Laura Escobedo opened up a carton of eggs, picked out one that had been cracked open and held it out, as if showcasing an example to be shamed.
“We don’t want to give them out like that,” she said matter-of-factly, shaking her head as she spoke.
Escobedo, a longtime parishioner at Holy Family Church, unceremoniously tossed the egg into a trash can, piling it among other bad ones, and then filled the remainder of the carton with unbroken ones. She bound it shut with a rubber band and stacked it with others on a table, a pile that was eventually loaded into a cart and brought to the courtyard at the church’s St. Joseph Center across the street.
This is likely a typical Monday for the workers and volunteers who make Holy Family’s Giving Bank happen every week. This week, an assembly line of sorts prepared bags of dry goods, boxes of produce and — on this very special week of Christmas — a large cut of pork shoulder to be picked up by the scores of area families whose food insecurity brings them to the South Pasadena church every week.
“I haven’t always done eggs,” Escobedo said. “With COVID, we don’t have as many volunteers as before, so we’ve all had to shift roles.”
Early Monday morning, a series of shopping carts were lined up in the courtyard, waiting to be claimed by a customer, unloaded in their vehicles and brought back to be sanitized and loaded up again.
“That’s what I like to see: carts waiting for people, not the other way around,” said Marlene Moore, director of the Giving Bank, as she remarked on the efficiency of her volunteers and staff.
The shopping carts are a relatively new affair, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. So too are the boxes and bags that are prepared ahead of time. The Giving Bank previously had a farmers market-style affair in the center’s parking lot.
“We had to stop that. All of this,” Moore said, gesturing broadly to the current setup, “is because of COVID. One day, we hope to go back to the farmers market.”
The Giving Bank receives 38,400 pounds of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families program each week, of which it retains about 10,000 for weekly distribution; the majority goes to other area food pantries. Locally, Grocery Outlet, Trader Joe’s, the Alhambra Panera and two area Pizza Huts also contribute donations to the weekly charity.
The Giving Bank typically had a relatively limited breadth of ZIP codes for its clientele, but this year it opened its doors a bit.
“During COVID, I opened up to pretty much anybody,” said Moore, who is also the director of Holy Family’s community services. “It’s pretty much if you come.”
The work is tedious, and sometimes a stray cart will bump someone in the rear as it’s sent down the assembly line, but everyone there is affable enough. The crew typically sends groceries out for about four hours each Monday. Plenty of them know families well enough to converse, and Moore mentioned that the Giving Bank plans on addressing holidays gifts for the families who have children at home.
Escobedo, like others inside the center hall, dutifully combed through her eggs on Monday, knowing that it just wasn’t right to send someone home without an even dozen. One box in particular gave her fits for a second — a number of eggs had practically shattered and basically glued the remainders to the cardboard.
“Well, that’s not going to work,” she said only to herself.
So she tossed them into the bin, picked up the next set of eggs and assembled a carton that did.