SAN LORENZO — The San Lorenzo Ecumenical Food Pantry has seen a five- to sixfold increase in people coming in for food donations over the past four months, according to its director, Amanuel Gobena.
"About six months ago, we saw about 270 households a month come in," Gobena said. With the average household being four people, that meant around 1,000 people a month were being served by the food pantry.
However, with the worsening economy, the numbers are rising.
Last Thursday, business was brisk. People were lined up out the door waiting for free food while volunteers pulled foodstuffs off the shelves and put them into bags. One recipient, who gave only his first name, Danny, held a box that carried a whole chicken, canned fruit and vegetables, stew, peanut butter and milk.
"It puts food on the table," he said.
Danny said he lives in Hay ward with his girlfriend and two teenage children. He explained that he worked as a pipe fitter for a company that installs commercial fire sprinklers, but was laid off right before Christmas.
"I'm looking for work, but it's really slow right now," he said. "I've got a couple applications out there."
The San Lorenzo Ecumenical Food Pantry, 100 Hacienda Ave., is open from 10:30 a.m. to noon Mondays through Thursdays. Families must be under certain income levels to receive food. The maximum monthly income for one person is $1,300. For a family of four, it's $2,600. Families of up to three receive one bag of food, while families of four or more receive two.
The food is donated by the Alameda County Food Bank, and local businesses, churches and individuals. About 20 volunteers man the pantry, with four to five showing up daily to distribute food, stock the shelves and help recipients out to their cars.
"Volunteers get great satisfaction helping," Gobena said. "For the volunteers, it is very therapeutic."
"You associate with all kinds of people," volunteer Tom Houle added. "You get to know people in the community and know their names."
Houle said he has heard hard-luck stories and seen people make it back on their feet. In prior years, mostly homeless people came in. Seniors on fixed incomes were also common. Lately, he's been seeing more underemployed people who don't have enough to make it through the month. Also, more unemployed professionals are showing up.
"The nation's economic status that you see on TV, you can see it here right now," Gobena said.
The pantry has served the community for the past 25 years, according to volunteer Marlys Smith. It was run by the Christ Lutheran Church until recently. Because of declining membership, Christ Lutheran turned its San Lorenzo church over to the Oromo Christ Lutheran Church, which serves the local Oromo population. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
Gobena is originally from Ethiopia and works as a math professor for the University of Phoenix.
While the San Lorenzo Ecumenical Food Parish is now run by Oromo Christ Lutheran Church, it is currently applying for independent 501c status. Gobena said by becoming independent from the church, the pantry would have more flexibility in raising donations.
"We want to contribute to the community as a whole," Gobena said. "We want to keep the tradition of the Christ Lutheran Church."
Reach Jason Sweeney at 510-293-2469 or email@example.com.