October 20, 2019

IV Food Bank gets a new home with all the bells and whistles

This article was originally published by The Desert Review on October 20, 2019 and can be read here.

By Joselito Villero

IMPERIAL — The Imperial Valley Food Bank's Rabobank Center celebrated the grand opening of its new facility Saturday, October 19, and was attended by major donors and supporters.

President of the board of directors John Levada welcomed guests in an amphitheater-like outdoor gathering.

The color guard from the Naval Air Facility El Centro presented the colors and a military jet flew overhead toward NAF El Centro which generated a positive reaction from the audience.

Each guest speaker picked a fruit from from the side of the stage and placed it near the lectern, which was surrounded by fruit and produce,where they delivered their messages.

Speakers included Terry Garner and Lauren Reid, California Association of Food Banks; Mike Kelley, Imperial County supervisor; James Tucker, Council member of the city of Imperial; and Jill Jelacich, Rabobank/Mechanics Bank. The Rev. Ron Griffen gave the benediction.

"Finally, after raising $6.5 million locally and through grants, we were able to open this huge facility to house all of our donated food designated for Imperial County," said Sara Griffen, executive director of Imperial Valley Food Bank Rabobank Center.

The food bank's groundbreaking at 486 Aten Road, Imperial, was in May 2018, and construction started in July. The grand opening was followed by an open house for the general public Saturday, October 19.

The new warehouse features modern loading docks, refrigeration, and a racking system to keep food fresh at the right temperature, according to Griffen. In addition to increasing its refrigeration to three times its previous capacity, the warehouse was outfitted to accommodate over 250 pallets. Griffen has a dozen staff members running the food bank.

The new Imperial Valley Food Bank Rabobank Center faces Aten Rd. in Imperial. PHOTO BY JOSELITO N. VILLERO

Recipients will have the option of getting their food from designated areas or at the new facility. The adjacent bus stop would make it possible for individuals to use public transportation to reach the food bank.

The food bank’s new site sits on a 28,000 square-foot area that houses a 22,000 s.f. warehouse complete with food storage areas, volunteer space, teaching kitchen, and staff offices. The increased storage allows the acceptance and storage of more food items, most of which come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to Griffen, there are currently 20,000 recipients per month in the Imperial Valley. Food is delivered through different outlet distribution centers.

CalFresh manager Jesse Aguirre, dressed in a symbolic chef’s white shirt as was other food bank staff, led a group of guests to tour the facility.

“Efficiency is huge. Being able to store more food and getting it out more quickly is key,” said Aguirre, who also helps by using pickups to haul food pallets. According to him, the loading dock makes a big difference.

“This place is amazing. This is a wonderful resource to have in the Valley. They use technology to keep food fresh and accessible to our community,” said Camila Collado, a student success specialist for the Student Equity and Achievement Program at Imperial Valley College.

Two years ago, IVC opened a food distribution center for its students. “Students were learning more about us,” Collado said; the food pantry is open to all students. “We can’t put barriers on food insecurity.”

In a press release statement, Griffen said, “The work of so many people who have championed this cause has resulted in a functioning food bank that has increased our capacity to accept more food and our efficiency in distributing it ... this would not have been possible without the hard work of the leadership and the generosity of those in the community who helped fund this effort.”

Board member Sharon Stegmuller (Left) gives a tour of the new Imperial Valley Food Bank in Imperial Saturday, October 19. PHOTO BY JOSELITO N. VILLERO