A helping of hope: Red Cross joins community partners at local food distribution event


Red Cross volunteers load bags of groceries into the trunk of a car occupied by a San Benito County family in need of food assistance.

As California endures a third month of the COVID-19 outbreak and its many associated challenges, the American Red Cross has stepped up to provide hope and help wherever possible — including lending a hand to its community partners.

On Friday, May 22, workers from the Central Coast Chapter joined First 5 San Benito County to support a food distribution event in Hollister. During the COVID-19 shutdown, many families have struggled with a lack of income due to record unemployment; the food provided at these events is a vital resource for many who can no longer afford a trip to the grocery store. The day was a successful one, but tough, and required a lot of effort and coordination. Thanks to decades of experience in disaster response, the Red Cross was able to jump in and do what it does best: serve others.

The day began at 8 a.m. in Hollister with volunteers filling and loading grocery bags into vehicles destined for a second distribution site in San Juan Bautista, along with bags for the Hollister site. Each family would receive three bags totaling approximately 20 pounds of food: one containing the local Food Bank’s standard emergency rations (rice, beans, and several canned items); a second bag with more canned goods, cereal, and bread; and a third bag filled with fresh produce. Families with children also received an activity pack.

At 9 a.m. on the dot, the site opened for business. Residents were checked in by volunteers from the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints church, and the cars lined up to receive their grocery bags. As more families arrived, the team’s hands were full tending to a constant stream of vehicles.

Red Cross volunteers — no strangers to adapting on the fly — each took on a role to keep things moving. Bags flowed efficiently out of the building to the team’s staging area and into waiting cars. The team settled into a rhythm as residents continued to arrive. It was a long busy day; but by the end, 700 families had been served.


Helen Cosentino, Disaster Program Manager for San Benito County, ensured that her team was able to help families in need and follow COVID-19 safety protocols.

Disaster Program Manager Helen Cosentino, along with the other Red Cross volunteers, made note of the tactics that worked well, and how they can make future distribution events even better. As long as the need for community assistance continues, the team will continue to support this site.

“It was a sweaty day for everybody,” said Helen. “But very rewarding. Even with the addition of COVID-19 safety precautions, we overcame the challenges and implemented safety protocols to work efficiently and safely. We’re here to help our community, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”


  • More help is needed: Red Cross support is now needed to bring our work of hope and caring to those who are struggling to find enough food for themselves and their families during this pandemic. Red Cross volunteers can sign up for shifts in Volunteer Connection on this page or can navigate to My Shifts > Disaster Relief Operation – Volunteer Shifts within that system. Thank you!
  • To see more regional stories and other content related to the Red Cross response to the coronavirus pandemic, please see this blog post.