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San Luis Obispo County food bank sees staggering need ahead of holiday season

Angel Russell
Angel Russell

At the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank, the number of people in need is staggering, and the food bank is stocking up now to help families for the upcoming holiday season.

It’s a busy sight inside the warehouse, with volunteers stocking shelves and preparing food bags.

Volunteer Kenzi Waldbaum, who is studying at Cal Poly SLO to be a dietician, says helping at the food bank has opened her eyes to how great the need is in the county.

“I feel like I’m kind of in a bubble on campus," Waldbaum said. "Food is very secure with campus dining, so coming off campus and doing this definitely has changed my perspective.”

CEO of the SLO Food Bank, Garret Olson, said the need skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic, and it still hasn’t slowed down.

“We went from like maybe three to five people a week showing up here before the pandemic looking for food to dozens a day,” Olson said.

Olson said it’s a lot of people who have never needed help before, and he can always tell when it’s someone new walking in.

“Because you hear it in their voice, you hear their trepidation," Olson said. "They will usually instead of saying, ‘I’m here for food,' it's more of an uneasy question: ‘I guess I’m here for food.’”

To meet the need, Olson said they started helping in other ways besides food, by collecting diapers, clothes and other basic necessities.

The food bank even started a small pantry where people can select their own food to take home.

“We don’t put a limit on it. They take what they need," Olson said. "I’ll tell you, more often than not, people are very reserved and modest in what they take.”

Olson said the food bank expects to provide a record number of holiday meals and has already stocked more than 2,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving.

He said the best way people can help the food bank meet the increase in demand is through monetary donations, since they can purchase in bulk.

"When you make a dollar donation we turn it into seven nutritious meals," Olson said. "We actually get audited on that! It’s not a marketing scheme, it’s actually real!”

To learn more about the SLO Food Bank, you can go to slofoodbank.org

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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