SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- A San Luis Obispo mother is grateful for the support she received from SLO Food Bank during difficult times brought on by COVID-19.
Helena Murawski-Quintanar is now giving back to the San Luis Obispo-based non-profit by sharing her story to inspire the community to help take part in the ongoing NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive, which benefits Food Bank clients.
The single mother of two teenage sons said her difficulties began soon after the arrival of COVID-19.
"I owned a small business here in San Luis Obispo and did very well for a number of years," said Murawski-Quintanar. "When the pandemic hit and closed all the businesses, one of them was mine."
Very quickly, the family was struggling to make ends meet.
"We went from having a good amount of income, self-sufficient to zero dollars, no money coming in," said Murawski-Quintanar. "No work means no money. We had to apply for every and any services that there were available to us and one thing that I noticed at the end of the month there wasn't enough food at the end of the month to provide for my children."
Suddenly fighting food insecurity, Murawski-Quintanar, and her sons Nathaniel and Elijah were put into a place they never expected to experience.
"To be food insecure at that time wasn't something that I thought that would ever happen," said Murawski-Quintanar "It completely caught me by surprise."
Needing help to put food on the table, Murawski-Quintanar turned to SLO Food Bank.
"Someone told me about the Food Bank and there was a pantry there and I decided I was going to go one day," said Murawski-Quintanar. "Going to the Food Bank, it felt very welcoming and very easy to go back, and so that's what I did for my kids, made sure they had enough food and didn't have to worry."
Murawski-Quintanar received food at Food Bank's on-site pantry, something it created because of the pandemic.
"As people came on to hunger or had issues with access to food, we could tell they were not aware of the food system and how it's set up to support them," said Branna Still, SLO Food Bank Development Director. "They would Google the SLO Food Bank and they would show up at our warehouse."To make sure they would not go home without food, we stated a smaller pantry that has now scaled up because we have seen that increased need."
Clients that utilize the pantry receive a well-rounded supply of food, similar to what clients receive at other distribution sites.
"You can go, grab your own food, so there's the dignity of selecting what you would like to eat," said Still. "We not only provide shelf-stable food, but also the produce bags you would receive through an agency partner or neighborhood distribution."
With the help she received from Food Bank, Murawski-Quintanar was able to provide enough food to fill her two growing teenage sons, both high school football players.
"My children would've been hungry definitely (without Food Bank)", said Murawski-Quintanar. "They would be asking me, hey mom, can we get this? Can we get that? And it's hard to say no. It's hard to explain to your children the things that they're used to having."
In addition to food assistance, Murawski-Quintanar also received other valuable help from Food Bank as well.
"They actually have a whole list of resources that they give you for everything, even if you're looking for a job," said Murawski-Quintanar. "When I went to the Food Bank and I got that resource, it helped to help me get a really good opportunity and to be able to have an amazing job."
Murawski-Quintanar is now working at a San Luis Obispo construction company and is no longer receiving food from Food Bank.
"I'm very grateful for the Food Bank," said Murawski-Quintanar. "During the hardest times of our life, mine and my children, it was huge, the Food Bank. It definitely has helped our family get back on our feet and to be in that position now to be able to give back."
She's giving back by sharing her story and letting others know just how important the organization is to the community.
"Myself and my children thank the Food Bank and all of the partners and donors that help with the program," said Murawski-Quintanar. "We are just so happy and we thank them so much for being here, for us, and being there for all the families in the community."
Murawski-Quintanar is also hoping to inspire community members to contribute to the Turkey Drive, so Food Bank will be able to provide a Thanksgiving meal to local families in need during the upcoming holiday.
"During the Thanksgiving holiday, when a lot of families are in need, the Turkey Drive can really help in that," said Murawski-Quintanar. "This is the best time to gift, to donate to the Turkey Drive, and let people know that if they're wanting to donate or looking for somewhere to go to donate, that's a really good program that helps a lot of people who have food insecurity who otherwise would not have a Thanksgiving dinner."
The NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive is now happening with donations being collected through our online platform.
The final day of the Turkey Drive will be held Tuesday, Nov. 16, with several in-person dropoff locations.
People who wish to donate a turkey, non-perishable food or monetary contributions have the opportunity to visit the site between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.
California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach will serve as a collection site for SLO Food Bank, as will Vons in Atascadero and the SLO Food Bank warehouse in San Luis Obispo.
Dropoff locations in Santa Barbara County includes the NewsChannel 12 studio in Santa Maria (1211 W. McCoy Lane) and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Lompoc.
In-person dropoff sites in Santa Barbara County includes the NewsChannel 12 studios in Santa Maria and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Lompoc.
Donations made in Santa Barbara County benefits Good Samaritan Shelter clients, while those made in San Luis Obispo County benefits SLO Food Bank clients.
For more information about the NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive or to donate, click here.