In Point Loma High student’s garden in Ocean Beach, food philanthropy grows
The San Diego Hunger Coalition estimated that as of last March, one in three San Diegans was unable to get three nutritious meals daily. The number was typically higher among the homeless population, which lacks the resources to acquire healthy foods. For Point Loma High School senior Fania Villarreal, this is a call to give.
Villarreal began supplying Ocean Beach food pantry Loaves & Fishes with locally grown produce in spring 2020 and has been donating vegetables almost every Monday morning since.
She says the term “food justice” was something she was first introduced to in a biology class.
“A lot of people don’t have access to healthy organic foods, and I believe that everyone should have access to nutritious foods,” Villarreal said. “It’s a necessity, but it’s always way more expensive than processed foods, which I think isn’t very fair. I want everyone to be able to eat healthy and not suffer the consequences of processed foods just because they can’t afford organic food. The term food justice is what I’ve been working toward.”
While volunteering at a local church to feed homeless people, Villarreal noticed that the food being distributed was mostly processed or canned and lacked a lot of nutrition. Villarreal approached the Ocean Beach Community Garden with the idea to use one of its plots to grow and harvest organic produce and donate it to local food pantries.
Carolyn O'Gorman-Fazzolari, the garden’s vice chairwoman who coordinates community and volunteer involvement, said she was impressed with the student’s ambition.
“We decided it was a wonderful cause and her efforts would be a fantastic addition to what we do as a garden and to step out into the community providing a wonderful service to those who don’t have access to that produce,” O’Gorman-Fazzolari said.
About the same time that Villarreal began planting produce in the community garden, she decided to donate it to the Loaves & Fishes food pantry. Loaves & Fishes, also known as Ocean Beach Emergency Foods Inc., is a gold-certified nutrition pantry that boasts as much as 7,000 pounds of food distributed every month in the Ocean Beach-Point Loma area. Most of its produce comes from local grocers, but it is usually end-of-the-line product that is on the verge of reaching its expiration date.
“A lot of people don’t have access to healthy organic foods, and I believe that everyone should have access to nutritious foods.”
— Fania Villarreal
Patrick Swanner, pantry coordinator at Loaves & Fishes, said Villarreal’s produce is some of the freshest the pantry receives.
“I don’t see a lot of kids who are aware about where their food comes from,” said Swanner, a Point Loma High alumnus. “I grew up on a farm and people don’t really know where their food comes from. A lot of the produce we receive is at the point when it’s going to go bad, but hers is fresh and top of the line.”
In addition to her own efforts to fight food insecurity, Villarreal created a service project for students who are part of the California Scholarship Federation, a scholastic honors program that recognizes academic achievements and community service among middle and high school students in California.
To help others fulfill the necessary service hours for the scholarship federation, Villarreal initiated the OB Community Garden Club, in which students help with upkeep at the garden, such as weeding and raking. O’Gorman-Fazzolari said as many as 20 students are involved, with some returning every other week.
“It was her idea to start the garden club for youth, and she’s really taken off with what she grows and who she has involved,” O’Gorman-Fazzolari said. “I think the student volunteers really enjoy being out in the garden getting their hands dirty and learning about organic gardening. It’s a new energy we have at the garden when we have students volunteering. It’s something we haven’t really done in the past, to act as a community service site for youth. It’s really powerful.”
Villarreal plans to study psychology after she graduates from Point Loma High. She has been accepted to the University of San Francisco and is awaiting responses from a few other colleges. She said she hopes another motivated young person will take over at the garden for her when she goes to college.
Loaves & Fishes distributes food throughout the week and accepts donations of canned and dry groceries, bread, toiletries and socks. For more information, visit sdloavesfishes.org.
The Ocean Beach Community Garden, at 2351 Soto St., hosts open garden days for the public the second Saturday of each month. Learn more at facebook.com/OceanBeachCommunityGarden.