Local parents, school officials and even master gardener Teague Weybright have come together in recent weeks to provide food-insecure families with meals through the organization Feeding Families Santa Monica. Courtesy photos.

Volunteers, food and hungry families are all being sought out by a group of former PTA moms who are interested in little more than assisting those who find themselves in need during the current pandemic.

Feeding Families Santa Monica is a collective of volunteers who host weekly food drives. The group is preparing to feed more than 100 families this Saturday at Hope United LA — a local church located near Arizona Avenue and 14th street — but Feeding Families SM co-founder Cheryl Byrne said the group started out on a much smaller scale at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Suzie Crocker from Hope United LA originally contacted us and said she had a bunch of pre-packaged food and she hoped we knew some families who might need it,” Byrne said. From there, Marie Espino, Karen Miller and Byrne would contact Grant Elementary School’s community liaison.

“And she said, ‘Well, how many families do you think this food that you just got could feed? And we said we maybe could do 12 boxes,” Byrne said. “And then we soon realized this is going to be scary for people, so we decided we would make more boxes. The next week I think we did 17 all out of my friend Marie’s garage, and then the following week we were told there were about 32 families who were food insecure.”

Luckily, Barry and Suzie Crocker, pastors of Hope United LA, invited Byrne and crew to set up shop at the church and make boxes there.

“They said let’s just keep this going, so it went from 12 to 17 to 32,” Byrne said, “and last weekend we made 104 boxes of food.”

Feeding Families SM volunteers consider themselves regulars now at grocers like Restaurant Depot and other places who have been gracious enough to provide to the cause. And even residents who aren’t associated with the group have stepped up to buy 50-pound bags of rice on their own, which they eventually drop off to Byrne so she can distribute them during events like Saturday’s.

As she attempted to name to every donor who has helped along the way, Byrne said the food boxes are only possible every weekend because of the community’s help.

“The three of us who started this — we have been involved in the community so we knew what schools would be going through and that families in our community would be going through a lot once COVID happened and people lost their jobs and couldn’t go to work,” Byrne said. “So we just knew we had to do something, and it wasn’t even a choice. At one point, someone asked if we should cap the numbers of families we can give to, and I said, ‘No way! We’ll figure it out.’ And honest to God, each week, we are just figuring it out… Sometimes we get nervous that we don’t have enough food to give to people but it’s worked out so far. Each week it gets a little scary, and I have to admit when we took a big jump from the 32 boxes to 64 — I was blown away. In fact, it makes me want to cry sometimes because it feels amazing that we are able to do this.”

Get Involved

Fresh produce, rice, beans, canned goods, potatoes and nonperishable items are always being accepted by Feeding Families Santa Monica and United Hope LA.

The group has a sign-up form in the bio of its Instagram page, which can be found online at instagram.com/feedingfamilies_sm.

“We have to be aware of how many people are in the church at one time helping out due to COVID,” Byrne said. “But we appreciate anybody who comes to volunteer or who is interested in bringing us food and all of that. And so are the people. We have a few families that have eight or nine people so every bit helps.”x