After weeks of mostly staying home since the COVID 19 pandemic started, I was looking for some volunteer work where I could do something useful for others, but still stay safe. Then, I read in this and several other publications that Jewish Family Service urgently needed volunteer drivers for their Project 19 Food Program, so I applied and after passing a background check and obtaining my Food Handler’s Card, was accepted.
This program is a service to support those critically impacted by COVID 19, all homebound seniors 65+. The need for volunteers is great because it takes up to a hundred volunteers, each serving one day a week, to reach all the clients who benefit from the assistance. The clients live in various parts of San Diego County, and the volunteers can choose which area they want to work in. The volunteer drivers bring boxes of groceries or boxes of freshly frozen meals to their doorsteps.
Jewish Family Service provides great support to the San Diego community with their various programs. Most people don’t know, but 95% of Project 19 clients are not Jewish. So far, as a volunteer with Project 19, I have delivered food to White, Latino, African-American, Middle Eastern, and Vietnamese seniors in East and South Counties. Before the pandemic, JFS averaged about 1,788 home delivered meals and groceries; however, since the need has increased, they have delivered 26, 221 meals and groceries and counting. There is also the JFS Weekday Drive Thru Distribution on site.
It has been an interesting learning experience and all the people I have worked with at JFS have been nice and accommodating. I have worked with Katrina Bruins, Cheyenne Arroyo, Nate Beiser and all the helpful warehouse folks who pack up the boxes and help me put them in my car.
My first lesson was to have more patience and not make assumptions about people as I made a morning delivery to homebound seniors in East County, mostly Santee. My WAZE app worked okay to get me to either the apartment complexes or mobile home parks; however, once inside, all bets were off when it came time to finding the actual apartments/spaces as these places were big!
In the biggest mobile home park, after driving around and around, I flagged down what turned out to be a patient gardener. Assuming he was Mexican, I asked him in Spanish where number so and so was. In perfect "Castilian" Spanish, he told me he would get his map, so we could look up the various spaces. As a long-time ESL teacher, I have worked with students from all over the world, so when we finished looking at his map, I said to him, "You are not Mexican, correct? Are you from Spain or maybe Argentina?" His answer made me laugh at myself when he told me he was born and raised in San Ysidro!
With his help and a lot of legwork, I found all the places that morning. Wearing a mask, I carried the boxes to the front doors of the appreciative seniors. The next time in East County was easier. I delivered in the College and Rolando areas and parts of La Mesa.
One Friday afternoon, my route was in South County and I found that more stressful than East County. Why? First I am more familiar with East County as I have lived there for 30 years, so finding places is easier. The South County area I was in had crazy traffic and drivers, so I started driving like I used to when I lived in Mexico City. It also was not easy finding the addresses, but I persevered. After driving around and around, my reward was at the last house where they had adorable kittens all over the place. Unfortunately, all of them were semi-feral and skittish and wouldn't let this animal lover pick them up. The client was a friendly older African American woman and her adult daughter. The daughter only mumbled at me, but her amiable mom told me her daughter was a cat magnet and every stray cat in the neighborhood came to them.
My advice for prospective volunteer drivers is to look at this like an adventure where you can safely help others and maybe discover some new streets or areas you didn’t know existed. However, I suggest sticking to neighborhoods you are more familiar with at the beginning until you get used to the routine. You can volunteer as much or as little as you want, but they do expect you to deliver food as least once a week. Different areas of San Diego correspond to different days. For example, East County is on Tuesdays and North County is on Thursdays. There are morning shifts from 9:00 to 1:00 and afternoon shifts from 1:30 to 5:30.. You will be driving your own vehicle and if you keep track of mileage, JFS will reimburse for gas.
Despite a few bumps, I always feel happy when I end my shift knowing that I brought food, which for me is comfort, to others. In addition, the homebound clients are grateful.