Free-food distribution struggles to keep up with demand in California border town

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SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Just after sunrise, people began lining up outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro, California, not for a Mass but for free food.

Every Tuesday morning, Hearts and Hands, a non-profit in San Diego, distributes fruits, vegetables, and juices to the needy. It’s been doing it for 20 years.

During other days of the week, the agency stages food giveaways at various other points along the border region.

In recent months, volunteers have noticed more and more people, from both sides of the border, seeking free food.

They attribute it to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are people that somehow don’t get the help that they need,” said volunteer Norma Mier. “We give food every day of the week, every day of the week!”

She and fellow volunteer Alicia Jimenez organize the effort. They say most of the food comes from San Diego’s Food Bank, although Hearts and Hands does buy other materials to giveaway.

People lining up to receive free food at distribution line with Tijuana, Mexico in the background. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

“Because of what’s going on, we have been giving away toilet paper and other items that we never used to give away,” Jimenez said.

People have to sign in ahead of time and must be vetted for need and other prerequisites. But Jimenez says it’s become almost impossible to enforce rules when there are so many people waiting in line.

“We used to be able to verify, but now it’s hard turning people away,” she said.

She said one contributing factor to the lines is the number of people from Tijuana, Mexico, who are crossing the border daily to get the free food.

“They are U.S. citizens who have been forced to move to Tijuana because they can’t afford the rents on this side of the border,” Jimenez said.

According to Jimenez, there is no end in sight for demand on their food, and she said they only expect their lines to get longer.

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