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Gretta Dickson of Mission Federal Credit Union shares a laugh while packing bags for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program on Sept. 19 at the North County Food Bank in Vista. Photo by Laura Place
Gretta Dickson of Mission Federal Credit Union shares a laugh while packing bags for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program on Sept. 19 at the North County Food Bank in Vista. Photo by Laura Place
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Local orgs, food bank partner for Hunger Awareness Month

VISTA — For many, September brings to mind the beginning of fall and a new school year. However, it also marks Hunger Awareness Month in San Diego County, when local food banks and organizations seek to get the word out about food insecurity. 

It’s an especially crucial time for the San Diego Food Bank and its North County location as they begin rolling out their Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, an initiative providing food for students experiencing chronic food insecurity to take home over the weekends.

The food bank partners with 61 schools throughout the county, including in Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido, for the program. Food Bank Vice President of Operations Vanessa Ruiz, one of the founders of the program back in 2006, said they aim to reach 3,500 kids this year. 

“We were hearing from schools throughout the county that there were issues with kids coming to school on Monday and not having eaten anything over the weekend. It’s unfathomable,” Ruiz said. “We started with two schools, and it grew like wildfire.”

Cynthia Guerra of Mission Federal Credit Union prepares bags of food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the North County Food Bank in Vista on Sept. 19. Photo by Laura Place
Cynthia Guerra of Mission Federal Credit Union prepares bags of food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the North County Food Bank in Vista on Sept. 19. Photo by Laura Place
Angela Aceves, right, and Dawn Ware pack bags of food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program on Sept. 19 at the North County Food Bank in Vista. Photo by Laura Place
Angela Aceves, right, and Dawn Ware pack bags of food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program on Sept. 19 at the North County Food Bank in Vista. Photo by Laura Place

Preparing thousands of bags of food takes a ton of work, and the food bank relies heavily on volunteers to make it possible. Mission Federal Credit Union has partnered with the food bank every Hunger Awareness Month for the past decade to volunteer as well as raise money for Food 4 Kids.

On Sept. 19, a group of Mission Federal employees got to work packing bags of food at the North County Food Bank in Vista. Working in an assembly line, the team filled bags with packages of macaroni and cheese, juice, oatmeal, pancake mix, crackers, cereal and more. 

Angela Aceves, an eight-year employee of Mission Federal, said she was excited to be supporting the program. Tuesday also happened to be her 51st birthday, and she said she was glad to be spending it at the food bank. 

“We never know who is in need. There’s so many kids where it’s unnoticed; they get their free lunch at school, and it’s the only meal they have,” Aceves said. 

Chuck Fang of Mission Federal Credit Union packs food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the North County Food Bank in Vista on Sept. 19. Photo by Laura Place
Chuck Fang of Mission Federal Credit Union packs food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. Photo by Laura Place
Dawn Ware of Mission Federal Credit Union prepares bags of food for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the North County Food Bank in Vista on Sept. 19. Photo by Laura Place
Dawn Ware of Mission Federal Credit Union prepares bags of food at the North County Food Bank. Photo by Laura Place

Mission Federal’s fundraising campaign during Hunger Awareness Month brought in around $80,000 for the food bank in 2022. Mission Federal spokesperson Courtney Pendleton said this year, the credit union is aiming to raise $100,000 by the end of the month.

“It’s really incredible how our employees and our members show up for this event and this campaign,” Pendleton said. “Food insecurity is definitely one of our big pillars that we like to support.”

Members have been donating generously both at Mission Federal locations as well as online at sandiegofoodbank.org/missionfed, with donations accepted through Sept. 30. An $8 donation covers food for one child for one weekend, while $300 covers food every weekend for the entire school year.  

During Hunger Awareness Month, Ruiz said she hopes more people will learn about opportunities to help address local hunger. Folks can donate if they have the means or volunteer at one of the food bank locations. 

Local organizations can also get involved in food bank partnerships, similar to Mission Federal, she said. 

“I love September, not only because it’s Hunger Awareness Month, but it’s an opportunity for us to bring awareness to how people can get involved,” Ruiz said. “We’ve been around since 1977, and unfortunately the issue of hunger is not getting any better.” 

For more information about volunteering with the San Diego Food Bank, visit sandiegofoodbank.org/volunteer

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