A FIND Food Bank volunteer distributes bags of fresh produce to hundreds of families in line at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree, California.
There’s so much to love about living in the countryside. Quiet nights, bright stars, friendly neighborhoods, and plenty of space to take it all in. Still, our neighbors living in geographically rural areas face a host of unique challenges, from a lack of resources and job opportunities to isolation and inflated prices. According to Feeding America, three-quarters of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are those living in rural areas.
FIND Food Bank serves a combination of rural and suburban neighborhoods in the Coachella Valley and Hi-Desert. FIND’s healthy food services stretch 5,000 square miles, including eastern Riverside and southern San Bernardino Counties, from the Hi-Desert and Joshua Tree across the Coachella Valley to Anza, down to the Salton Sea and the border of California and Arizona.
FIND expanded its services in the Hi-Desert in 2020 to mitigate the skyrocketing rates of food insecurity in the most under-resourced areas of the county. Instead of driving an hour both ways for food pantries and individuals alike to pick up from FIND, now we deliver fresh produce and non-perishables to our warehouse and distribution center at the Morongo Basin Healthcare District. Plus, our monthly Mobile Market drive thru-distribution at Copper Mountain College, and our newly opened Market at the Sky Valley Community Center, provide grocery staples once a month to community members throughout the Morongo Basin.
FIND’s New Mobile Market at
Sky Valley Community Center
A FIND Staff Member and Volunteer distribute fresh and frozen food items at Sky Valley Community Center (June 2022).
Slightly up the mountain in the hills of Desert Hot Springs sits Sky Valley, home to just over 2,000 residents. After several years of working with the Sky Valley Community Center to provide emergency food assistance, last May 2022, FIND Food Bank introduced a permanent monthly Mobile Market for surrounding families to pick up healthy groceries.
Lisa Tosti is on the board of directors for the Sky Valley Community Center and coordinates FIND’s Mobile Market site. Tosti admits several barriers prevent her neighbors from accessing quality food, including the fact that the nearest grocery store is at least a 15-minute drive both ways.
She relays, “With some working families, there are some who stay at home who cook and don’t have a car. Since it is so far from the store, it’s not really an option to get the groceries during the day. It can make it complicated or time-consuming for people to go grocery shopping.” She also mentioned that many of their neighbors are seniors who don’t drive, and then there are other underlying problems such as unemployment or health issues.
“This is really a nice option for FIND to be here. I have been so impressed by the beautiful produce, the huge variety of foods, and the quantity. Since we’re only doing it once a month, we’re getting such a nice amount.”
Higher Costs Hurt More for Households in the Hi-Desert
Patricia Ramirez, a retired senior living in Yucca Valley, picks up a watermelon from FIND’s Mobile Market at Copper Mountain College.
At Copper Mountain College, Jane Abell, Director of Student Services, communicates the urgency for better access to basic needs throughout the towns in the Morongo Basin. The rising cost of living, the price of gas and food, and the lasting economic impact of the pandemic have all had a crippling effect on her student’s and surrounding families’ budgets.
Jeanne McCullough is a retired senior living in Landers, California, with her husband. She asserts that the rising prices have tightened her budget even more since she has a fixed income. She shares, “I only go to the grocery store for things that are on sale. Vons is so expensive that I usually only go once a week, if that.”
Feeding America’s national research into rural hunger highlights the higher rates of unemployment or underemployment in these areas. With longer commutes and less reliable transportation, many households are left to look for work within their communities which tend to have lower-paying jobs than in cities. Not to mention that during the COVID-19 pandemic, more small businesses suffered, creating additional unemployment challenges.
While it’s true that living in geographically isolated areas can result in inequitable access to basic needs services, some utilizing the food bank express how there are plenty of resources if you’re looking for them.
Worth the Drive
FIND Volunteers distributing food directly into the trunks of cars in line for free groceries at Copper Mountain College.
“I drive around 20-30 minutes to the grocery store. It’s a drive to get here, too, but it’s a necessity because it’s not just for me. I’m picking up for other households, including my husband and I, and then two other households,” explains Jeanette.
According to the Morongo Basin 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment, residents experience a high degree of food insecurity due to limited access to supermarkets. “Seventy-two percent of the population did not live within one mile of a supermarket (in 2015), as compared to 29.8 percent of San Bernardino residents and 18.7 percent of California residents, respectively.”
Still, residents appreciate the diverse array of groceries they can pick up once a month at Copper Mountain College, no matter the drive.
Aaron Shawn, a former resident of Riverside who chose the rural lifestyle in the Hi-Desert, describes,
“I can’t even basically eat without it. You know, it helps tremendously. Even if it basically costs me $40 in gas. For example, at the Palm Springs Convention Center in the lower valley, it’s $30 in gas, but you’ll get about $50 in food, so it’s well worth it.
Food makes somebody smile. If you go to a fast-food joint, you could be in the worst mood, but when you exit, you got that smile on your face.
My husband is a senior, so it helps to have that senior box. He gets excited seeing that just for him. He’s 67 now, and every time he hears about that senior box, he says, “Oh, my food!”
Pallets of senior-specific nutritional food boxes are available at most of FIND’s Mobile Market through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
Hi-Desert is Home
The rural communities of the Hi-Desert and Sky Valley find peace among nature and their kind, quiet neighborhoods. Lisa in Sky Valley admits, “One thing that’s nice about our neighborhood is it’s pretty much large lots, it’s like five to ten acres. Many people that live out here have animals, horses, and different things. It’s a bit of a rural agricultural feeling too, which is really nice. You see your neighbors in the morning ride by on a horse, or they’re out for a walk.”
Aaron doesn’t stress about where to find resources because FIND Food Bank and our agency partner, Calvary Chapel, are there to lend a helping hand.
“There’s not much up here, but that’s what’s so nice about it. It’s so quiet and peaceful. No lights, nothing compared to down the hill. There are plenty of resources up here that you can get to. If you don’t know of any resources, you can still go to Facebook or FIND Food Bank’s website.”
Across the towns of the Hi-Desert, from Flamingo Heights to Landers, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, and Sky Valley, those experiencing food insecurity express their gratitude for FIND Food Bank’s services.
Aaron Shawn waiting in line at FIND’s Mobile Market at Copper Mountain College.
“It’s the fresh vegetables and fruits that help a lot with our nutrition. You can go to the grocery store and get that stuff, but it’s going to cost you so much, and that’s one thing you need. In Palm Springs, I’ve seen them [FIND Staff and Volunteers] wear shirts that say, “Food is a Human Right,” and it is. You cannot live without your food. I noticed with the food bank, it’s all the store’s products that they won’t sell because they’re jumbled and misshapen or whatnot. Well, I’ll still eat it, you know?”