East Bay students volunteer at local organization

Louis LaVenture,

Cal State East Bay students got a glimpse into what it takes to feed people in need on Sunday.

Thanks to the Freshman Day of Service, East Bay students were able to visit the White Pony Express in Pleasant Hill and help process food that would eventually go to people who are homeless and do not know where their next meal might come from.

The White Pony Express is a non-profit organization that was founded on Sept. 22, 2013 by Carol Weyland Conner to combat hunger and food waste. The organization collects and receives food from over 45 places like local farmer’s markets and even larger grocery stores like Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, according to their Public Relations Representative Steve Spraitzar.

The food is received, sorted for quality and then taken to shelters, pantries, group homes and other nonprofit organizations to be disbursed to those in need.

“Dr. Conner started this organization with two volunteers and $800 bucks,” Spraitzar said. “It is great to see how far it has come in such a short period of time.”

On Sunday, East Bay students found themselves sorting through strawberries for quality control and the significance was not lost on them.

“It means a lot to know this food we are processing is going to somebody who really needs it,” freshman Kinesiology major Sara Wieland said.

CSUEB junior communication major Kassandra Padilla works for Pioneers for Change at East Bay, an organization that hires students to engage with the community through events and non-profits, which is how she became involved with White Pony Express.

“I already knew how much of an impact we would be making in the lives of the people in Contra Costa County,” Padilla said. “It is a very rewarding feeling knowing that the food you are sorting through and saving from the trash is going to people who really need it. It is crazy to see how much food people waste just because they see an expiration on it.”

According to Waste Management, approximately 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away and more than 60 million tons of produce are thrown away annually.

Many students admitted that if it weren’t for Freshman Day of Service, they would have never heard of the White Pony Express. Every spring quarter, CSUEB freshmen are required to participate in the Freshman Day of Service where they volunteer at non-profit organizations throughout the Bay Area. In addition to food, the White Pony Express also partners with organizations to give away clothing and they have a large warehouse where they have items that range from clothes to shoes and toys. According to Spraitzar, the clothing and food goes through a sorting process to assure quality and make sure these are things “people would give to their family members.”

In January, two homeless men died from exposure to cold weather, which inspired the organization to create emergency backpacks that included in them tarps, coats, gloves, hats, blankets and food. The volunteers distributed 300 of the kits to homeless people in and around the facility, according to Spraitzar.

Homelessness and food insecurity are also common issues for CSUEB students. A study commissioned by Cal State University Chancellor Timothy White in Feb. 2015 found that one out of every 10 CSU students is homeless and one out of five CSU students doesn’t have consistent access to food and are considered “food insecure.” According to the CSU system’s most recent enrollment report from fall 2015, of the 474,571 total students enrolled at the 23 campuses, eight to 12 percent were classified as homeless and 21 to 24 percent were listed as food insecure.

White Pony Express has also started a new program earlier this year to create developmental toy kits for one through five-year-olds. Caryl Morton is spearheading the effort for the organization that includes wooden blocks and similar toys that promote developmental and motor skills. “Adults aren’t the only ones that suffer from homelessness,” Morton said.