As the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a national emergency in the U.S., many governors are maintaining stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the virus in their state.
But what do stay-at-home orders mean for the homeless and individuals who are in desperate need of food, but unable to flock to grocery stores and return home safely?
Cliff Strand Jr., a driver and coordinator for White Pony Express, now spends his days delivering food to homeless shelters and food pantries. But six years ago he was homeless and near death, having struggled for years with drug addiction. He was living under a bridge outside of Oakland, California, when a dedicated member of White Pony Express started showing up with boxes of fresh food for him.
“I was 420 pounds, my skin was green and yellow, I was sick and ready to die.” Strand shares, “Peter Brooks one of the pioneers of [White Pony Express] had no business being under that bridge outside of Oakland, but what he did was deliver me food with love and dignity and hope.”
Two years after that first encounter, Strand was serendipitously reconnected with White Pony Express after entering a life-saving recovery program. He started delivering food to homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation centers, some that he once lived in himself. “When I deliver to these places, my heart bleeds for them because that was me.” he says, “Being able to come back and show people the grace of god that was shown to me at the beginning of this whole thing makes my heart beat.”
That’s why it’s more important than ever to Strand that organizations like White Pony Express are delivering fresh food and hope to communities in need during the coronavirus, just like they did for him. “People who are on the streets and people who are in shelters, they’re already living in fear,” he says, “when you add something as crazy as what’s going on in the world right now, they’re afraid for their lives.”
White Pony Express’ Executive Director, Eve Birge, and Chief Operations Officer, Isa Campbell, tell Yahoo Lifestyle that the organization’s food rescue and distribution model could be replicated all over the country to help those in need.
“Our mission when we started was to the end poverty and hunger in Contra Costa County,” Campbell explains, “We contacted grocery stores and distributors and they agreed to give us the food that they were going to otherwise throw away. And we would have volunteers take it, sort it out, and distribute to recipients throughout the County.” She tells Yahoo Lifestyle that grocery stores and food distributors have a need to move along inventory that is nearing sell-by dates. Campbell adds that a new source of food has also been un-used inventory from restaurants in the area that have been forced to close their doors due to shelter-in-place orders.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the need for free food delivered safely to the hungry has gone through the roof. Where in the past the organization picked up about 7,000 pounds of surplus fresh food each day, that number has jumped to over 17,000 pounds per day. Hundreds of volunteers pass up the opportunity to quarantine at home and instead choose to spend their days sorting and delivering food to those in need.
Strand knows first hand how terrified the individuals receiving the food are these days, and explains that he does what he can to ease their worries in the process. “I go out of my way to make sure that I take off my gloves, sanitize them, put new gloves on, just so that level of fear comes down.” Strand shares, “it's my mission right now to give hope to these hurting people.”
Board members at White Pony Express are urging decision-makers and legislators to adopt their food-rescue model so that states across the country can carry on the effort that has helped so many in their community. As well as feeding an enormous number of people in need, Campbell also points out the environmental impact of the movement. “One of our grocery stores said that their garbage delivery has reduced by two thirds since we picked up the food.” she shares, “it makes a huge difference.”
Cliff Strand Jr. says that the coronavirus won’t stand in the way of spreading the same love that White Pony Express gave him six years ago in his darkest moments. “It's great that we save food from being thrown away. And it's great that we bring food to people that are hungry, but in the transmission of that, it’s hope that you give people. You show them that you love them, you show them that you're not afraid of what's going on right now. It feeds your soul.”
White Pony Express is accepting donations to support their cause of feeding the hungry in California during the coronavirus pandemic.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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