By Greg Hernandez
Angela Echeverria’s face broke into a big smile when she saw volunteer Alex Walker unexpectedly walking up the driveway of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Pride Pantry last Friday.
Echeverria, the Center’s associate director of Facilities, oversees operations of the pantry and in recent weeks has been concerned over the dwindling number of volunteers available to help out at the Pantry.
“I love helping my community in any way I can,” Walker told LGBT News Now. “People still need help especially now that food prices are rising. It’s very eye-opening to see the world outside of my own bubble and what’s happening in everybody else’s life. It’s very rewarding and fulfilling.”
Pride Pantry was launched during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide community members struggling with food insecurity with fresh produce and dry goods.
Every Thursday, volunteers and staff members spend the day filling bags and boxes for Friday’s distribution when clients drive up to the check-in area. Volunteers then bring the food to their cars, or the clients can pick it up themselves on foot.
Walker is among the volunteers who shifted from working Center special events pre-pandemic to helping out at Pride Pantry.
But as the pandemic passes the two-year mark and COVID-19 cases fall, more people are returning to workplaces and the schedules of those who had been donating their time appear to be getting less flexible.
“We are dependent on our volunteers,” says the Center’s Volunteer Resources Program Manager Pervical Pandy. “We understand that there is a return to work but we are still looking for people to carve out time. This is a service we know is necessary and it is vital that we have the helping hands of the community to sustain it.”
More than 2,000 boxes and bags of food are distributed monthly from the main Hollywood pantry location, which also supplies groceries for two other Center locations for Friday distribution: Mi Centro in Boyle Heights and Center South in South L.A. near Leimert Park.
The Center’s Director of Community Engagement Rani DeMesme-Anders points out that more than one in four LGBTQ adults struggles with food insecurity which has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As our volunteers are returning to work, we absolutely want to remind our larger community that hunger is not ceasing,” DeMesme-Anders says. “If you find yourself in the position where you’ve got some time, please know your impact will be immediate.”
Checking in With Seniors
Another program launched during the pandemic’s early months is the Center’s Hello Club which involves volunteers calling senior clients to connect them to case management or to set up grocery and essentials delivery service, when needed.
“Much like our other COVID-specific programs, we have seen a decline in participation and volunteer availability,” says DeMesme-Anders. “We’re hoping to increase the awareness of the opportunities to support these types of programs.”
Hello Club volunteers are required to have access to a computer, internet, and phone. A 40-minute training is done virtually and a volunteer’s contact information is not visible to a senior receiving the call.
The time commitment is completely flexible and designed to fit into the volunteers’ schedules. Calls can be made at any point between 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Many times, the trained volunteers just end up listening to a senior.
“We still have a large number of senior members who are actively depending on Center community members to help break that isolation,” DeMesme-Anders says. “Personal touchpoint from a volunteer and LGBT community member to a senior directly really makes all the difference in the world.”
Ready to volunteer for Pride Pantry, Hello Club or for the Center in general? Visit lalgbtcenter.org/volunteer.