Serra’s Pantry, the food bank at Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, has been a popular Order of Malta charity for the Orange location for many years. During the past six years, Jeanne Sawyer ran this charity assisted by her husband, John. She recently handed over the coordination of Serra’s Pantry to Steve Dow, who managed the event for the first time on October 11th.

Before the pandemic, the team of Knights, Dames, provisional and auxiliary members would arrive early at the food bank.  They worked closely and joyfully together, enjoying the camaraderie, while unloading, weighing, sorting, bagging and organizing the food donations.

When they finished, the team eagerly awaited the time when they could assist and interact with the clients, as they selected the foods for their families at the different stations, which included meats, dairy, breads, produce, desserts, and even flowers!

These are not normal times, however, and as is happening throughout the Western Association, the new protocols changed at Serra’s Pantry to provide safety for the clients and the team.

Clients are no longer allowed to select items.  Small teams of fully masked and gloved Knights and Dames now pack the food bags in advance, socially distancing inside the large, open gym, or outside.

On that recent October Saturday, 12 Malta participants, including an auxiliary member, two staff members from Serra’s Pantry, and four other volunteers assisted during the event.

At the appointed time, the clients waited patiently outside until, one at a time, they entered the courtyard and approached an un-manned table to gather three pre-filled bags (produce, meats and dairy, and breads). A few members restocked the table after each client left.  Others acted as runners to bring more bags.

Over and over again, as each of the 75 smiling, bag-laden clients left the courtyard, they paused when volunteer, Dory Grandsaert, called out to offer a bouquet of flowers. The smile broadened, and the bouquet took its place on the top of the bags.

What a joy to see the new process working!