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Community Highlight: Feeding America and the Inland Empire

As an organization facing the continuing hunger crisis in the Inland Empire, Feeding America Riverside | San Bernardino (FARSB) has implemented new ways of serving the food insecure during the pandemic.

For months after March 2020, the uncertainty of COVID-19 meant FARSB had to turn away volunteers who normally keep operations running.

Melissa Balderama, FARSB communications coordinator, said there was not a day their office staff could halt distributions. So they rolled up their sleeves and brainstormed ways the vulnerable could still be served.

They developed programs like their monthly drive-through distribution events and Homebound Emergency Relief Outreach, or HERO. The HERO program began as an effort to deliver food and hygienic products to seniors and homebound residents in need during the early stages of the pandemic.

Since then, the Riverside-based non-profit has continued to deliver fresh and non-perishable food to thousands of Inland Empire residents and can now seek community volunteer assistance to complete deliveries.

Despite obstacles throughout the pandemic, FARSB served more than 1.5 million Inland Empire residents who lacked an adequate supply of food, one third of which were children. They distributed more than 26 million pounds of food in Riverside and San Bernardino counties last year.

The food bank not only provides food directly to the community but also to 250 nonprofit partners including universities and faith-based organizations.

Marci Coffey, director of community partnerships with Inland Empire Health Plan, said she and a few coworkers have volunteered their time to deliver HERO food boxes after she learned FARSB was the first to develop pandemic-driven distribution programs in the area.

IEHP also recently developed a pilot partnership with FARSB called Food RX.

Through Food RX, FARSB provides food packages directly to the community resource center run by IEHP. When IEHP nursing staff screens health plan members who have life-threatening health conditions and who also experience food insecurity, they can direct them to an immediate food supply rather than waiting for days.

Balderama said at the start of the pandemic, the food bank received generous donations to meet the growing need. She added that as society slowly opens, there will still be great urgency to aid the impoverished and food-insecure neighbors in the Inland Empire.

“We’re feeling optimistic thanks to our partners,” she said. “We have hope in our community that we can receive the help we need.”