FREMONT -- Donna Silva faced some hard economic times after her cafeteria job for 23 years at the Nummi auto plant here vanished with the closure of the factory in 2009.
She found no steady job. Even buying food strained her fixed income. The 63-year-old grandmother wondered how she would get by.
Silva found some relief from the Tri-City Volunteers food bank in Fremont, which provided her not only with food staples but also a place to do volunteer work and meet people.
Silva said the food bank provided stability to both her financial and social life after the upset caused by the sudden closure of the auto plant employing some 4,700 people.
"I would go to the grocery store once a week and look around for specials and realize there were some basics I couldn't afford," said Silva, an Alameda County resident. "Things were bad. They're better now."
She typically works at least two volunteer shifts a week pushing carts of free food bags out to the pantry's customers and helping them load their cars. Low-income individuals and families can get two shopping carts of food per month.
This year the nonprofit organization provided food to an average of 6,000 households per month -- a load that is growing despite the easing of the joblessness rate in the Bay Area and California.
The pantry food bag program served an average of 4,875 households per month last year, 2,909 households per month in 2009, and 1,849 per month in 2008, according to Executive Director Melissa Ponchard.
"We are seeing more people, more demand for food. This is not an economic recovery for many people," Ponchard said.
Tri-City Volunteers, which also runs a thrift shop and lunch program for the homeless, is one of 32 nonprofit agencies participating in the Share the Spirit fundraising campaign this holiday season.
Ponchard said the food bank would not be able to do its work without the many volunteers like Silva who come in to sort, organize and give out food to people who drive to the pantry located near an auto tune up shop and a church.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a team of more than 10 volunteers formed an assembly line sorting and delivering food to people who sign in at the pantry office and then wait in line for the food carts.
Silva, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a bright yellow traffic vest, whisked out a shopping cart full of about 150 pounds of bread, tortilla, potatoes, onions, beans and other staples to a customer waiting in the parking lot.
The woman getting food said she was self-conscious about accepting the help.
"Oh, you should not be embarrassed," Silva told the woman as the two of them loaded up the car trunk.
Silva said she at first was reluctant to accept free food because she was accustomed to working and earning enough to pay for it herself.
A few months ago, though, she decided she needed help and found the Tri-City food bank on the Internet. She typically gets one food cart a month.
While waiting in line for a food pickup one day last spring, she saw a sign that invited food recipients to volunteer. She did.
"I thought, 'I can do that. I'm experienced. I'm a hard worker,'" Silva said. "I think it's a way of giving back. And it's been a good way of meeting some very nice people that work here."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
The Share the Spirit campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, benefits nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. To help, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to https://volunteer.truist.com/vccc/donate.
Readers with questions, and corporations interested in making large contributions may contact the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, which administers the fund, at 925-472-5760.