Hopes for a Calexico ‘Food Hub’ Excite City Council
CALEXICO — Food insecurity in Calexico is great by any measuring stick; the data nor the eyes lie.
Numbers alone show that among the 25,000 people being served each month by the Imperial Valley Food Bank, 22 percent are in Calexico, the same percentage as El Centro, which has a larger population by more than 5,600 people.
If the data isn’t enough, throughout the pandemic there have been long lines of people, many of them seniors, or cars seen waiting for a box or bag of fresh food some four times a month at two I.V. Food Bank distribution sites in the city — twice monthly in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on Fourth Street and twice at the parking lot near Vincent Memorial High School on Sheridan Street.
Those are the sites that require Calexico police to help close nearby streets and assist with crowd and traffic control.
“We actually have four sites in Calexico plus senior apartments plus the college,” according to Sara Griffen, I.V. Food Bank executive director. “At this time the SDSU (Imperial Valley campus) site is a pantry set up by the school expressly for students.”
The need to find practical places and alternatives to getting that food to Calexico residents was a topic of discussion at the most recent City Council meeting by creating a formal partnership between the city and the Food Bank to seek grants to make it happen. One such intent is to create a “food hub,” as it was termed by a few during the meeting.
“A community that grows so much food can’t afford it, it doesn’t have access. Doesn’t make sense with the level of food waste,” City Council member Raul Ureña stated a few days after the council meeting. “We need a structural shift in how food is grown and distributed in the world. The environmental and social situation demands fundamental changes.”
For now, the I.V. Food Bank and its partners are doing the best they can to feed people where they live, to deal with the immediate problems that have resulted from generational poverty and lack of access to healthy foods, not just in Calexico but throughout Imperial County.
One of the longstanding problems the I.V. Food Bank has encountered is a lack of partnerships in Calexico, an issue that goes back a couple of years.
“We serve as many people in Calexico as we do in the city of El Centro, but the problem that we have in Calexico is we don’t have partner agencies who are helping us do that work,” Griffen said to the Calexico council on April 20. “And so the city has been very kind to us during the pandemic to create drive-thru distribution centers four times a month … to be able to get to all the people who need it.
“We know that’s not sustainable. We’re trying to be proactive and find the best way to give food to as many people as we serve in Calexico in the most dignified way possible, and we do believe that creating this food station would be certainly a great effort to move in that direction,” Griffen added.
“There’s a lot of really creative and innovative things that are going on, and I am very proud to be a part of that,” she said, referring to the various programs and physical spaces in development in the city. She cited the transportation hub, and the city’s partnerships with Catholic Charities to assist with homelessness and provide amenities for farmworkers.
“I thank you for that vision. I find it lacking in many places in the Valley, and I’m very excited about what you’re doing,” Griffen said.
On the table for the council on April 20 was a resolution establishing an “intent to collaborate” between the city and the Imperial Valley Food Bank that could be used as the right type of grants are found that would fit the “food hub”/“food station” idea the city and the Food Bank want to pursue. The resolution was approved by the council.
The collaboration fell under the city Development Services Department and Director Lisa Tylenda. She indicated that the resolution, which has a time limit of 60 days, covers potential grant applications that involve any project that meets the needs of Calexico residents, and that any such applications would come back to the council for final approval. Tylenda added if no grant to apply for was found during the 60-day window, the intent to collaborate can be extended.
“The goal for this collaborative effort is to find a site that can be permanent, kind of like a food hub, so that the Food Bank can operate here and our community here — and anyone that comes from Heber or Holtville — they know where to go,” Tylenda said.
The Food Bank headquarters is on Aten Road in Imperial, but Tylenda indicated that if a hub/station was a permanent presence in Calexico, it would function like a smaller base of operations.
“It would be awesome to go into a project like this so that our community can also have a place to go and know that it’s there, and they don’t have to be looking where they’re going to (a place where we’re) closing streets,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Camilo Garcia was pleased with what he called a “noble” effort, but stressed that two main considerations occur. He said that a “centralized” location is great, but the services still need to be “close to the people” and that those far from a hub would still need to travel with boxes or bags.Calexico Development Services Department Director Lisa Tylenda speaks about an intent to collaborate resolution between the city and the Imperial Valley Food Bank to find grant funding to establish a permanent location for the Food Bank. The council approved the resolution during its April 20 meeting. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
Garcia also was concerned that a more effective system of distribution be addressed with the four current sites, specifically with the street closures that occur at the Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sheridan Street sites.
At those sites, Garcia said the long queues of people or cars were causing problems for residents and motorists within those neighborhoods, as far as getting out of their driveways or getting around.
He stressed it seemed like these could be issues worked on concurrently, with the immediate emphasis on finding solutions to the current sites and addressing the hub/station effort longer term.
“It is going to be great having a hub, but having someone walk from the west side of town to the hub, if it happens to be located in downtown or any central location, is still not a service, it’s not a service for them to walk,” Garcia said.
“For now, if we can work just on the logistics of what we have going on right now, it makes it easier for everybody,” he added.
Council member Rosie Arreola Fernandez suggested having a distribution site be at the community center, where the parking lot is conducive for drive-thru pick-ups, and so that the city “could monitor it better.”
Tylenda said she heard all the concerns. Part of presenting the resolution was so the city and the Food Bank as partners are “saying we can work and, in essence, dream together, and we need to hear your (the council) direction so that we can make sure it is input in this process, the planning processes, the design phase,” she said.
Ureña agreed with a lot of Garcia had to say about access and location.
“One of the advantages that we will have in the fall as a city that is just unique to us, is that (Imperial County Transit Commission’s) micro transit is going to come this fall,” he said. “So people are going to have point to point access everywhere in the city of Calexico as far as transportation. So if there’s a hub, people will have access to it, hopefully 24/7. That’s really going to be up to ICTC.
“We’re kind of the city that is ripe for that kind of model,” Ureña added.