They also add staple items from a shelf that could use more items but suffices for now.

More than 13,000 people accessed food at CCSA last year, representing 5500 households. More than 111,000 pounds of food was rescued from pick-ups at Sprouts, Target, and Big Lots and more than 500 back packs were distributed to students. That wholesome food would have ended up in the landfill were it not for the Retail Rescue project and the team of committed volunteers at CCSA.

CCSA thrives on volunteer support for its retail rescue program. A wise-cracking volunteer driver picks up food five days a week from Sprouts, Target, and Big Lots. A pair of loving seniors, Harriet and JoAnn help build packages and carts full of food for the individuals and families that participate in the program. “Typically, a family can leave with up to two grocery carts filled with healthy food,” said Harriet, clearly proud to be a part of the system that allows this to happen each and every day.

But CCSA and Feeding San Diego don’t do this alone. More than 400 retail locations donate to ensure people facing hunger have fresh food on their tables. Kevin Urbanski, store manager at the Clairemont store, explained Sprouts’ commitment to its community. “We make sure that any food that is still edible can be redistributed to needy families in the area—and in fact, all across the country.” Sprouts has a commitment to attain zero waste by 2020, so every store partners with local food banks and faith communities to get healthy food to those who need it. When asked how it feels to be part of a corporation that is so committed to giving back to the community, Kevin said, “It feels great. It makes you want to do more. As a company, it’s really great to see us get involved as we continue to strive to meet our goal of zero waste.”

Why do folks at CCSA and Sprouts go to all this time and trouble? “It’s wonderful,” said Villarreal. “We have clients who have tears in their eyes—they say, ‘Thank you! God bless you!’ It’s just a wonderful experience. We have children who see the carts of the food and they ask, ‘Is that for me?’ They get very excited about it. It’s a great experience to be working here or volunteering here.”

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If your faith community, school, social service agency, or other nonprofit is interested in becoming a Retail Rescue partner, contact Lindsey Seegers at 858.452.3663.