Days before Thanksgiving, Laguna Food Pantry serves record number of families

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Joe Fiedler, Maggie Bingham, Paul Miller, Mary Moore, Kathy Jones, Mark Berger, and Nicole Balian pose after volunteering at the Laguna Food Pantry on Tuesday. Courtesy of Anne Belyea.

The Laguna Food Pantry experienced another record day on Tuesday with 342 families seeking free groceries the week of Thanksgiving after Orange County endured a setback in its efforts to contain the pandemic.

The households served by the Pantry on Tuesday include 1,030 individuals, Executive Director Anne Belyea said. Prior to the state’s outbreak of COVID-19 in March, 120 visiting families constituted a busy day for the pantry volunteers.

“We’ve seen an increase again and it’s expected with the County shutting down and people no longer seeing their unemployment benefits, the stimulus package has gone away,” Belyea said.

The Pantry has risen to the challenge, partly because of its collaboration with Second Harvest Food Bank, OC Food Bank, and the food recovery nonprofit Waste Not OC. Through these organizations, the Pantry rescues food from 12 grocery stores, 7 days a week that would otherwise be sent to landfills. A small army of volunteers continues to drive out to these stores to pick up this rescued food.

“My board members are at the pantry daily helping,” Belyea said. “Those who can’t are behind the scenes writing thank you notes to our donors.”

Solutions For Urban Agriculture, a nonprofit based at the Orange County Great Park, recently donated palettes of fresh produce. A local ward of the Church of Latter-Day Saints also sent over four palettes of food. 

Employees of the Montage Laguna Beach annually decided to either take home a frozen turkey gifted by the resort or donate them. Once again, the Pantry received a number of turkeys from the hotel employees, Belyea said.

Milk, butter, and fresh produce remain on the Pantry’s shopping list funded by donated cash and gift cards.

“The Laguna Beach community has embraced our little pantry with open arms since March 16 when we moved into the drive-thru distribution,” Belyea said. “It’s been overwhelming, the support we’ve received, and it makes me so proud to have lived here.”

The Friendship Shelter and the Neighborhood Congregational Church canceled the annual Thanksgiving community potluck event because of the pandemic. Both organizations have asked the community to support the Pantry in light of the cancellation.

“This was not easy, but we believe it’s the only responsible thing to do,” Dawn Price, executive director of Friendship Shelter, said in a prepared statement. ”Each year hundreds of people gather at the Neighborhood Congregational Church to celebrate Thanksgiving as a community. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, but unfortunately, due to COVID-19 there simply isn’t a safe way for that many people to gather.”

Food donations should be dropped off at the Laguna Food Pantry, located at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road.

“2020 is a challenge for all of us, but especially for our neighbors experiencing homelessness and food insecurity,” Price said. “It’s our hope that everyone who has generously supported the community Thanksgiving will consider directing that generosity toward the Food Pantry this year.”

For more information on how to support the Pantry call 949-497-7121 or visit lagunafoodpantry.org.

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