Oceanside — On Friday, May 8, nearly 500 cars filled with the families of active duty service members and veterans, lined up at the Veterans Association of North County to receive donated fresh food and toiletries.
Holding its second food drive since the onset of coronavirus, the Veterans Association of North County (VANC) served over 1,816 individuals with an army of over 70 volunteers in under 3 hours.
Volunteers wearing personal protective equipment spent the afternoon lifting bags of fresh fruits and vegetables into the popped trunks of cars moving through the line.
An Oceanside 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created to provide active-duty military, veterans, and their families, VANC is a resource for jobs, education, and medical assistance among other much-needed services.
News of recent food drives traveled rapidly by word of mouth through their 27 different associate veterans organizations.
Executive Director of the VANC, Lori Brody, compared the Association’s most recent successful drive to a “well-oiled machine.”
“We served 60 cars every 20 minutes, handing out fresh food and nearly 508 packages of diapers to families,” Brody said. “We learned quickly, it went smoothly, and we definitely had it down by the second time around.”
VANC volunteer and Marine Corps veteran, Chris Ramirez and his wife joined in handing out food to families on May 8. “It was such a great event and day. Everyone was so grateful.”
“There were people who put signs in their trunks so when we opened them up to place their food inside, there was a thank you note waiting,” Ramirez said. “A lot of those families came through with little kids in car seats and when we’d open the trunk, we’d see the kids waving back at us.”
One of the most appreciated items given to families was diapers. In times of uncertainty, nationwide shortages on diapers and other toiletries have left many families scrounging for alternatives, a need VANC has sought to fill.
Lorena, a wife of an active-duty sailor aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, received food and diapers on Friday, reiterating how grateful she was for VANC’s donations.
“I heard about them from another military spouse who shared the food drive’s information in April,” Lorena said. “They gave such a good amount of food that I was able to share with another military family [whose service member] undergoing cancer treatment.”
“It puts my mind at ease knowing that there’s an organization that’s willing to help the military community,” Lorena said.
Those interested in registering for the next food drive on June 12 must do so at least one week prior and can expect a similar process to the first two drives.
“Any veterans or active-duty can sign up by applying online at VANC.me/food,” Brody said. “They’ll register how many are in their families, whether they need diapers and what size, etc.”
“Then VANC creates an alphabetical list and assigns a drive through time for each family, gives them a window decal with their information, and they’ll move through the food stations from start to finish, in about 8 minutes,” Brody said.
Veterans Association of North County has its process down to a science, handing out bags of apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, broccoli, cabbage, and bread among other fresh food goods donated from San Diego Foodbank.
The only item they are in need of is peanut butter. “All of our active-duty are requesting peanut butter. Turns out, it’s like gold,” Brody said, laughing. “If you know of anyone with large stores of peanut butter, send them our way.”
Anyone looking to volunteer, donate, or register as a food recipient can learn more at Veterans Association of North County’s official website: https://www.vanc.me.
Caitlin Steinberg is a Leucadia resident who is covering all things Encinitas for The Coast News.
She is also a fine art photographer, as well as a military historian and CEO of Operation Green Faces, a 501(c)3 nonprofit preserving the oral histories of UDT & SEAL Team operators in the Vietnam War.