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Interview with Janelle Morimoto, Executive Director of the San Lorenzo Family Help Center


DSAL’s Food Recovery program is a complex operation. Located at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub, the Food Recovery program takes in healthy, excess food from hospitals, schools, farmers markets, and other institutions and then sorts and repackages the food into individual produce bags, which are provided to residents in need. The produce bags are just like the grocery bags you would buy at a store, packed full of healthy food, including vegetables, fruits, pasta, bread, and other staples. To expand the reach of DSAL’s food recovery efforts, we work with trusted partners, like the San Lorenzo Family Help Center (SLFHC), to ensure that food-insecure people living in Alameda County have access to the healthy food they need to thrive.

DSAL interviewed Janelle Morimoto, the executive director of the SLFHC, to learn more about the organization and the partnership with the Dig Deep Farms Food Recovery team.

DSAL: How did SLZFHC get off the ground? Who started the organization, and what motivated them to create their Food Pantry?

In the 1980’s the food pantry was a joint effort by seven local churches to provide food support to local families. They each were assigned a particular month, and then they provided food on one Saturday each month. Over the years the operation evolved, and the Oromo Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Lorenzo became the home of the pantry and the main host. In 2000, the church received a donation of three trailers to provide the food pantry with a permanent building. They connected two of the trailers to create a place to serve and store the food. (There was not enough room for the third trailer.) By 2009, the pantry had registered to be a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.

During the 2008 recession, the pantry needed food and financial support to provide for the large increase in families seeking food assistance. Over the next 11 years, the pantry operated out of the trailers and provided bagged food to Eden Area families. The food came mostly from the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB).

SLZFHC hired me to be the new executive director in 2020.

DSAL: When did SLZFHC start working with the Food Hub?

When the shelter-in-place order was announced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, food from the ACCFB became scarce. In late spring of 2020, the SLFHC began working with DSAL and the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub to receive produce, federal food boxes, and other recovered food items. SLZFHC also received restaurant meals prepared by local restaurants and tenants of the Food Hub’s small business incubator and commercial kitchen.

DSAL: Who benefits from SLZFHC 's services?

SLZFHC serves low-income individuals and families who reside in Alameda County. Approximately 90% come from Cherryland, Ashland, Hayward, San Lorenzo, and San Leandro. We also provide food for the unhoused in the local area. We serve a culturally diverse community of people and provide interpreters for at least five languages. Approximately 65% of the people visiting the pantry are seniors.

DSAL: Where should people go if they want to receive food from SLZFHC?

To apply to receive food support, simply bring a current photo identification and proof of Alameda residency to 16032 Hesperian Blvd., San Lorenzo. The facility operates on Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Families are currently limited to two visits per month. The facility is closed to the public on Tuesday and Sunday.

DSAL: What does SLZFHC appreciate about working with the DDF Food Hub?

Since 2020, SLZFHC has been developing a thriving food recovery program to support the need of the food pantry distributions. We distributed over 1.25 million pounds of food in 2022, and we could not have done this without the support of partnering stores, distributors, schools, and the Alameda County Community Food Bank. We are dedicated to reducing the impact that wasted food has on the planet, so we redistribute the safe, healthy food that would otherwise be sent to the trash bin. Wilted produce, broken eggs, and dry bread are sent to a farm to be used as animal feed or garden compost, further reducing waste. Our Food recovery efforts are supported by, ACCFB and Community funders.

The Food Hub has also been growing their food recovery efforts and is supporting our growing need for fresh produce. Since the beginning of our partnership, the Food Hub team has been very supportive and quick to respond to our weekly and even daily needs. The staff drivers are always helpful, courteous, and are some of the kindest delivery people I have worked with. The food recovery manager has delivered and unloaded food for us when his drivers are unavailable, or when we have a last-minute need. I feel like we are part of the same team. During the past three years, organizations serving as food pantries or assisting food pantries have gone beyond their abilities to provide food support for a hurting and hunger community. We are warriors, working for those who need us.

In March 2022, the SLZFHC moved to its current warehouse-like location on Hesperian. This location has been provided to us with no lease cost by the Bohanan Property management corporation while the property is not in use. During the past four months alone, we provided food assistance to over 10,000 families. More than 600,000 pounds of food have been distributed so far this year. We are in need of financial supporters to help with expenses such as utilities for the refrigeration, gasoline for food pick-ups, insurance, and supplies. In the future we will need support to relocate to our own permanent home.

We currently operate with about 100 volunteers including a youth program that runs the Saturday distributions. We provide a place for people to complete community service for high school, college, work, and court-mandated service. We serve as a place for seniors to continue to work part time and for families to learn about and participate in community service with their children. We provide a place for businesses to do group service outings and learn empathy and compassion while serving as a team helping a diverse and possibly familiar community.

The Food Hub has offered many sets of helping hands these past three years, and together we look forward to a future that's equitable and kind to all within this community.

New mural unveiled on the front of CeJay's Barber Shop

New mural unveiled on the front of The Washery

New murals unveiled at CeJay’s Barber Shop, Supreme Cuts and Styles, and the San Leandro Washery

On May 10th, DSAL, the Sheriff’s Office, the Alameda County Office of Education, and REACH Youth Access Center held a ribbon-cutting celebration for three new public murals in the Ashland community.

The murals were funded by a Community Placemaking Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The project-based grant from the NEA provides flexible funding to give young artists practical work experience. The design and execution of the murals was led by ACOE’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Department, which helps to create positive, equitable, and welcoming learning environments for staff and students in Alameda County.

“The challenges that lead to increased crime in our underserved neighborhoods are complex, which is why it is so important to have such a strong, dedicated group of partners working together to solve challenges and create safer conditions in the community,” said Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez. “These vibrant murals will invigorate the community, attract customers to these businesses, and contribute to a safer, healthier neighborhood.”

The public mural program is part of DSAL’s comprehensive Community Capitals Public Safety initiative, which seeks to support young people and invest in innovative solutions to ensure safer communities, a healthier environment, and a more prosperous local economy.

Participants gathered in front of REACH

REACH Ashland Youth Center, Ten Years Strong

Before DSAL and Community Capitals Policing even existed, there was a youth-led, grassroots campaign to fight for a place for young people in the Ashland/Cherryland community to gather and thrive. At the time, Ashland and Cherryland were struggling with poverty, gang violence, drug abuse, high crime rates, and some of Alameda County’s highest school dropout and teen pregnancy rates.

Hilary Bass, then a young resident services coordinator for the Eden House Apartments, helped spearhead the effort in partnership with Marty Neideffer, an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer at the time. (Marty recently retired as a Captain from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office).

Cheered on by Alameda County Board Supervisor Nate Miley, the youth organized events and attended Board of Supervisor meetings for nine years to generate awareness and advocate for their case. At the final meeting, attended by hundreds, the youth center was approved. The 31,500-square-foot REACH Ashland Youth Center opened in May 2013 with a community health clinic, library, day care facility, multi-media room, dance studio, weight room, arts room, and a café.

The campaign to build the REACH Ashland Youth Center demonstrates the importance of civic engagement and the power of youth to make positive change in the world. Although the facility has been open for ten years, it took nearly nine years to organize, break through to county agencies, identify supporters, attend meetings, and advocate for systems change.

On Saturday, May 6th, some of the youth organizers reunited to celebrate REACH’s 10th anniversary at the Ashland Cherryland FamFest Spring Event. Kyler, one of the organizers, now has a four-year-old son and works to support children with autism!

Johan Hernandez Quintero

Sheriffs FC Participant Johan Hernandez Quintero is DSAL’s Athlete of the Month

DSAL soccer coach Oscar Escobar nominated Sheriffs’ FC player Johan Hernandez Quintero to be May’s Athlete of the Month. Johan has been playing with the Sheriffs’ FC for five years.

Coach Oscar said he selected Johan, “because I’ve seen massive improvement by him since I’ve been a part of DSAL.”

“Johan has grown from a tall, lanky, shy child into a young adult who is confident when he plays and a leader with his peers,” said Coach Oscar. “As a 12-year-old, 2011 player he has had the opportunity to play with both 2010 and 2009 MLS Next Sheriffs teams and has excelled with both of them. With this new confidence in his ability, he also received a call up from the San Jose Earthquakes to attend their 2011 boys ID camp with the best players of his age group from all over Northern California.”

Johan said that playing and practicing with Sheriffs’ FC has helped him “grow into a strong confident player.”

“I have the opportunity to play MLS Next, and to be challenged in playing two years up,” he said. “The highest level of competition is the hardest part, but I love the challenge because it makes me stronger. I would love to continue playing at the highest level imaginable with MLS Next so I have an opportunity to be the first person in my family to go to college and get a degree while playing soccer.”

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas' - table spread with tamales and flowers

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas’ is DSAL’s Featured Business of the Month:

DSAL provides a range of support for local small businesses, including grants, tailored one-on-one consulting services, pop-up opportunities at Eden Night Live and other community events, and affordable leases at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub’s commercial kitchen and small business incubator.

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas’, located at 23682 Clawiter Road in Hayward.

Alicia, who was born in the Mexican city of Mazatlan, has been stuffing tamales since she was a child with her mami and her abuelita. She began working on her business in 2001, when, arriving in this “beautiful and blessed country” she began selling tamales door to door. In 2010, she started working with La Cocina, a non-profit incubator kitchen in San Francisco’s Mission District, with a dream to start her own tamale cart as a way to support her family. With a business plan in mind, and plenty of determination, Alicia launched her sales in the same month at the San Francisco Street Food Festival, selling nearly 1,500 tamales in a single day.

Eventually, Alicia moved her business into a 6,000-square-foot factory and employs 24 people. She aspires to be the brand that you go to when you want a taste of home.

Erika Cortez, DSAL’s Small Business Liaison, is currently working with Alicia to help her access local grant funds, business consulting, community event participation and achieving Alicia’s goal in expanding her business to serve local school districts.


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