The wait could be an hour or longer, most knew, until the volunteer called their number and it was time to file in for macaroni and cheese, vegetables and the rest of a carefully balanced meal. So - as about 225 to 500 people do every Wednesday except the first of the month - they settled in.
But not Fausto Ramirez, who stood in near-blinding sunlight with his wife and 5-year-old daughter looking lost and embarrassed.
"This is my first time here," Ramirez, 38, said in Spanish. "I have been to some churches - three churches - and they said food is given here."
Ramirez is no stranger to hard times: His six-person family shares a San Bernardino house with another family, he said, because that's all his job as a busboy could support. His wife, Esther, is unemployed.
But two months ago Ramirez lost his job - "there isn't money for enough busboys," he said - and he went from needing only some government assistance to leaning heavily on a patchwork of charities and agencies that give out food for the needy.
"It's enough," he said. "We're not (going) hungry. But I don't want to have to go to places like this, for the homeless. I know I'll get a job very soon, through my friend, and a job will almost be easier."
More and more people are falling through the cracks and asking for help when before it wasn't needed, even as the national economy shows signs of improvement, say directors of soup kitchens in many parts of San Bernardino County.
But as demand rises, supplies are falling.
"We're thinking it's 15 to 25 percent that the food sources are down," said Gerald Wilson, acting program manager for the Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino County Food Bank, which gives food to more than 200 nonprofits in cities countywide.
Those estimates are compared to 2011, when the food bank distributed 8.3million pounds of food valued at $10.4million, providing food for 427,724 families, according to Wilson. That's more people than the 363,519 households it gave food in 2010, but less than the 9.7million pounds worth $11.2million distributed then.
The same is true on a smaller scale for organizations like the Family Service Association of Redlands, which works with families on a case-management basis - one-on-one help with everything from job training to parenting classes.
The center distributes surplus food five days a week to about 40 families, despite losing about 57 percent of its government funding over the last three years, according to Executive Director Cheryl Heesen.
"We used to have two fairly good-sized food drives per year, (but) now we have to have them pretty much constantly," Heesen said. "In our surplus food distribution, we've been very fortunate to have individuals and groups in the community that provide us with some fresh produce ... grown in their gardens."
That works in some communities, but areas such as the High Desert often have more hungry people than distribution opportunities, Wilson said.
"It means that, tragically, there's families that might not have food in their area," he said.
In addition, lines are long and coordinating pick-ups between a variety of food distributors miles apart - each giving out food, say, three times a month - can be difficult for those without computers or vehicles, Wilson said. but starvation itself is rarely an issue.
"If you hustle, there is a lot (of food opportunities)," he said. "Thank God there's so many people in the Inland Empire that are feeding the hungry, they're making this possible."
The food bank, like others in the area, gets food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, private donations and "salvage" products that are still edible but don't meet grocery stores' freshness standards.
San Bernardino County's largest contributor of salvage food - donating about 4 million pounds a year, in addition to a total of $900,000 in cash donations - is Stater Bros. Markets.
The inspiration came in 1988, when chairman and CEO Jack Brown saw a man and two children scavenging for bakery products outside one of his San Bernardino stores.
"I was raised by a widow mother who never remarried, 65 years a widow, so I know about not having," Brown said. "So I came back to our company the following week and said, `We've got to do a better job. Kids shouldn't think food comes from dumpsters."'