MCAS MIRAMAR — Deployed soldiers, worried that their families back home may be hungry, cannot properly fulfill their missions, which oftentimes involve handling ammunition or helping to maneuver aircraft, ships or tanks.
With that thought 20 years ago, Peg Brandenburgh co-founded The Food Locker, a warehouse-style pantry sponsored by the Navy Wives Club of America that provides a variety of assistance for qualified active duty military, reserves and their dependents.
“No children of the military will ever go hungry,” Brandenburgh said. “That is part of our mission statement.”
The Food Locker, which Brandenburgh said is the only facility of its kind in the nation, is located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It is completely run by volunteers, including Rita Riddick, Brandenburgh’s partner for the past 15 years. The shelves are stocked entirely by donations, 95 percent of which come from retired military “because they’ve been there,” Brandenburgh said.
Supporting the effort are people like Rancho Santa Fe resident Ann Pelling, who five years ago was talking with some friends “about so many people needing food.”
“We decided we should be doing something to help,” Pelling said. Every year since then, Pelling has spent four days during November in front of the Rancho Santa Fe post office collecting money and food to help stock the shelves at The Food Locker for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
She also solicits donations from the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center and Nativity Catholic Church. Pelling, 80, said she is hesitant to consistently ask community members for help so she only seeks donations once a year. She said she generally raises about $3,000 to $4,000.
Pelling’s efforts help supplement The Food Locker during the holidays, but the facility provides assistance throughout the year.
Fresh bread is available daily for all qualified military personnel and their dependents. The Food Locker also offers the free commodities program, for which most enlisted personnel qualify. Once a month a family can receive a free bag of food that includes items such as spaghetti and sauce, canned fruit and vegetables, nuts, juice, milk and peanut butter. About 6,000 families benefitted from this program last year, Brandenburgh said. During one recent month, 840 bags were distributed.
Groceries-until-payday, which is available to Miramar personnel only, provides three meals a day for two weeks at a time to those in need. Brandenburgh said last year this program provided $40,000 worth of food to 160 families.
Given the current state of the economy, supplies are low. “This is the least amount of food we’ve ever had in 20 years,” she said. “Last year at this time we had enough. Right now we don’t, but we will. People always come through.”
To donate, visit Pelling in front of the Rancho Santa Fe post office Nov. 18 to Nov. 21, or send checks payable to the Navy Wives Club of America or The Food Locker to Box 45066, San Diego, CA 92145. To donate food, call Brandenburgh at (858) 577-6550.