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By Lexington Howe
Staff Writer 

Fallbrook Food Pantry named Nonprofit of the Year and raises $138,000 for charity event


Last updated 10/8/2020 at 1:33pm

Vounteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry

Village News/Courtesy photo

Part of the Monday crew at the Fallbrook Food Pantry poses for a photo, from left, back, Elly deRu, Mike Beltran, Volunteer of the Year Eufemia Carreno, Maria Garcia; front, programs manager Carolina Miller and new receptionist Rosy Juan. Volunteers are key to keeping the pantry's services going.

The Fallbrook Food Pantry was recently named one of the Nonprofits of the Year in California.

"Out of the entire state of California there are over 170,000 nonprofits," Shae Gawlak, executive director of the Fallbrook Food Pantry, said. "100 nonprofits were chosen in the state to receive the acknowledgement of Nonprofit of the Year, and we were one of them."

Besides the acknowledgement, the pantry has also done well in fundraising this year, despite the pandemic.

"We've probably increased our fundraising dollars by at least 100%, if not more," Gawlak said.

"With a pandemic, obviously our clientele and demographic have been immediately affected by the pandemic, so it makes sense that we would be feeding more people and seeing more people," she added. "With times being tough and people losing jobs, you'd think that the fundraising part would be pretty minimal, and that was the exact opposite."

While they've gone back to pre-bagging food, instead of the method of allowing people to shop for what they want in their market, due to COVID-19, their priority is to make sure the public stays healthy and safe.

"So many of our volunteers are at the senior age group that we didn't want to put anyone at risk," Gawlak said.

Before COVID-19, they were serving around 2,100 people, and are now serving 5,000.

"It was a big eye-opener for us to realize the magnitude of people who were affected," Gawlak said.

They lost quite a few volunteers due to COVID-19, being that many of them were seniors.

"I'm hoping that the volunteer part will turn back around, and we'll be able to get more consistency and more regular volunteers," Gawlak said. "It really does take us about 10 to 14 people a day at the pantry to just keep workflow happening."

The pantry also put on their sixth annual charity event, called "The Endless Summer," presented by Murphy and Murphy Southern California Realty.

"For our Murphy and Murphy event we raised $138,000," Gawlak said. "We raised about $50,000 more this year (than last year); it was pretty amazing."

Their traditional event is usually held in May at Pala Mesa Resort, but due to the pandemic, they had to get creative.

"When Zoom kind of became the normalcy of people conducting board meetings and other types of meetings, I just thought, I've got friends who are doing Zoom calls with their families playing games, why can't we turn this into a dinner environment?" Gawlak said.

This gave the pantry an opportunity to raise money while making it more intimate.

"We were recruiting a couple of the restaurants here in town, 127 West Social House and Small Town, and they were really excited about the opportunity and really the concept of what we were trying to do," Gawlak said. "Next thing we know we had a viable program."

The virtual event was hosted inside homes, where groups of 8 to 10 could get together and be a part of the Zoom call with the Fallbrook Food Pantry, while enjoying a meal.

"We talked about the online option and just tried to get as much information out to people," Gawlak said. "Whether it was a heartfelt story that we were telling from the perspective of a client, or maybe a perspective of a volunteer, or ourselves as active members of the organization."

Bags of food at the Fallbrook Food Pantry

Village News/Courtesy photo

The Fallbrook Food Pantry distributes food in bags to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

While Gawlak added that it ended up being a lot more work than they thought it would be, it turned out really well.

"I think even if things stay somewhat the same we might try to do this model again for next year," Gawlak said. "The feedback we got from everybody that was participating – they were saying that they actually enjoyed it better because they had an intimate environment with their friends and family, and they could really have concentrated conversations about the pantry and the cause."

Despite the pandemic, the pantry keeps moving forward.

"It all shakes out at the end of the day and no one leaves here hungry," Gawlak said. "That's the main goal; to make sure that every single person that shows up gets food."

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at [email protected]


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