Valley residents come out in droves for holiday food distribution

Thousands of people lined up Monday, Nov. 23, for the first day of St. Mary’s Food Bank holiday distribution, making it clear there is a bigger need now during the pandemic than ever before.

The food bank's president and CEO says he's never seen lines like Monday's and part of the reason for that is the contactless pickup.

One of those in line who's fallen on hard times is Valley woman Ernestina Peña.

“I can't even fathom the words to express, it is amazing I am in a situation I don’t want to be and it is a huge blessing," she said of the food distribution.

Peña has been living with friends during the pandemic, saying, “I couldn’t make my payments. I lost everything. It has been horrible.”

She's not the only one who's been struggling financially.

Tom Kertis, the food bank's president and CEO, says they've seen the need grow just within the last 30 days.

“People who were donors one day came looking for help and it is OK looking for help.  We are here, we have resources and we can,” Kertis said.

To help as many as it can, St. Mary’s has a system in place to keep the process moving. The cars pull up, drivers show their IDs, then pop their trunk to receive food.

Volunteers and members of the National Guard then load the trunk and the driver can go on their way, all contactless and fast-moving.

“Each day we will do around 4,000 people, so think about that. That is a whole family in that household so probably in the range of 100,000 people in this distribution," Kertis said.

Peña is grateful for St. Mary's and what they're doing for those in need and plans to give back when she can.

“It is amazing. I am going to end up giving back. I'll give back," she said.

For more information to give donations or receive them, visit this link.