Every Tuesday and Wednesday, the scene at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Los Robles Avenue is a familiar one for those passing by during the midday hours. Scores of people filter in and out of a brown building on the south side of the street, sometimes forming lines just to get inside, and never leaving empty-handed. This intersection is home to Friends in Deed, an interfaith nonprofit dedicated to meeting the needs of Pasadena’s most vulnerable through a variety of programs.
On these days, the organization opens its food pantry to low-income and no-income families in the surrounding area, helping them offset the rising cost of food so that paying for rent or other monthly necessities doesn’t have to be as difficult to navigate.
“To me, the idea of hunger is stupid,” said Tim Nistler, program director of the food pantry at Friends in Deed. “It’s just that simple. Hunger is a stupid concept. We can have a conversation about hunger globally, but within the United States for sure there shouldn’t be people going to bed hungry every night.”
Maura Moser shared the same belief back in 1961, when she first launched the food pantry from her garage in northwest Pasadena. More than 50 years later, it has become a key component of Friends in Deed and a safe haven for local residents who are in need of assistance.
The pantry, which is set up like a neighborhood market, provides food to an average of 250 households and 600 people every week. Community members who are able to present documented proof of low-income status receive the opportunity to peruse the pantry and select a designated amount of groceries from the shelves, which are stocked with canned goods, dry goods, juice and cereal, to name a few. The pantry also strives to offer meat, vegetables and other fresh produce when available.
“It’s a deeper solution than just giving food,” said Friends in Deed Executive Director Donna Byrns. “We know we sustain these people’s sense of dignity and self-worth because of the way they are treated at our food pantry. They do get to shop, and it’s like shopping at a mom-and-pop grocery store that knows you by name and really wants to keep you happy and well-fed.”
Friends in Deed is one of about 700 agencies associated with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which delivers nearly 770,000 meals throughout Los Angeles County every week. Nistler and a dedicated team of volunteers help bridge that delivery by driving down to the food bank every Friday and transporting items back to the Pasadena pantry. Local grocery stores such as Ralphs and Whole Foods also donate food, and partners such as Food Forward, Urban Harvester and the Ranch at the Huntington Library send over fruit gleaned from trees in botanical gardens as well as area backyards.
“It’s kind of a community-wide effort to be able to bring food here,” said Nistler, who joined the organization as a food pantry volunteer four years ago before becoming the program’s director in early 2013.
But even when this outside assistance is coupled with an average of 20 weekly volunteers working to maintain internal operations, the upcoming summer months present a slight dilemma for the food pantry. As schools let out, children spend more time at home, and their families’ demand for food increases. However, summer is also prime vacation season, meaning that it’s tougher for Friends in Deed to promote food drives within youth groups or other community organizations. This leads to an inevitable decrease in donations at a time when they are needed most.
“People open their hearts, open their pocketbooks during Thanksgiving and during Christmastime, which is really, really important,” said Friends in Deed Board President Richard Cheung. “But we need to make sure that people stay consistent and give throughout. We at Friends in Deed are thinking of ways to make sure that our food pantry doesn’t dip too low during those soft months that are coming up. Giving, if I may be so bold as to say, should be year-round and not [only] during the holidays.”
Although Friends in Deed is still able carry out its weekly pickups from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank during the summer, the vacation-season doldrums affect the big suppliers as well. The trickle-down effect is apparent, which only emphasizes the need for increased outreach.
“We encourage individuals to look in their cupboards,” said Byrns. “I always say, ‘Think of us when you do the two-for-one sale where you buy one, get one free.’ That free one can feed another family. During the summertime, we really rely on our private donors.”
Said Nistler: “That food drive in June would be as important to us as the food drive in early December.”
“The main thing is to just do what we can to help folks month-to-month so they don’t have to decide between food and the gas bill, or food and medicine. Hopefully, this helps so some of those decisions are easier for them to make.”
The Friends in Deed food pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday for 51 weeks of the year.
For more information about how to donate, call (626) 797-6072 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.