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El Paso food bank uses ride-share drivers to help people who can’t leave home

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The El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank hopes to continue a pilot program to deliver thousands of emergency food boxes to vulnerable families amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since May, more than 2,000 food boxes have been delivered by ride-share drivers throughout El Paso.

Yvette Riddick, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger executive assistant, said the food bank partnered with Powered By People and Lyft for the initial five-week phase of the program. The organization is looking to partner with other groups to continue the deliveries.

Riddick said the program focuses on delivering food to senior citizens, people with disabilities and others who couldn’t go out to a food pantry. 

“We’re not here to judge. Everybody’s circumstances are different and if they need food we give them food,” Riddick said.

She said there is a waiting list for people to sign up to receive the emergency box that contains vegetables, sometimes canned goods, dry goods, protein, ham or bacon and eggs as well as a gallon of milk.

“Whatever comes, it’s a week’s worth of food,” Riddick said.

A driver with Lyft grabs boxes of food to load into his vehicle on June 9. Lyft has partnered with El Pasoans Fighting Hunger to help deliver food to people who are unable to drive themselves to the food bank. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Lyft sends a weekly email for El Paso drivers interested in participating to sign up and await a response with the following week’s pick-up sites.

Kaitlyn Carl, communications manager for Lyft, said “the company is proud to engage Lyft’s community of drivers and help meet the needs of the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank by providing meal deliveries, while also allowing drivers to earn additional income.”

I had a brief stint driving for Lyft prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the El Paso area in March. I have a family member in the high-risk category and didn’t want to put anyone in the house at risk. So I shut down the driver app and didn’t look back. 

Then in May I received an email that Lyft was participating in the partnership to deliver the emergency food boxes to families in need. Since the deliveries are contactless I decided to give it a try.

My experience signing up for the delivery service

The system was well organized. I received a confirmation email from Lyft with the pick-up sites for the following week’s deliveries. The days were Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.

I arrived at the Northeast drop-off site at 8 a.m. to sign in. While I don’t wear a mask while I’m driving by myself in the car, I did put it on when I rolled down the window to talk with the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger workers.

Workers with El Pasoans Fighting Hunger load food boxes into Elida S. Perez’s car for delivery to people who couldn’t travel to the food bank. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

The workers all wore face coverings and offered me a pair of gloves. Signing in was easy and the instructions were pretty clear: Call on the way and if they do not answer, drive over and knock on the door to see if anyone is home. If they are home they get one box of food and a gallon of milk.

If they are not home, return the box for the next round of families.

I got a list with four families in the same ZIP code. It had their names, phone numbers and addresses.

I pulled up to the truck, popped the trunk of my car and they loaded it with the four boxes of food and the four gallons of milk — no need to exit the vehicle.

Almost every one was home for a majority of the deliveries the week I was able to participate. Some people didn’t answer their phones, but responded to a knock on the door.

The box was slightly heavier than I expected with the gallon of milk on top. Luckily I only had to carry the box up flights of stairs a couple of times.

While I tried to avoid entering anyone’s home, there were a couple of elderly ladies that I couldn’t imagine bending down to lift the box from the ground at the front door. In those cases I made an exception and set the food box down on a table.

But the one thing I noticed throughout was the sheer gratitude that nearly every family had for a masked stranger with sunglasses knocking on the door to deliver a week’s supply of food.

How to help

If there is a family in need of the emergency service the waiting list is available on the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger website.

To volunteer or make a monetary donation to aid the nonprofit, also visit elpasoansfightinghunger.org.

Cover photo: Volunteers load food boxes into the vehicle of a Lyft driver who will make deliveries to four households in need of food. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Elida S. Perez

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities reporter with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal.

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