Locals react to Morro Bay’s Food Bank distribution changes

There have been some radical changes to how food is distributed to local families in need in Morro Bay, and people are unhappy about it.

A few weeks ago, I visited a local program in Morro Bay where families in need could get fresh produce, meat, and other groceries at no cost. All of the food was donated from local sources, and all of the people distributing the food were volunteers. It seemed like a very smart and useful way for the community to pull together and keep those who have fallen on hard times from going hungry.

A mere week after I had made that video, my neighbor, who volunteers for this program, told me that the program was about to be cut back to one day a week instead of three. I began making calls, and found out the whole story.

Here is my report:

Morro Bay’s program is a part of the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, which operates similar distribution centers in Arroyo Grande, Los Osos, Nipomo, San Luis Obispo, and Cayucos. At each of these locations, the Food Bank makes a once-a-week delivery on Wednesdays from its warehouse in Oceano, bringing prepared grocery bags full of donated produce. Every family takes a bag, and then if there are any extra donations they can pick-and-choose some of those.

Morro Bay’s program didn’t do this. Instead, they gave out food three days a week, depending on donations from local supermarkets like Albertson’s or Trader Joe’s, Cal Poly’s agriculture department, and local farmers. This meant deliveries were very inconsistent – they would sometimes be very large and sometimes be very small – but would also be very fresh. Morro Bay also let local families shop through all the available offerings and take what they needed or wanted.

What the Food Bank Coalition had done was tell Morro Bay that it had to comply with the same rules that the other communities were used to. Instead of picking up food directly from local sources, the Food Bank would collect the donations, store them in their warehouse until Wednesday, and then deliver them to the Veteran’s Hall to be distributed. Morro Bay residents who participate in the program now must come in on this one day each week and sign their name for a pre-prepared grocery bag.

According to Melinda Diaz, the Food Programs Manager at the Food Bank Coalition, Morro Bay’s deliveries will now be much more consistent. She also assured me that the changes will not affect the amount of food each family will receive. The people I spoke to confirmed as much, but complained that the food that they get now isn’t as fresh. Most of the supermarkets, after all, donate food that is at or near the sell-by date, in order to clear out space on their shelves for their next delivery. Under the new system, the donated food has been in storage for several days before delivery.

While I was filming, I noticed that the line of people waiting for food wasn’t as long as it had been the last time I had been there. I also noticed that the grand total amount of food that was delivered seemed smaller to my eyes, and that unlike the last time I was there, there was no meat available. I watched as people were called to the front by their assigned numbers; another change from last time, when the food was handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.

I had been told that there has been some tension with another event that is also held at the Veteran’s Hall on Wednesday mornings, if the delivery truck arrives late. However, it is unlikely that the program would be discontinued over a scheduling conflict. When I spoke with Joseph Woods, Morro Bay’s director of Recreation and Parks, he assured me that he would do what it takes to keep the program running.

If you want to help Morro Bay’s program by donating or volunteering, contact Don Beasley at (805) 704-8532 for further information.

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