SAN DIEGO, Calif. It may be America's Finest City and a paradise by the ocean, but more than one-fourth of the population is suffering on a regular basis.
"Sometimes it's overwhelming, the hundreds of people who are hungry. 27.9 percent of San Diegans, at any given time, have food insecurity," said the Rev. John Hughes, executive director of Methodist Effort To Reach Out or METRO, an urban-based ministry.
That's why when the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association announced plans to bring its Season of Service campaign to the county, Hughes jumped at the chance to head the five-month project's hunger emphasis.
The Season of Service, which kicked off in April by supporting the local rescue mission's annual Sleepless San Diego fundraiser for the homeless, has designated hunger as its focus for May.
"Everybody's been great to work with," the pastor said.
The timing couldn't be better, Hughes said. The San Diego Food Bank, the primary distributor for food to the county's hungry, is feeling the squeeze of a bad economy. According to figures provided by Hughes, 483,000 people in San Diego are hungry. The food bank regularly assists 200,000 a month, but in recent months, demand has increased the assistance to 300,000 a month. The increased demand comes at a time when San Diegan's are tightening their own wallets, meaning many service-oriented nonprofits are receiving fewer contributions.
In an effort to replenish the shelves at the food bank and present three direct distributions into the community, Season of Service has designated May 22 as a "Not On This Day" food fair.
"We've chosen one day to do everything we can to feed people," Hughes said. "This is the beginning of what we hope will become an annual event."
The goal is to collect at least 30 semi-truck loads of food to distribute to hungry residents. The largest collection effort to date by the food bank was 29 semis.
"This will be the largest collection of food in the history of the food bank," Hughes said.
Between now and the event, local churches are being asked to register through the Season of Service website and then begin collecting nonperishable food items. Barrels can be provided to the churches, through the website. The Rock Church in Point Loma, North Coast Church in North County and Foothills Church in El Cajon have been designated as drop-off locations for the food.
The donated goods will then be distributed during a festival-style event on May 22 at New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Bay View Baptist in San Diego and the East County Transitional Centerformerly known as Set Free Ministriesin El Cajon.
"This is a great opportunity for volunteers and people who want to get involved."
Volunteerism is the thrust of the Season of Service, a community outreach initiative that will conclude Sept. 11 and 12 with a mammoth CityFest festival at Mission Bay. Modeled after a program launched in Portland, the home base of the association, volunteers from more than 600 churches contributed 27,000 hours of labor to complete 278 community projects and logging more than 109,000 service hours.
Organizers in San Diego are hoping to match those numbers through a variety of projects. In June, the emphasis will be on mentoring. The military will be the focus for July and schools will be the service target for August.
Although there is a concerted effort and emphasis over the summer months, both the Palau organization and local coordinators say the volunteer movement is here to stay.
"We are moving forward," Hughes said. "After this event, we will take a break and go back into planning again."
For more information or to register your church for a project, visit www.sandiegocityfest.com.
Other ongoing SOS hunger outreaches
In addition to the May 22 food fairs, numerous other hunger-oriented ministries are ongoing. Below is a list of other ministries seeking volunteers in the fight against hunger.
What: Saturday Outreach, feeding the homeless
When: 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday
Where: National City
Contact: Carolyn Nichols (619) 474-2834
Partners: Southport Christian Center
What: Soul Food Impact Team, food drive for families at Kearny High School
When: 12:30 p.m. the first Sunday of each month
Where: San Diego
Partners: Flood Church - San Diego
What: USPS Food Drive, collect and sort food
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10 and 11
Where: San Diego
Contact: Gabe Shipman
Partners: Horizon Park Chapel
What: Christmas in July, San Diego Rescue Mission collection of goods
When: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. July 24 and 25
Where: Rancho Santa Fe
Contact: Pastor Jan Farley
Partners: Village Community Church
What: Community Dinner for downtown's needy
When: 4:45 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday
Where: San Diego
Contact: Gabe Shippam
Partners: Horizon Park Chapel, Feed America San Diego
What: Love through Lunches, sack lunches for the homeless
When: 1 to 4 p.m. second Sunday of each month
Contact: Keri D. Parish
Partners: Santa Fe Christian School