Vivacious and kind, Lupe brightens everyone’s day when she visits the Pantry. Since arriving from Mexico 30 years ago, Lupe has worked tirelessly to support her large family of nine, including her six grandchildren. For the past eight years, Lupe has worked full time at Denny’s restaurant in Lake Forest and is the sole financial provider for her family. Like many other service workers, Lupe was laid off for four months earlier this year because of the pandemic. She describes her gratitude for her weekly Pantry food and is especially thankful for the groceries during the time she did not work. “From the weekly food I receive at the Pantry, I can feed my family for two days, and then when I go to the market for groceries, I fill in the food I need. The pantry food has always been a great help to my family and me, but during the time I was not working, it was even more important to us.”
From March until June this year, hardworking single father Marco was unemployed due to the pandemic, and he struggled to pay his bills. Marco and his two children share a three-bedroom apartment in Mission Viejo with two other families, totaling seven people. Marco is very grateful for the weekly food he has received, “I am thankful to my neighbor, who drives me to the Pantry each week. I am especially appreciative to the Pantry for the healthy, fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat that I’m able to take home.”
Jay and her family moved to California for her husband’s commercial airline pilot job – which evaporated once they were settled. Falling from their comfortable middle class life was a shock, but Jay appreciated the Pantry as a bright spot for not only the food assistance but the new friends it offered. She was surprised at the ease with which she could access free, nutritious groceries. Now with her family back on its feet financially, Jay has not forgotten the kindness, dignity, and warmth extended by the Pantry. She volunteers and arranges food and funding drives among her colleagues in the real estate business where she now works.
Cosmin, Costica, and Marian
The Laguna Food Pantry welcomed three guest volunteers during their high school spring break! Cosmin, Costica, and Marian worked hard at the Pantry with their Laguna Beach host, Dan Nilsen. The three 15-year-old Romanian boys currently live in Kansas City, and thanks to the United Aid Foundation, they are sponsored to attend a private U.S. high school. Dan and his family hosted the boys in Laguna Beach, treating them to Duffy boat rides, beach days and whale watching. The teens were very excited to volunteer at the Pantry. Marian proudly admitted he earned the nickname, “Muscles.” The three boys agreed about the importance of giving back after having received so much love and support not only from the United Aid Foundation but also from their host families in the U.S. They grew up in a Romanian orphanage, and have been loved by a small but dedicated group of Americans who financially support them. Last fall, twins Cosmin and Costica fulfilled their lifelong dream of attending high school in Kansas City. They were to live with Pam Turner, a friend who had been like a mother to them and who offered to fund their tuition and living expenses. Tragically, Pam died in her sleep just as their new life was starting. The United Aid Foundation is raising funds to help pay the boys’ tuition, health insurance, school fees, and clothing. U.S. law requires international students attend a private school. “These young men were just precious,” said Anne Belyea, executive director of the Laguna Food Pantry. “They truly brightened the pantry with their enthusiasm. We’ll miss their smiling faces!”
Mary, mother to five children ages 5 to 16, struggled to keep food on the table after her husband’s executive search business suffered during the economic downturn. The Laguna Food Pantry helped the family stay in their home by easing the financial burden of grocery shopping. A licensed Realtor, Mary has been able to refocus her career now that her children are all in school and the economy has improved. She credits the Pantry for helping her now stable and thriving family through a difficult period.
The first day Vince Jenkins volunteered at the Laguna Food Pantry, he was standing in line to shop and noticed they received a large delivery. He asked if he could help. The team unloading the truck accepted and now, five years later, Vince volunteers four or five days a week at the Laguna Food Pantry. Vince’s road to recovery from homelessness to independent living with a job and an apartment has been long and hard. The friendship, support and goodwill he’s received from the Laguna Food Pantry as a volunteer and shopper have been invaluable to him in his new life. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I have the time,” he said. “This way, I can give back a little bit.”
One of our most dedicated volunteers started coming to Laguna Food Pantry as a shopper. Gisela has two children and cares for her elderly mother, who is recovering from cancer. Gisela was so grateful for the food provided to her family that she returns to volunteer one day each week to stock shelves and unload food between her work cleaning homes.
The Senel Family
The Senel family is big, blended and very busy! Between them, parents Stacey and Semih have 5 children, ages 6 to 13. Semih is a retired Marine, having served for 6 years, and for the past 12 years he has been in the Army Reserves. Semih is currently training to be an electrician. Stacey is studying accounting and business in addition to driving for Uber. The Senels hope to have their own business some day.
As active as the seven Senels are, meals together around the table are very important to them. Stacey says, “We strive to give our children nutritious, home-cooked food every mealtime. We believe this is essential in creating family stability, a nurturing environment, and some great conversations. We are especially grateful to the Laguna Food Pantry and its helpful volunteers for the free, wholesome food we are able to select there each week and for helping Semih and me accomplish what we work so hard to achieve. Without the Pantry’s healthy and generous groceries, it would be much more difficult for us to make ends meet.”
Bertina lives at home with her husband, 16-year-old niece, and three children, ages five, three, and two-months. Bertina is a stay at home mom while her husband goes to work. She says the Pantry helps a lot because it enables them to save money that can be used for the kids’ activities and necessities. Bertina and her kids love coming to the Pantry because of the friendly environment. Her kids always get excited when they get little toys or books. “You make us happy. We don’t feel alone, and we don’t have to worry about putting food on the table.”