The past six months have forced San Diegans to change the way they live their lives. As the COVID-19 pandemic became a part of daily life, the public health crisis changed the face of hunger in San Diego County. With jobs, homes and schedules upended, the community has never been so vulnerable.

Feeding San Diego, whose mission is to connect every person facing hunger with nutritious meals by maximizing food rescue, has been presented with the ongoing challenge of increasing its reach to assist those newly affected, while at the same time continuing to serve those who regularly use its services. New faces have emerged at distribution sites around the county, showing the power of community in challenging times.

One Feeding San Diego client named Mary, who visits a Feeding San Diego mobile pantry in East County, had to use the food distribution for the first time after recently moving to San Diego from the South. Mary found herself having to move, in need of surgery and without a job during the pandemic. “At first I felt like it was for people who are much more in need than I am,” she says of Feeding San Diego’s mobile pantry. But a community member who directed her toward the distribution reminded her that her large household of seven included four adults who were struggling, and that she was just as much in need as anyone else.

Mary felt good about her new life when her family arrived in San Diego, but the pandemic quickly changed things. She was living with her fiancé and nine-year-old son when their landlord suddenly notified them that they needed to move. Her ongoing health issues required her to have surgery, leaving her out of work with two young children at home. Between finding an affordable place to live, recovering from surgery, and caring for her children, Mary struggled to find the time and money to purchase nutritious food for her family. When she moved to Campo after being displaced, finding food was even more challenging, with the nearest major city a substantial drive away and gas a limited resource. The mobile food pantry has made all the difference in her and her family’s lives.

“Some months we are just making enough for gas and rent, and it leaves us with very little money to buy food. With the kids being home full-time – and kids that age eat – it changed things,” she said. “It has made a huge difference in making sure that my family eats more balanced meals.”

Feeding San Diego has stepped up amid the shelter-in-place orders and shutdowns. Not only has the organization modified its distributions to meet safety protocols, but it also added emergency sites to serve those newly affected, in addition to the hundreds of distributions it already hosts. Compared to the same three-month period last year (April 1 to June 30), the organization distributed 54% more meals to people facing hunger across San Diego County.

Rural areas like Campo faced hardships before the pandemic, including a lack of grocery stores and basic resources. Ileana, another Feeding San Diego client that visits the Campo mobile pantry, has seen the struggle first-hand for years. “We are a lot of seniors,” she said. “Many live-in bunkers and trailers all around these mountains. They do not even have running water. It is very painful.”

As summer winds down, Feeding San Diego would like to thank the sponsors of its Fuel for Summer campaign: Ford Fund (presenting sponsor), Padres Foundation (supporting sponsor), Falck (community sponsor) and the Jersey Mike’s Cause Campaign. The Fuel for Summer campaign is dedicated to ensuring that children across San Diego County can access the nutrition they need to grow and thrive over the summer months. With a 50% increase in hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need is more significant than ever before.