For over 40 years, the First United Methodist Church’s food pantry in Reseda has provided meals for those facing food insecurities. In 2020 during the COVID pandemic, the pantry saw an increase in families, seniors, and unhoused individuals needing food, as many food distributions site did.
“We grew from feeding 25 families to 100 families during COVID,” said Shirley Marlozo, the food pantry’s director. “It was at this time a volunteer suggested we request food from the Rescue Mission Alliance Valley Food Bank.” The Food Bank quickly answered their call for help.
The numbers kept increasing and Shirley no longer had enough room in her car for the items the Food Bank provided. “My friend and I would pick up the food in our SUVs each week, but after I sent in my weekly reports, they could see more people were needing food.” It was at this time the pastor of the church provided a U-Haul truck for weekly Food Bank collections.
“It is remarkable to see our food pantry friends find a community here and then give back.”
The Reseda Kingdom Food Bank is not only feeding the hungry, but has made it a goal to meet the needs of the whole person. They realized that their unhoused clients and are in need of fresh clothes and a warm shower, too. “The San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission will now be bringing the shower trailer each week,” she said. “We have had up to 15 people use the showers and we provide socks, a change of clothes, and hygiene kits.”
The pantry continues to go above and beyond in meeting their community’s needs and makes space to truly love and serve them through providing a hot lunch. “The lunch gives them fellowship and they are able to sit down and relax,” Shirley said. “This is when we are able to talk with them and find out their needs.” Through these conversations Shirley and the other church volunteers learned that many families were also in need of clothing, so in addition to providing food and warm showers, they are also distributing clothes now.
Shirley said that they are seeing more Russian and Ukrainian families each week. Being sensitive to cultural differences, the pantry is set up so families can choose what they prefer. “We set up the pantry outside like a farmer’s market,” Shirley said. “This is so they can pick out what they need—there are so many cultures and different needs. There is no waste this way and they can pick out what they need and like.”
Shirley speaks highly of those who come weekly to the food pantry. “It is remarkable to see our food pantry friends find a community here and then give back.” She says many “food pantry friends” will help unload the truck and set up the items. “Just last week a new couple came for the first time and afterwards they asked to volunteer.”
The food pantry is not only providing food, but also friendship. “Our pantry friends that volunteer feel a part of something. They have become friends of ours and each other. Many have attended church and also serve. One man sings for our pop-up lunch and another helps clean up and sort clothing.” She sees that these people are taking ownership and creating something deeper than just getting food for the week.
The relationships that are made each week are a testament to the work Shirley and the church are doing. They are not just feeding bellies, but they are feeding the souls of every person that attends each week.