Ray Carmona has spent his entire life in the Coachella Valley. He was born here, and he’s raised his two children here. He’s worked in the freight industry, at a packing house and within the hospitality industry.
Like many locals, Carmona is currently furloughed from his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic—so Carmona is putting his time and energy into his volunteer work with FIND Food Bank, distributing food to people in need. Carmona has been a FIND Food Bank volunteer for five years—but now has upped his game, at a time when FIND needs volunteers more than ever.
“Right now, I feel blessed,” Carmona said. “I have unemployment coming in and my Social Security. As long as I have a roof over my head and food on the table, I feel very fortunate.”
Erin Lucas is the volunteer program manager at FIND Food Bank.
“Our volunteer program, pre-COVID, was thriving, with 5,000 volunteers, and now we have 1,300 volunteers to help us out,” Lucas said. “FIND’s volunteer program is a great one, because people really enjoy coming to help out. We completely reformulated the program because of all the things we are required to do now for COVID health and safety reasons. This is a good thing, because it forces an organization to be even better than they were before.
“So many people have been furloughed or have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19. We have found that a lot of these people are wanting to give back and help out people who need food assistance within their community during this very challenging time. Where we need critical volunteer help right now is at our morning distribution sites, and also in the warehouse, where we are receiving extra food, so we can package this food quickly and send it out to our distribution sites. We use volunteers over the age of 17, and currently, we have special senior-only volunteer events for over the age of 65, depending upon what our needs are at different times. In other words, we are utilizing everyone in different places and for different functions, as needed.”
Carmona’s father taught him the value of giving back and helping out the less fortunate—saying that doing so would make him “feel good and feel like a valuable member of the community.” Carmona said his father was absolutely right: He loves helping out, and that he would much rather be doing volunteer work with FIND than “just sitting home and watching TV all day.”
Indeed, there’s plenty to do at FIND, since the pandemic has cost many their incomes—and local nonprofits are straining to handle the surge of families in need.
FIND Food Bank has been in existence more than 35 years, and has evolved into the largest hunger-relief organization in the area, serving as the disaster-response food bank for the eastern Riverside County region.
“Over the past 30 years, our food bank has evolved from a local food bank to a Feeding America regional food bank, whose goal is to ensure equitable healthy food distribution to the entire Coachella Valley/desert region of California,” said Debbie Espinosa, FIND’s president and chief executive officer. “We want to make sure that those who are food insecure—including the homeless, working families who struggle to make ends meet, and fixed/low-income seniors—have access to free, healthy foods to survive and thrive.
“What people don’t realize is that FIND today is the main supplier of food to almost all of the local food pantries, homeless shelters and local food banks in the desert. FIND supplies more than 60 nonprofit organizations with 75 to 100 percent of their food supplies. Then, these nonprofits distribute this food to their clients, which translates into approximately 100 sites that FIND sends food to on a regular basis. Our organization also serves heavy populations that are food insecure, including low-income housing complexes and ‘food desert’ areas—places with a high density of low-income population with little access to food. For these areas, we send our FIND food trucks, and set up free community mobile markets, to distribute food to these people in need. FIND Food Bank currently operates 44 of these types of distributions every month.”
In one year, FIND Food Bank has distributed 22 million pounds of food—an amount that has nearly doubled due to COVID-19.
“I am pushing the envelope of what FIND Food Bank continually can be, to better serve the community and end hunger for those who are food-insecure,” Espinosa said. “Our role has continually increased with each year, not just due to COVID-19. We are honored and humbled to serve those in need for many more years to come.”
Ray Carmona plans to keep volunteering at FIND Food Bank. He said it puts his mind at ease to know that he is helping people who are in desperate need of food.
“I feel I have made an impact when I see the smiles on the people’s faces—and also the relief,” he said. “This is extremely rewarding to me and makes me feel terrific.”
For more information on FIND Food Bank, call 760-775-FOOD (3663), or visit www.findfoodbank.org. For more information on volunteering, contact Erin Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org.