by Dave Wagner, Public Affairs Volunteer
Glancing over his shoulder, Greg Hoffmann looked a little worried as he watched the crowd continue to grow. “As the word spreads each day, more and more people are showing up. Yesterday we gave out 544 meals. We’re doing our best to keep up with the demand,” said Greg, the volunteer lead of emergency supply distribution for the local Red Cross.
Behind Greg were scores of elementary school-age kids, each with mom or dad in tow. The small groups stood patiently behind small red cones that were evenly spaced exactly six feet apart. Everyone – both small and tall – was wearing a mask. The line stretched down the sidewalk, around the block and out of site.
Seven days a week, the local Red Cross is providing a workforce at the Safe Passage COVID Food Relief Center in Thousand Oaks. These volunteers are a crucial component to providing healthy relief to these micro community residents who lack access. Safe Passage is a partnership between the local Police Department and Conejo Park District that provides free after school education and recreation opportunities to at-risk youth. At the Relief Center, weekday lunches are provided by the Conejo Valley School District. On weekends, local restaurants fill the nutritional needs.
“You gotta love the Red Cross – a giant organization that’s nimble and can get boots on the ground fast to help the most needy”
“You gotta love the Red Cross,” exclaimed former Thousand Oaks Police Chief Tim Hagel as he deftly moved boxes of supplies into the Relief Center. “Giant international organization that’s nimble and can get boots on the ground fast helping the most needy. We appreciate the Red Cross volunteers – thanks for helping the kids of the Conejo.”
Son Nguyen is one of the Red Cross volunteers serving this morning. After a career with the Dept of Defense at the base in Port Hueneme, he retired three years ago and joined the Red Cross Mass Care team. He also works in Service to the Armed Forces.
A little perplexed at the new safety protocols due to the coronavirus, Son said, “It’s just a little strange now. I always try to greet everyone with a smile, but you can’t see that with a mask on. They can’t see our greeting and how happy we are to be here helping out.”
And what a huge help to the community this partnership has been in just the last month alone. Together, Safe Passage and the Red Cross have distributed more than 22,000 meals, 7,800 lbs of fresh produce, 250 lbs of baby formula and 4,400 take-home art projects.
“We handed out thousands of masks and gloves,” related Red Cross volunteer Monica Nolan. “But the diapers are the hardest thing to keep in stock. We’ve given out more than 10,000 diapers so far.”
Monica retired as the director of Ventura County Animal Services about ten year ago and has been working as a volunteer with Red Cross logistics ever since. “Giving back. Paying it forward. I know these are clichés but there is so much truth in them. The Red Cross provides me the opportunity to continue serving in my community. I’ll do this for long as I’m able.”