IMPERIAL VALLEY — As panic-purchasers continue to buy up everything from toilet paper to bottled water as fast as it can be restocked, grocery store shelves are consistently running bare of food essentials as mandatory stay-in-place orders due to the threat of COVID keep people at home, out of work and in need.
Getting enough to eat during this time of forced
self-quarantine and social distancing is on the minds of many as numbers
flocking to food distributions quadrupled in some cases this week and lines to
distribute student meals have grown from virtually no wait last week to waits
of up to an hour or more this week.
“This shows the crisis people are in with the food
supply,” said Sara Griffen, executive director of the Imperial Valley Food
Bank, whose agency normally serves about 80 families during its
end-of-the-month distribution at its headquarters.
On March 23, the Food Bank distributed commodities to
“Thankfully, we have a seat at the table at the
(Imperial County) Emergency Operations Center,” Griffen said during a brief
interview March 24, and can directly hear about the need and coordinate relief
with local officials.
Meanwhile, the numbers of COVID-19 positive patients
and pending test results grow by the day, making it difficult to stay abreast
of new developments in the fast-paced spread of the virus.
Nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 and some
30 tests were pending at the San Diego Public Health Laboratory, the Imperial
County Public Health Department announced the evening of March 24.
So far, 56 tests have come back negative from a
combination of public health lab and private lab testing as of mid-morning
March 25. Public Health was reporting that 95 tests have been conducted since
the outbreak began in Imperial County a couple of weeks ago.
Three new positive COVID-19 cases were
announced by Public Health just before 7 p.m. March 23. Each of the new cases
“has been linked to having close contact with previously confirmed local
cases,” officials reported, and all three cases had mild symptoms that did not
“We understand that the continued
increase of positive cases is concerning for Imperial County residents,” physician
Stephen Munday, Imperial County’s health officer, stated in a press release. “This
underscores the importance for residents to heed to the recommendations for
social distancing and self-isolation. These measures requiring residents to
stay at home and maintain social distancing will help reduce the spread of the
virus in the community.”
Although they have yet to use the term
“community spread,” health officials now consider the virus entrenched in the
county and being transmitted by person-to-person contact.
“Imperial County finds itself in a new
phase of the response now and everyone should be functioning as if they have
already been exposed, that is why local officials have taken the extreme
measures to have people stay home,” Public Health stated in the release.
Food Insecurity Feared?
Just several days into the mandatory lockdowns
and stay-at-home orders, and the Imperial Valley Food Bank has already set a record,
the organization’s marketing and communications manager Stefanie Campos said.
The 332 families fed March 23 represents
a quadrupling of the normal monthly numbers of families fed at the bank’s
warehouse in Imperial.
In March, with several days to go, the
food bank has fed more than 400 families from its Aten Road headquarters,
“That’s the most we’ve ever done,” she added.
The end-of-the-month distribution was
doubly unique in that not only was there a surge in need, it was the first time
the distribution was not done face-to-face and instead by car to limit
potential COVID transmission.
Two dozen food bank staff and
volunteers, and police officers and public works officials from the city of
Imperial had to be called in to direct traffic on Aten Road as vehicles clogged
the heavily traveled thoroughfare, Campos said.
The distribution started late in the
afternoon and had to be cut off around 6:30 p.m.
The I.V. Food Bank also goes out to
different sites around the county to assist in delivering food through regional
pantries with partnering agencies, Campos added.
On March 24, some 143 families in
Calexico were fed during a pantry distribution, according to a post on the I.V.
Food Bank’s Facebook page.
Making Sure Communities Are
Feeding constituents was on the mind of
some members of the county Board of Supervisors on the morning of March 24.
Dipping into a discretionary fund allotted
to each county board member for use in their district, District 4 Supervisor
Ryan Kelley committed several thousand dollars to regional food pantries in the
north end of the Valley.
He asked that $1,000 each be provided
immediately to Loaves and Fishes food pantries in Niland, Calipatria, Brawley,
Westmorland and West Shores, for a total of $5,000. The money comes from the
county’s community benefits fund.
“This will help pay for the increasing
costs of materials and with more people having demands” for food, Kelley said
District 5 Supervisor Ray Castillo
followed suit, directing $1,000 to the Brown Bag Coalition in Calexico, which
feeds the homeless every day at Border Friendship Park in the city.
Ensuring Seniors Get Enough
The local Area Agency on Aging had
requests for food aid “overnight” from more than 58 senior citizens between
March 23 and March 24, director and county Public Administrator Rosie
Blankenship said during the county board meeting March 24.
She said some 20,000 of the county’s
36,700 seniors are over 65 years old, the age group being told its at the
highest risk for contracting COVID-19 and on forced self-isolation. Blankenship
added 15,000 of those seniors are living below the federal poverty line.
The AAA is being “inundated with general
relief assistance” calls, including for food assistance, Blankenship added.
Normally, the agency fields an average
of 113 requests a day, but since the COVID outbreak, more than 300 daily
requests have been coming in from seniors for food and other items that are
being hoarded by panic shoppers, like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, facial
tissue and non-perishable food items, she indicated.
Broken Yolk Café in El Centro donated
eggs, potatoes, milk and bread to the agency, and some 98 bags were being
distributed with the food items to seniors March 24, Blankenship said.
Feeding Students Locally
With 17 separate school districts in
Imperial County, the Imperial County Office of Education is trying to stay on
top of changes to the federal food programs feeding local students during the
state-mandated school closures, stated Alvaro Ramirez, ICOE’s safety and emergency preparedness coordinator, in an
email to this newspaper March 24.
school district is taking the approach they feel best meets the needs of their
respective communities. Schools are continually assessing their processes in an
effort to ensure the best service possible, and some school districts have
modified their processes since the onset of the program,” Ramirez stated.
districts have added additional locations and some have opted to provide
multiple meals at a time to minimize the need for residents under quarantine or
practicing social distancing from needing to return twice a day, he stated.
yet have opted to provide meals for several days at a time and limited the
number of days staff are providing meals in an effort to minimize the number of
times families need to go to the schools, Ramirez added.
has a link on its home page (www.icoe.org) with information
related to the provisions of meals.
make an effort to ensure the information is as up-to-date as possible and are
in continual communication with our partner districts. For specific information
in reference to metrics, concerns related to possible abuses, status of
supplies, or other inquiries about a specific site, you will need to reach out
to the individual districts,” Ramirez wrote in the email.
was asked whether there was concern that adults were using the student feeding
programs themselves and whether that was an abuse of federal guidelines.
did state that the programs are intended for children up to age 18.
Social Media Helping Spread
In another active way the community is
helping each other and its most vulnerable residents — seniors — through
social media and crowd-sourcing, a closed, invitation-only group has launched
on Facebook titled “Which Stores Have What in the Imp Valley.”
The group, which already has more than
8,400 members since launching March 19, continually directs group members to
stores where items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer is in stock.
One of the most prominent features is
its posting of food sales prices and what food items are available, potential
price-gouging warnings and places where seniors can go to get what they need
and the times at which they can do it.