Program found a niche reaching undocumented families in need of food
By Tyra Willis
When Anthony and his dad Don needed help during the pandemic, they found it from an unexpected source – a nonprofit that promotes veganism.
“Every week we would get fresh produce and other grocery items delivered to our door,” Anthony recalled, explaining that the family needed meals as his dad began chemotherapy. “Cooking with fresh ingredients helped my dad’s health. Preparing dinner every night gave him something to do in between treatments. It was nice to sit down and have a vegan meal with my dad and he never missed a night. I knew it benefited his health and we were able to share my love for vegan dishes.”
The Vegan Food Aid program, powered by the non-profit Vegan Outreach, began serving communities in need at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. From April 2020 to February 2022, the program was a stabilizing force during a time of uncertainty.
That outreach ended for the Sacramento area in February of this year. Jackie Va, the Director of Food Events for Vegan Outreach, said that the program served over 2 million meals and grocery bags nationwide to over 119,000 people. Over 70,000 of those meals and grocery bags were distributed in Sacramento.
“I was excited that Sacramento was receiving help during the pandemic,” said Anthony. “I have been vegan for almost 6 years and I have never seen any other vegan organization directly help the community in the way that Vegan Outreach has. Vegans get a bad rep most of the time, but this was a clear example of how much good comes from the vegan movement.”
However, the program’s end was also tough for Anthony and many other recipients.
“The Vegan Food Aid program was a blessing to my family,” he acknowledged, “and then one day it was just gone.”
Va said that initiative was sparked by the global emergency.
“Vegan Food Aid was meant to be a temporary program for us during the pandemic,” Va explained. “This year we decided to get back to our mission in reaching people to inspire others to go vegan.”
Michaela Stephenson received grocery donations from the program in Vacaville for a few months after she survived a car accident that left her without a vehicle. Stephenson had been interested in veganism for a while. While she was receiving the vegan food donations, she had “been tempted to eat non-vegan food quite a few times,” she says, but found that it was way easier to stay on track when there was something good waiting for her to eat at home.
Although the program helped Stephenson maintain a vegan lifestyle, the mission of the Vegan Food Aid program was not to create vegans.
“Our initial goal of this program was to keep staff employed during the pandemic,” Va confirmed. “We wanted to feed families healthy, filling foods. We did not require or ask families to go vegan.”
The program mainly sought out undocumented families in Sacramento.
“We knew that these communities were suffering because of the pandemic, and they were unable to get help from government programs,” Va went on. “We worked with Nor-Cal Resist and the non-profit Mobile Pathways to help immigrant families.”
Victor Flores, the Online and Community Outreach Specialist at Vegan Outreach, saw first-hand how undocumented families were not able to receive assistance during his work with the Vegan Food Aid program in New Mexico. Flores delivered over 1 million meals to the Navajo Nation. “The families were hesitant to go to other food banks or get assistance from other groups due to fear of being asked too many questions,” said Flores.
The Vegan Food Aid program will continue to serve in the Navajo Nation.
“We have to continue to provide safe spaces for these undocumented families,” Flores noted, “but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done on these reservations including, giving them access to fresh produce, clean water and even electricity in some places.”
Vegan Outreach will now focus on trying to get more restaurants to adopt vegan options in Sacramento through their Vegan Chef Challenge. It will also help people go vegan by signing up for their ’10 weeks to Vegan’ program, while increasing awareness for animal rights in factory farms. Additionally, it will host more cooking demos “to show people that veganism can be doable and fun,” according to Va.
Vegan Outreach accepts donations to help support their mission.