November 8, 2023 Comida Para Todos: Nurturing Families and Leadership in Sonoma Valley
While serving as an elementary school principal in Sonoma Valley, Maite Iturri made it a priority to work on developing parent leadership. The parents taught classes in the evening, organized support networks during the 2017 fires and according to Iturri, everyone knew who to turn to when they needed community support.
“Parents were feeling they were visible. They were leaders in the school. It was beautiful,” says Iturri.
Then the pandemic hit in March 2020, and as shelter in place began, parents tried accessing food from food distribution sites. Yet most food programs in the region operated as drive-through only, a barrier to many; Iturri says that many of the Latinx families in Sonoma Valley don’t necessarily drive, and many share one vehicle between multiple families. Driving to the distribution sites was not an option.
“So, the moms—who were these leaders—put themselves on the line to volunteer in these food lines to make sure people were getting fed, because that’s what they know how to do,” says Iturri. “They know how to be leaders, and they saw a problem they knew they could solve.”
The volunteers decided to work with Redwood Empire Food Bank, so they could deliver food boxes to those who weren’t able to drive to pick-up sites. Iturri says they soon realized that not everyone was utilizing the service and decided to begin their own food distribution program.
“And there you go. That’s how Food For All happened, because we were like, “People need diapers. Our essential workers, they were not getting PPE.” Masks weren’t easily available,” says Iturri. “There was a lot of misinformation about the illness. So we started, in addition to providing food and delivering it, providing essential things like pet food, diapers, menstrual kits in addition to culturally relevant food.”
Food For All/Comida Para Todos started by collecting donations to provide boxes to families and individuals from Glen Ellen all the way east to Skaggs Island. The project is run completely by volunteers, with fiscal sponsorship provided by North Bay Organizing Project.
Aside from donated diapers and pet food, and organic vegetable boxes donated by Farm to Pantry, the group purchases all of their food. Some of the funding used to purchase food has come from grants from Community Foundation Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund. The Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund—a fund of Community Foundation Sonoma County—has also provided significant funding since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Each time it appears that things are stabilizing—whether after fires, or as businesses opened up and people returned to work—Iturri says the need for food remains. Inflation has made it even more difficult, and more expensive, to get food out to those in need. For example, Iturri says that they have had to cut eggs out of their weekly food deliveries because it was costing thousands of dollars to purchase them. Coffee is another item that has been cut due to inflation.
The Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund recently launched a new Food Security Initiative focusing on bringing local food providers, funders and philanthropists together to tackle the issue holistically. Their recent survey on food security in the Valley found that an estimated 1 in 5 Valley residents struggles to have enough to eat or is chronically worried about having adequate food.
Iturri points out that although people are hoping to return to “normal” as the Covid emergency status is set to end this May, many are still struggling. Between inflation and bills such as back rent from many needing to skip rental payments during the eviction moratorium (which need to be repaid), the need for supplemental food remains and is still as important as ever.
“One of the big things we realized is that families who are under-resourced don’t have a lot at home, like extra food,” says Iturri “We put together a box where people could survive at home for a few days until they stabilized. But then inflation happened, and now the cost of food is exorbitant, and people rely on what we provide for them to help reduce their monthly bills and feed their families.”
She adds that while providing food in the Sonoma Valley community is a priority, one of Food For All’s biggest goals is to develop leadership in a community that has traditionally not been visible in boards or at the table within organizations while decisions are being made.
“We make decisions and we’re a democratic system. There are 12 of us that are comprised of the leadership team, and we really try to work together,” she says. “We want to develop leadership in the Latinx community so they can be a powerful voice in decision making, particularly when it affects them, but also when it affects our community as a whole.”
Story by Dani Burlison