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Sac State students, staff volunteer to help distribute 1,900 holiday meals

The Community Engagement Center recently brought together 30 volunteers from Sac State to distribute Thanksgiving meal kits to nearly 2,000 households as part of River City Food Bank's annual Thanksgiving distribution event. (Sacramento State/Christian Navarro)

Sacramento State students and staff joined a team of community volunteers to give away nearly 2,000 holiday meals during the River City Food Bank’s (RFCB) annual Thanksgiving Food Distribution Nov. 17-18, 21.

The food bank provided holiday meal kits, which included fresh produce, canned goods, bread, and either a chicken or grocery store gift card, during the event at its Arden and Midtown locations and a drive-through venue at Encina High School.

Sacramento State volunteers included about 30 students and staff organized by the Community Engagement Center (CEC).

“A lot of students are food insecure themselves,” said Noel Mora, the CEC’s community partnership coordinator. “It’s students giving back, and sometimes it’s a community or population of people that they themselves identify with.

“That’s what makes it so powerful.”

Hunger is on the rise in Sacramento and the nation as low-income households struggle to keep up with the high cost of necessities such as food and gas. Sacramento’s high rental prices have exacerbated the problem.

“We really do rely on the volunteers. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to distribute as much food as we do.” -- Tyra Willis, RCFB volunteer coordinator 

Sac State senior Ramon Arrieta and his roommate Tyler Dorman said they get food from RCFB whenever money is tight.

“We have decent jobs, but sometimes we’re a paycheck or car problem away from being out for any extra spending for the next two weeks,” Dorman said.

Arrieta is a full-time student and works as a student assistant in the California Secretary of State’s office, but the internship is limited to 24 hours a week. He and Dorman were grateful to be able to pick up food to make a holiday meal.

“This is definitely something that really helps out, especially now during the holidays,” Arrieta said. “I’m stretched thin with all the responsibilities I have and the bills I have to pay.

“A little help goes a long way, especially for people like me who have to juggle a lot of things.”

Lines of people, including many families with children in strollers, moved steadily through the grounds of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Arden for several hours on Nov. 17.

The next day, a steady stream of cars at Encina High School kept food bank volunteers busy handing out more meals.

Volunteers pack items for those experiencing food insecurity during a recent food distribution event.
A recent food distribution event provided Thanksgiving meal kits for about 1,900 families. Food items included bread, produce, canned goods, and more. (Sacramento State/Christian Navarro)

The number of food-insecure households rose from 13.5 million to 17 million between 2021 and 2022, an October report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows.

In 2022, the RCFB served nearly 2.5 million pounds of food to 292,033 people in the Sacramento region.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, RCFB has grown 30%, volunteer coordinator Tyra Willis said.

The food bank gave out holiday meals to 1,900 households in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The drive-through event alone drew about 900 people.

“We serve about 300 to 400 households every day on average,” said Willis, a Sac State alumnus. “We have a staff of about 13 people, so a majority of the people that are making all this happen are volunteers.”

“We really do rely on the volunteers. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to distribute as much food as we do.”

The RCFB also employs several Sac State student interns, who help every week during normal food distribution hours and who pre-packaged parts of the holiday meals, Willis said.

“It’s very rewarding to be involved because you come face to face with the people who depend on this food distribution,” CEC Director Ann Moylan said.

“This is how an anchor university responds to food insecurity. We have a long-standing relationship with River City Food Bank, and they have a long-standing relationship with the community. They have a presence. They’re not just there on Thanksgiving.”

Volunteer Gianna Potella said her mom always bought gifts for low-income families during the holidays.

“I grew up with that, so I like giving back,” said Potella, who guided people through the distribution line on Nov. 17. “A lot of people don’t speak fluent English, but you can see on their faces that they’re grateful to be able to come here and get a meal for their holiday.”

Arrieta and Dorman plan to make a simple Thanksgiving meal with the chicken and veggies they received. Leftovers will go to Dorman’s family in Solano County.

“Food is a right, not a privilege,” Arrieta said. “Everyone should have access to good food.”

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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