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Staff Stories

FIND Food Bank Staff Serve with a Purpose, Giving Back to their Hometown

New staff joins FIND to fight a hunger crisis that hits particularly close to home. Several team members returned to the desert after college to help relieve hunger in their communities.

Aleeah Aguilera

Special Assistant to the CEO; Programs Manager

UCLA Graduate 2020

Bachelor of Science Psychobiology, Minor in Chicanx Studies

What is your connection to the Coachella Valley?

I was born and raised here and graduated from Rancho Mirage High School. On my mom’s side, I am a third-generation Coachella Valley resident. My grandma grew up in Thermal working in the agricultural fields. However, she knew she could not do that kind of strenuous work forever. At the age of 19, she found a job in Palm Springs and was the catalyst for moving her family out of Thermal.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate this valley a lot more than I did before. I cherish the history my family has here. This valley has shaped me into the person I am today, and my grandma’s determination has inspired me throughout the years. This valley is full of hardworking people with big dreams!

What is your role at FIND Food Bank?

I began as a volunteer after graduating from college in 2020. I was officially hired as a Community Health Worker a couple of months later. I was then promoted to Volunteer Programs Manager, and this past January I accepted a new position as Special Assistant to the CEO. Now, I oversee the development of several new programs. I am most involved in the SB 1383 program right now. FIND is serving as the designated food recovery organization and assists city partners in ensuring they comply with SB 1383-issued mandates. I help coordinate city partners, store managers, and agency partners, gathering information and reports to later be sent through the pipeline.

How are you able to help the community within your role?

I assist with developing programs that will have a lasting impact on the entire community. In the Coachella Valley, we have a high Latino population. Some Latinos only speak Spanish, struggle with obtaining citizenship status, or come from low-income households. In those situations, it’s difficult to know about available community resources. Here at FIND, I can give our community hope and show them that we are here to help them get through it.

Why do you love what you do?

Well, for many different reasons. When I started here, I just thought it was a good way to get involved and keep busy and give back to my community. As I’ve dived deeper into this role and the food bank, I’ve learned more about how we rescue food and reduce food waste. We help so many people in so many ways, not only by giving them food but by providing them with different resources like rental assistance and other assistance programs. It’s really cool that I get to see all these different aspects of the food bank and see how it grows and see how it changes people’s lives. That’s been life-changing for me.

Xiomara Meza

Development Administrator

Coachella Valley High School

Cal State San Bernardino, Class of 2020

Bachelors in Psychology, Minor in Criminal Justice

What is your connection to the Coachella Valley? 

 Well, I’ve lived here my whole life. I love living here because of the people and the community. I like the scenery of the mountains, the agriculture, and the farms. The people here are also so welcoming to one another.

What is your role at FIND? 

I am the Development Administrator. I deal with all the donations that come in and input them into our database. I send all the thank you letters and help with events.

How do you feel you’re helping your community? 

I live on the Eastside in Coachella. I get to see more of the clients that come here, and it’s nice being able to work here and let them know about the resources we offer. I tell them, “You can go this day, and this is the calendar of events. Since I’m working here, I get to reach more people where I live in my neighborhood.

Why do you love what you do at FIND Food Bank?  

I’ve always wanted a job where I get to help others. That’s why I like it. Before FIND, I worked with kids. I would do ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) tutoring with kids on the spectrum, so it was helping in a different way. It’s nice being able to do different things that serve others in need of help. It makes me sad to see others that need help and feeling like I can’t do much to help them. This is the least I can do to help others. There are so many people that need help, and you don’t get to help everyone.

Kayleen Sullivan

Development and Community Relations Manager

La Quinta High School

UCLA, Class of 2020

Bachelors in Communication Studies

What is your connection to the Coachella Valley?

I was born in Indio and raised in La Quinta. When I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to escape the desert heat to figure out my next steps in Los Angeles. When I graduated from UCLA in 2020, the Valley was experiencing the height of the pandemic-induced economic crisis. I left my remote nonprofit job to serve directly in my community. When I moved back, I felt like I was seeing the desert for the first time. The community here is warm and giving. Everyone works to uplift their neighbor; I know that they would never allow anyone to be left behind.

What is your role at the food bank?

I am the Development and Community Relations Manager. Over the last two years, I’ve helped develop FIND’s new website, launch digital marketing and PR initiatives, social media, videography, event planning, fundraisers, and everything that falls under storytelling. It’s an honor to listen and learn from the leaders of our community and the members who shape the Coachella Valley.

How do you feel you’re helping your community?

Being able to help tell the story of the food bank and uplift the voices of those we serve. When we increase our reach online, through social media, the website, news stories, etc. that translates directly to more supporters in our fight to end hunger in the desert. The issue we’re fighting is universal, and it can feel too big to tackle when you look at hunger globally. Seeing the impact FIND has right here in my hometown, where hundreds of thousands of people face food insecurity, that makes me feel like I am making a difference.

Why do you love what you do at FIND Food Bank?

My favorite part about my job is speaking to all the people who support the food bank, whether that’s clients, volunteers, donors, or staff members. Everyone has their own story for getting involved, and it’s uplifting to interact with so many good-natured, warm-hearted individuals who want the best for their community. It’s inspiring to hear the resilience of our clients who can face overwhelming challenges and still find the space to be positive and see the best of their situation. They have so much wisdom to share, and I feel so fortunate to listen and learn from them. It’s inspiring and encourages me to advocate for a better future for everyone who calls the Coachella Valley home.

 

Kyler Desphande

Community Impact Coordinator

Colorado College

Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science

What is your connection to the Coachella Valley?

I moved here, right before I started kindergarten, and grew up in Rancho Mirage. I went to Palm Valley High School.

What is your role at the food bank?

Mainly I do data analysis. The CalFresh Outreach team sends the number of people we saw at distribution, and I break it down by ethnicity, age, and income, and then put that all into the system so we know where our money is going. Then it applies to grant proposals to make sure we hit all the criteria. It’s making sure that those grants get filled and therefore we get the money. For the community, based on the numbers, we devote some amount of food to different areas, like send more to La Quinta and less in India, those types of roles.

How do you feel you’re helping your community?

For FIND Food Bank, it’s making sure that those grants get filled and therefore we get the money. For the community, based on the numbers, we devote some amount of food to different areas, like sending more to La Quinta and less to Indio, those types of roles.

You really notice when you go out to do the distributions which I help out when they need an extra hand and I am less busy here. That’s when you really get to see the impact when you’re not just staring at a computer screen all day.

I college, I did internships for congresspeople and political campaigning. This is much more in the weeds versus the larger scale like bill construction and advocating. I interned for the congressman here. I was doing lots of office work and then occasionally press junkets. This is more interactive. Most of the stuff I did was separated from the actual people versus this is very person to person.

Why do you love what you do at FIND Food Bank?

I’ve enjoyed it. I really like that there are actually names and faces to this work versus just random numbers on a screen. I’ve learned more about the direct disparity in resources geographically. I did one of those homebound deliveries and two neighbors down the street had like two Mercedes in their driveway and the other person was food insecure less than a block away. I like how much of an impact it makes on the people that are here. Considering I know the amount of people that we help, without FIND Food Bank there would be way too many people who would go hungry.