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PACKING: (l-r) Juan Rodriguez with Salvation Army Bellflower Corps Envoys Manuel Martinez, and his wife, Belsy, as they prepare monthly food distribution boxes for families, seniors and the disabled. A safe, drive-thru pick up of boxes is offered by appointment those from any city during the COVID-19 crisis



In the wake of COVID-19’s human and economic toll, local organizations like the Salvation Army Bellflower Corps, Food Finders of Lakewood, Hawaiian Gardens Food Bank, and the City of Norwalk’s Social Services are stepping up to help out.

The Salvation Army Bellflower Corps is serving families and individuals from Bellflower, Cerritos, Norwalk, Paramount, Artesia and beyond. Envoys Manuel Martinez and his wife, Belsy, serve as ministry directors at the corps, help the homeless, families, seniors and the disabled as part of their 20-year involvement with the organization. The Army is known historically to render aid in times of national and worldwide disaster relief.

Founded in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth in London, the Salvation Army served during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, a capacity they maintain into today. “The Salvation Army has always been ready and willing to respond when emergencies like wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters [occur],” Martinez said. “This pandemic is unprecedented and so has been The Salvation Army’s response to it.”

“The COVID-19 crisis generated an increase in the demand for services by approximately 300 percent, since many families have unfortunately lost their jobs along with their usual income, and since many children and senior adults are now home all day,” said Martinez. “It has increased the daily food consumption at home and there is [more] need.” 

The Bellflower Corps, a presence in the city for 20 years, serves on average 450 individuals per week. Twice a day, 7 days a week they serve hot meals to the homeless. Their monthly drive-thru food distributions boxes are given out 75 percent of the time to families and 25 percent to seniors, according to Martinez. Families and seniors/disabled do not have to be residents of Bellflower to qualify for the food distributions during the pandemic. All that is needed is a call to the corps office ahead of time to schedule a pickup time. 

Besides food and shelter efforts – which continue to grow daily, the Salvation Army in Southern California has also distributed more than 30,000 N95 masks for city and county front line workers. In many of its locations including the Bellflower Corps, they provide utility assistance, help coordinate and refer COVID-19 at risk seniors 65+ for housing, and do home delivery meals for seniors and the disabled who cannot go to a market.

“These kinds of activities are being duplicated and replicated at Salvation Army locations across the nation and the world, [as we are an] international organization operating in more than 120 countries globally,” Martinez continued.

Food Finders, Inc., in Lakewood recently committed to supplying 200 senior lunch bags a week to the Salvation Army. They are dedicated to finding, rescuing, and supplying wholesome foods to more than 400 partner agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, seven days a week. Currently, they are working with the City of Long Beach to provide a drive thru food distribution and other distributions throughout the city, according to Executive Director Diana Lara. 

According to Food Finders statistics, prior to COVID-19 in California, one in 8 individuals struggled with food security and one in 5 were children. With layoffs and furloughs, these numbers dramatically increased. 


SALVATION ARMY BELLFLOWER Corps Envoy Belsy Martinez (l) with chef Norma Raco, who prepares 60 to 70 meals a day, 7 days a week for the homeless who come for assistance at the corps. Meals are also delivered to seniors and the disabled. 


“The agencies we partner with have seen a 50 percent increase in the number of people struggling with food insecurity,” said Lara. “We have received calls to increase the amount of food we are providing.”

“This year, Food Finders is celebrating its 31st anniversary,” she continued. “We serve over 400 partner agencies including churches, neighborhood centers, sober livings, women’s shelters, Boy & Girls clubs and more.” To qualify to receive food, an organization must have a valid non-profit status, 501(C)(3).

Besides the Salvation Army, Food Finders partners with Hawaiian Gardens Food Bank. They report an incredible 600 percent increased need in just the last six weeks, according to Purchasing Agent Melisa Halloran. They are now serving 1,800 low income families each week from Hawaiian Gardens and surrounding communities. To greater meet these needs, they also partner with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which is part of Feeding America, a national coalition to fight hunger. 

The Hawaiian Gardens Food Bank started out in the back of a pickup truck by Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz and his family in 1995. They have been giving free food to low income families, seniors and the homeless ever since. Throughout the years, more than $15,000,000 in food has been distributed. They are also financially supported by the Bingo Club in Hawaiian Gardens and others.

In Norwalk, a greater than normal 80 percent increase in need, unlike any ever seen in their social services department’s 45-year history, is going on now, according to City of Norwalk’s Social Services Director Gabriela Regalado. 

“We deliver approximately 2,500 meals per week, and since COVID began, we tripled our deliveries,” she explained. “We are proudly serving over 400 seniors with frozen meals during this pandemic.” More than 14,000 meals have been delivered since the beginning of the pandemic.

Besides the home delivered meals, they also offer seniors wellness phone calls with about 600 calls going out per week now, said Regalado. Other help available to city residents includes rental and utility assistance, childcare including services for essential workers, help with obtaining stimulus check information, tax service referrals and assistance answering Census questions.  Their USDA food pantry is open individuals from inside or outside of Norwalk. 

With greater needs during COVID-19, the public is encouraged to reach out to these organizations for services, volunteering or to make donations. The Salvation Army Bellflower Corps can be reached at 562- 804-0808 or 1–800–SAL–ARMY or online at www.salvationarmy-socal.org. For Food Finders, Inc., please call 562-283-1400 or visit online atwww.foodfinders.org. For the Hawaiian Gardens Food Bank, please call 562-425-4001 or visit online at hawaiiangardensfoodbank.com. For the City of Norwalk Social Services Department, please call 562-929-5544 or visit online at www.norwalk.org/city-hall/departments/social-services.