VISTA — A neighborhood food pantry is being shut down by the City of Vista for not adhering to a city zoning ordinance.
Residents Mark and Jannah Loigman have been operating Angel’s Food Pantry and Community Cupboard out of their home’s driveway since March 2020, when the pandemic started.
In addition to giving out shelf-stable food items, the Loigmans’ pantry also provided toys and books to families in need. All items were acquired through donations and were given to recipients free of charge.
According to Assistant City Manager Amanda Lee, the city’s code enforcement department surveyed the property after receiving a complaint. It then issued a notice of violation for accumulating items in the front yard and “operating a distribution hub in a residential zone,” Lee said in an email to The Coast News.
Jannah Loigman, who also goes by the nickname Angel, said that the pantry has been a crucial resource to families in need during the pandemic.
“A lot of people were having a hard time having food, so we decided we would put a couple of cans of food out there, or pasta and sauce, that kind of thing, just to help,” Jannah Loigman said. “The neighbors started adding to it, and it just kind of grew into… a pretty helpful operation for folks in our community.
“We had created a place where people could come in with dignity … these are people that, because of COVID, lost their jobs … people who had never even asked for food, and were embarrassed to do it.”
Jannah Loigman herself experienced food insecurity in the past as a young single mother, which inspired her to help others once she had the resources to.
“I know what it’s like to struggle. We’re not wealthy people, but my husband is back at work now, and it was my time to give back,” she said.
She has been operating the food pantry seven days a week, nine hours a day or more and has formed a personal connection with many of the people who visited the pantry.
“I really put my heart and soul into creating a space of warmth: feeding more than just people’s bodies, but actually becoming friends and listening to their stories and knowing their children,” Jannah Loigman said. “It just became a beautiful community.”
At the Vista City Council’s May 25 meeting, several residents voiced their opinion that the pantry should remain open.
One was Dan O’Donnell, a businessman and vice president of the Democratic Club of Vista.
“When people go (to the pantry), they find friendship,” O’Donnell told the council. “They find mental health resources. They find individuals who share a common bond with them and know that they struggle together and know there is hope at the end of the tunnel.”
Elissa Yassine, a Vista resident who has used the pantry herself, said that an advantage of Angel’s Food Pantry & Community Cupboard over a larger food bank is that you can take what you need instead of getting an entire box of food that recipients might not be able to eat, either because it is too much food or because they have dietary restrictions.
“By utilizing the items that Angel’s Food Pantry & Community Cupboard has available to us, we are not only saving the county money, we are also preventing unnecessary food waste,” Yassine said.
Yassine has also started a petition to keep the food pantry open, which has been signed by nearly 900 people.
The Loigmans intend to comply with the city, but they are hopeful that their pantry can somehow remain open to help those in need.