Gavilan College redesigns food distribution drive in a COVID-19 worldby Jan Janes on Apr 9, 2020
Gavilan College turned its traditional on-campus Fresh Produce Tuesday food drive into a community-wide food distribution, abiding by safe practices under the shelter in place order currently in effect.
An orderly flow of vehicles arrived on campus every 20 minutes, checked in and
drove through the parking lot to receive boxes of food loaded in their vehicles.
“All of our March events got cancelled, including the Just-in-Time Mobile distribution,” said Annette Gutierrez, Supervisor of the CalWORKs, Fresh Success and Food Pantry. Talking to students, she was aware of the immediate need.
“People aren’t working, shelves are empty, and people are panicking,” she said. Other pantries and community food banks in the area have long lines.
With her team, Gutierrez developed new strategies to implement a safe event, designing a drive-through food pick up staffed by Gavilan employees who volunteered their time. Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB) prepacked three boxes per family, each containing canned and dry goods, fresh fruit and produce and dairy and eggs.
Four groups of three, the greeters and the loaders, worked for more than two
hours on Tuesday to ensure students had essential foodstuffs.
“The food boxes are packaged safely in our warehouses by the National Guard and our wonderful volunteers,” said Tometrius Paxton, Senior Program Manager with SHFB. “We have noted that partners are now increasing the amount of days and times they serve during the month.”
“Our typical order from SHFB is for 250 families,” said Gutierrez. “We increased it to 300 for this distribution.” Gavilan’s JIT third Thursday monthly food distribution usually serves 80% of recipients from the community.
Two weeks before the event, the college posted announcements across social media. Students and community members were required to sign up. “We received 300 responses in 48 hours,” she said. Two-thirds of recipients picking up food on Tuesday were students.
“Gavilan College is a safety net for many in our community and will continue to serve to best of our ability during this emergency,” said Dr. Kathleen Rose, Superintendent/President. “I am proud of the responsiveness of our staff and our strong relationship with community agencies and industry.”
Greeters welcomed arrivals and checked their confirmation letters for food
donations and laptop loans.
To maintain safe distancing and manage the traffic flow, 50 vehicles were scheduled every 20 minutes. Each family received confirmation of their appointment time and presented the letter or the notification on their phone. Recipients were met by greeters who confirmed their registration, then snaked their vehicles through the parking lot.
The stations were fully stocked with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, dry
and canned goods, and dairy and eggs.
Three loading stations moved the vehicles through quickly, with three volunteers at each station directing drivers, opening trunks and moving boxes from pallets into the vehicles. Everyone working the event wore gloves and masks, and vehicle doors were opened and closed with disinfectant wipes.
The IT volunteer team hands over a kit with laptop and wifi hotspot. The digital divide
has impacted students, as all college instruction has moved to an online format.
Students also expressed a huge need for computers and internet connectivity to continue their classes, now offered online. The college IT program dovetailed its distribution of loaner laptops during the food drive, and students who picked up technology tools also received $50 food cards.
The IT volunteers, behind their masks and gloves, maintained a safe distance.
The college opened the Gavilan Food Pantry on the Gilroy campus in May 2016, and the program has grown over the years. Students could drop by between classes to receive daily snacks, or pick up a week of groceries before heading home after class. The combined activities have expanded the program’s outreach, which now distributes 15,000 pounds in food donations monthly.
After the March sheltering order was given and the college closed, the inventory of food at the pantry was donated to the Meals on Wheels program in San Benito County, operated by Jovenes de Antaño.
“This crisis calls for compassion and empathy,” said Dr. Rose, “And our priority in the weeks ahead will be to care for each other as urgently as possible.”
Recently the college mailed a postcard to all students with support information. Outbound follow-up calls to students began this week.
“We know the need is there,” said Gutierrez. Her department is reaching out to students and planning another food distribution.
“The college is also collecting donations for a student relief fund,” she said. “Our students are in desperate need at this time.”
To support Gavilan students, you can donate to the Gavilan College student emergency fund.
Students can learn more about Gavilan support services or by calling (408) 848-4800.
Community organizations looking to partner with SHFB can find all the latest updates on COVID-19 Second Harvest Food Bank.