The coronavirus pandemic was in its early stages but Heather Ochoa already had noticed the need for food was growing. She began laying out food from her pantry and extra groceries on a table in her driveway in Oakley, California to help feed those in need. Social media posts and word-of-mouth helped spread the word that Ochoa, a mother of four, who had been laid off from her job at a local school, almost always had food to spare.
When her homeowners association cited her for having food on the porch, almost 1,850 community members signed a petition supporting her work. Ochoa now has a shorter, less visible table and at an HOA hearing set for later this month she intends to request a humanitarian exception so she can keep her pantry during the pandemic.
“Heather Ochoa has selflessly volunteered to organize a food pantry at her home for those in need during these unprecedented times of this pandemic,” Jeanne Reeves wrote in the petition she launched three months ago. “We support Heather in this act of selfless kindness 100% and we do not want her cited or asked to change her set up for providing this food to our community.”
Realizing many of the city’s older residents did not drive or have the means to get to the church, and others could not make it during giveaway hours, the young mom began a delivery service to distribute the food. Ochoa’s pantry and her food deliveries to those who couldn’t come to her has been so successful, that she now has her own Facebook group, “The pantry … Where God guides, He provides,” to share news about her daily food giveaways. A nonprofit by the same name is also in the works and friends have started a GoFundMe page to help with legal expenses.
Every day Ochoa picks up donations of food that is about to expire from stores and bakeries, which she either delivers to those who need it or adds to her porch pantry, open daily from 1 to 8 p.m. She has regular stops on different days, bringing food to elderly families in Brentwood and Bethel Island and to families with children. In addition to delivering to individuals, Ochoa often visits area homeless encampments to give out leftover food and, sometimes, can openers.
Ochoa said she and others, including churches and nonprofits, “work in unity with each other.” So when the others have leftovers, she often picks them up to add to her pantry, and when they’re out of food they may send clients to her.
“Driving around to Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pittsburg, Antioch and Concord — that’s what I do,” she said. “I love going to their houses and meeting them and giving them food. Not everyone can afford a car…. I help a lot of families that are cancer-stricken or have an illness, are disabled or elderly. Some can’t afford groceries for a week or they can’t apply for food stamps or government help. There are so many outlets out there,” Ochoa said. “There is no reason for anyone to be hungry anymore.”