Saddleback Church teams up with OCDE to provide meals, groceries for OC families

April showers didn’t discourage the families who lined up in their cars to pick up boxes of food outside OCDE’s offices in Santa Ana. And the rain certainly didn’t deter the team of volunteers from Saddleback Church.

On Thursday, 234 families were served groceries by Saddleback Church and their volunteers at the Orange County Department of Education’s Wilshire Avenue site. It marked the latest stop for the church’s drive-thru food bank, which is collaborating with OCDE’s ACCESS division to provide boxed groceries at these seven locations.

Pop-up meal site
ACCESS Principal Vernon Burton snaps a photo of the drive-thru food bank hosted by Saddleback Church outside OCDE’s Wilshire Avenue site. Rain didn’t discourage families or volunteers on Thursday.

“We had cars lined up, winding through the entire complex,” ACCESS Principal Vernon Burton said. “I was worried the rain might slow things down, but these volunteers would not be stopped. In the pouring rain, the whole team went to work, methodically handing out huge portions of food, which we hope will help for the holiday weekend.”

School districts throughout Orange County have been setting up grab-and-go sites to make sure students continue to have access to healthy meals during the COVID-19 crisis. But in many instances, students aren’t the only ones in need of food.

Saddleback Church is among the organizations that are stepping in to fill that gap. Through an initiative led by Saddleback’s staff member Rana Muncy, Director of Mission, and Christina Selter, a volunteer leader, they have been providing groceries to almost 2,000 families a week — for a total of 30,000 people — since March 9. Drive-thru staging areas allow participants to pick up boxes of food while maintaining social distancing precautions.

Saddleback’s Pastor Rick Warren described their outreach efforts in this season as an effort to, “mobilize the healthy to protect the vulnerable, care for the sick, and serve the community.”

“We serve the community with food, but also work to meet needs holistically,” echoed Muncy. “What we’ve witnessed is that families are in need of community, of someone to hear them and what they’re going through.”

‘We hope they feel love’ 

So far, the program is cycling through seven ACCESS locations, but there is talk of expanding the program to additional schools.

“We would also like to be able to team up with the districts in Orange County to bring the mobile pantry to where children get their meals, so we can fill their parents’ trunks with food,” said Selter. “Being able to listen and pray for them when they wanted was so amazing. We hope they feel love and caring from their community, and we are blessed to get to be there with them.”

Stocked with donations from Costco and other businesses, the groceries handed out Thursday contained meats, vegetables and dry goods, along with Easter treats.

Staff in masks at a drive-thru food bank
Saddleback Church is providing groceries to almost 2,000 families a week — for a total of 30,000 people. Drive-thru staging areas allow participants to pick up boxes of food while maintaining social distancing.

“This is great food,” said ACCESS Principal Machele Kilgore. “They packed an artisan salad mix and bread and great vegetables and fruit. They have put a thoughtfulness toward including really good food for families.”

Connecting with people

Kilgore helped coordinate the first pop-up pantry at OCDE’s Skyview School. Though she initially requested meals for 35 to 40 families, Saddleback brought provisions for 80 — and they had exactly enough for the line of participants, she said.

“At one point I said to them, ‘Do you want to just leave the boxes for us to distribute?’ And they said, ‘No. We just want to connect with people and find out how they’re doing,’” Kilgore said. “They’ve just been fantastic.”

She said family care liaisons, administrators and teachers are getting the word out through the community networks and contacts they’ve established over the years.

Meanwhile, the response shows just how great the need is in Orange County.

“To see these families accept this food, these families are just so grateful and so appreciative,” Kilgore said.

To view a schedule of Saddleback Church’s OCDE’s mobile food pantries, visit: