Union City food drive serves seniors, other during the pandemic

Johnny Veloso (right) and a volunteer unload sorted food packages at the pick-up point in Ste. Anne Catholic Church compound

Story and photos by Jun Nucum

Bayanihan worked wonders in Union City as a food drive. Initially launched for seniors, it evolved as a project to help other needy residents of the city.

Responding to the call for cooperation and assistance, residents and friends of the city made sure they were counted to take care of much of the dietary needs of seniors and others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The free meal, fresh produce, and other needed supplies project for the less fortunate was a brainchild of no less than Vice-mayor Gary Singh. Together with some friends and neighbors, he gathered some sandwiches and fresh farm produce for distribution.

The project was very well received by many in the city. Children, together with their families, flock to pick-up points at Centro de Servicios and St. Anne Catholic Church every Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. since March 24, 2020.

“I felt that there is a need for this food drive in our city to serve, initially, the seniors. I contacted Mr. Pickles and the owner was so gracious after I asked if he can join me in the project. Seeing our prepared goodies gone in less than an hour, I asked help from my neighbors with whatever they can give,” explained Singh

Among those who eventually helped Singh were fellow City councilmembers Jaime Patiño and Filipino Pat Gacoscos, the Catholic Church through Fr, Rosendo Manalo, Jr. and volunteers from other non-profit organizations who helped in gathering private donations both in cash and in-kind.

(L-R) Union City Council Member Pat Gacoscos, Vice-mayor Gary Singh, Human Relations Commissioner Ann Ruth Yap and Council Member Jaime Patiño supervise the sorting of food before they are distributed

They were also joined by New Haven Unified School Board Member Sharan Kaur, Human Relations Commissioner Ann Ruth Yap and Raja Sweets Restaurant owner Makhan Bains to help assist him with this project that became the Union City Lunch Drive team.

Singh shared that a typical food drive day would consist of around 200 sandwiches, 50 chicken meal boxes, canned goods, dairy products, pet food, face masks and fresh farm produce that were sorted, packed and distributed by community volunteers who selflessly lent their time and effort for the project. 

Thousands of residents have thus far been served with packages in a food drive that may well be extended indefinitely as the shelter-in-place order is extended through May.

Yap felt it was really rewarding to do the food drive as it has always been her dream to help the community. And it did in a bigger scale as they did not turn away anyone who showed up away for as long as their food supply lasted.

“We have many generous donors. Sandwiches are paid for by organizations and individuals. Produce is provided by Centro de Servicios and the Alameda County Food Bank. Canned foods are provided by the Alameda Food Bank. Bread donors are Panera Bread, Valerio’s Bakery and a private delivery company. Chicken lunch boxes provided by Krispy Krunchy Chicken,” Yap disclosed.

Yap also thanked St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus St Anne Council #8672, FUN Sunset Rotary Club, Centro de Servicios and other volunteer friends for the project’s success.

Gacoscos acknowledged that the food drive was not just a chance to feed seniors and needy but also a chance to promote local businesses who helped in the food drive in their own ways.

“Most importantly, we see the goodness of everyone. This is the time, when we show our love to one another in making donations, volunteering time and effort, among others, showing that we are in this together,” Gacoscos said.

Volunteer Johnny Veloso who is always at the pick-up points to sort the goods and help in the distribution regarding the project as a lesson in humanity.

“It feels good as a human being to be doing this because this makes us go back to being the human being that we are supposed to be and not the materialistic man that we have become. We all should be together, there is always a way.”