Floros and the Food Bank’s vice presidents collectively have 47 years of non-profit experience, with 800 years of collective experience in the entire staff. The San Diego Food Bank is considered one of the top two non-profits in the State of California. He credits this to their like mindedness towards a common goal, feeding people. They seek to hire people who have the mindset to create and cultivate a culture of productivity and purpose, while providing people both food and dignity. Floros also credits the excellence in which their nonprofit is run. Poorly run organizations can eek out an existence in the best of times, but flaws are exposed in crisis. However, his staff pivoted quickly to meet the crisis head on. The Food Bank went from providing food to 350,000 people a month to 600,000 nearly overnight.
Because their sites are essential and exempt from executive order, staff and some volunteers have been working 14 to 16 hours a day since the crisis began to help meet the demand. When the crisis first began, the impact was immediate and the public started to “freak out”, hoarding toilet paper, bottled water and clearing food off grocery shelves the team realized that one aspect of their purpose would be to convey poise and respect to all those in need. Jim Floros says “we are the buffer” from the chaos and anxiety.
The Food Bank saw lines doubled, and in the midst of the crisis they sought to remove barriers to distribution. The team knew their level of preparedness and together said, “We got this”. They reached out to their network of 500 partners and sought to open supply chains. They developed a plan for four mass distribution sites in stadiums, fairgrounds, etc. at which people could drive through to receive food. They distributed 700,000 pounds of food in just two weeks and encountered 1,000 cars at a time, turning away another 2,000 to 3,000.
Adversity brings out the best and the worst in people, and the San Diego Food Bank is doing their best to be the best. When the storm of demand and panic set in, Floros knew they had built “a ship to weather the storm”. Their goal was to not only distribute food, but to serve clients with dignity. They brainstormed and went to their super partners with a grass roots approach to develop a plan to help them meet the 67 percent increase of demand for food items. From March through April they distributed 6 ½ million pounds of food…. In a typical year they would distribute $1 million worth of food.
Because so many are out of work due to the shutdown, people are in greater need for food than ever before. In the first 8 weeks of the shutdown they have distributed $3 million and expected to reach $5 million by the end of May.
The Food Bank distributes USDA products, donations of food and food they purchase wholesale, including “ugly produce.” They also implement a unique repacking program wherein they receive large totes of rice, beans and oatmeal, which they repack for distribution. The machine within their facility can repack 2,000 bags of food an hour. To meet the increased demand, they are looking into purchasing a new machine that would repackage 5,000 bags an hour.
Floros said this isn’t a race, “This is a marathon,” and they are in it for the long haul. They have 70 employees and have added staff. They have over 20,000 registered volunteers – with 30,000 volunteer visits a year. The value of their volunteers equals $1.8 million in free labor which is essential to keep the organization operating smoothly and serving so many. They are also proud of the fact that 93 cents of every dollar goes back to the community. The gold standard for non-profits is 80 percent.
Four years ago they opened a 30,000 square foot facility in Vista and tripled their amount of service. Their “client choice pantry” before Covid-19 saw 10 families a day. Food Bank staff has developed a pop-up drive through for people, which is a mellow, well organized and orderly operation, handling 200 to 300 cars a day. Floros said they want a “dignified and calm approach” to feeding people, not a desperate frenzy.
The public response has been great with letters and emotional notes expressing thankfulness.
Some, who have never had to ask for help, now find themselves in a position of great need. Others, who once had to ask for help, are sending in donations and paying it forward.
Floros says the work is exhausting, exciting and exhilarating. One personal challenge for him is not being burned out and taking time off to regenerate. And while rest is necessary, he knows that many have stepped up in huge ways with great sacrifices of time because they have the same heart and goal…dedication to making the world a better place and leaving a legacy of giving.
The San Diego Food Bank updates their website every week with over 100 distribution sites. If people need help they can visit sdfoodbank.org/gethelp or simply call 2-1-1.
If you are able to help at this time The San Diego Food Bank will use your donation wisely. For every $1 donated, 5 meals are provided.