ESCONDIDO — Escondido resident Kendra Montijo said she knows firsthand the struggle to find affordable food that’s also healthy. Montijo, the mother of two children with a third baby on the way, said the challenge was enough for her to start her own nonprofit.
“More Than Apples was created to solve an immediate problem,” Montijo said. “My own family, as well as friends of mine, struggled to provide quality, healthy food for our families on a consistent basis. Equally important to me though, is the impact of food waste to the environment.”
More Than Apples is a food redistribution group that provides canned goods, fresh produce and bread to low-income families for a suggested donation of $30. The food comes from Western Eagle Foundation, a Southern California food bank, which obtains the fare from a number of big retailers.
Today, More Than Apples, which launched just last year, feeds roughly 100 families a week, Montijo said.
Montijo said the group is made up of volunteers, all of whom are local mothers, who come together every Thursday to sort the food that’s picked up from the Western Eagle Foundation. It’s a tight-knit volunteer group, who also bring their children to Montijo’s home to play together while the women work.
“We typically need 10 volunteers each week for six hours of the day,” Montijo said. “We unload the truck (with food), sort items inside my garage. All the milk and dairy goes in one area, chips are just outside the garage and produce is on the large, custom-built produce table my husband, Michael, built us.”
After the food is sorted, families then arrive to pick up their boxes of food. Although the target audience is those in need, recipients are not required to share their income.
“We trust our community to be honest,” Montijo said. “The boxes are available to anyone. If you don’t have $30, you don’t have to pay that. Some people pay $20 or $10 or nothing. It’s fine.”
Cassiopeia Guthrie, an Escondido educator who volunteers for More Than Apples, said the group fulfills an “intermediary need.”
“The organization bridges a gap between food that is nearing its best by date and soon headed for the landfills and the many hungry mouths in San Diego County,” Guthrie said.
Roughly 13.9% of the population in San Diego County or one in seven people are faced with food insecurity, Guthrie said.
“Many local families find themselves scrambling to make ends meet while in the meantime stores are forced to surplus excess food,” Guthrie said. “By procuring food and redistributing it to our local community, we are able to help keep food waste from becoming waste to begin with.”
Although More Than Apples has filled hundreds of stomachs in the region, Montijo said the group has more goals in mind.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a large, permanent warehouse with a commercial cold room and freezer where we can service the public seven days a week,” said Montijo, who also hopes the nonprofit will own its own truck someday. “Currently, we are limited to working Thursdays and using a rented truck.”
The nonprofit has an immediate goal of acquiring a commercial fridge and freezer to store food, Montijo said.
Those interested in supporting More Than Apples can volunteer their time or donate to support the cause. Donors can also contribute to the group’s Project Rainbow program, where people can buy a box of food for a family in need.
Montijo said she volunteers roughly 30 hours of her time each week, along with donating space in her house, to the cause. Although, it’s taxing, the Poway native said it’s also been fulfilling.
“The public has seemed incredibly grateful for this service and the impact it has on saving food from landfills,” Montijo said. “I have a heart of service so to be able to give back to the community every, single week has been fulfilling. More Than Apples has been very helpful to families, including my own.”
For more information about More Than Apples, go to www.morethanapples.org
Hoa Quach has 15 years of experience in journalism, garnering multiple awards ranging from investigative reporting to feature writing. She’s been named a “Woman Who Means Business” by the San Diego Business Journal, featured in BuzzFeed during International Women’s Day and recognized by the California Legislature for her work. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.