Los Alamitos’ Grateful Hearts Helping Out the Needy During COVID

 

los alamitos grateful hearts

 IN BETWEEN PACKAGING and giving out food donations are Grateful Hearts staff members (l-r) Storehouse Coordinator Lizbeth Garcia, Acquisitions Manager Jeff Perea, Operations Manager Amy Ovando and Executive Director Blair Pietrini.  

BY LAURIE HANSON

Giving hope to the hurting at a time when it is most needed is a community nonprofit, Grateful Hearts, of Los Alamitos. Since COVID-19, they are seeing close to double the clients seeking food assistance for themselves or their families.

“We have seen an increase of 42 percent the average number of unduplicated clients, having served 2,392 per month between April and August,” said Operations Manager Amy Ovando. “We began to see a slight increase in March. Before then, we averaged 1,697 clients a month.”

Food assistance is the greatest need seen since many have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to Ovando, who has worked on and off at Grateful Hearts for approximately 2 years.

It is also a great priority to simply keeping their doors open, as like many organizations they have felt the impact of the coronavirus. As a result, they were not able to open their thrift store on time, a vital resource which helps fund their operations.

“With the temporary loss of our main source of revenue, we fell behind on our rent,” she said. “We were able to reopen our thrift store about a month ago and are doing all we can to keep our storehouse open.”

Ovando said that Second Harvest Food Bank has been a wonderful support by remaining accessible to them and other partners every step of the way.

“As soon as the pandemic hit, we were able to contact them for guidance as to how to operate under these unforeseen circumstances,” she said. “They have kept all their partners well informed and have ensured that we are able to meet all the food needs of our clients. We are so thankful for their support!”

She said that as a result, Grateful Hearts clients received nutritious foods including fresh produce, dairy items like cheese, milk, and yogurt. Recently when they had a shortage of canned goods and grains, they called upon Second Harvest who met the need and has been ever since.

“We could not be more grateful to Second Harvest for all their hard work and dedication to fighting hunger,” she added. “As a small non-profit, having their support is so valuable to us. It’s not only what they do to help us meet the needs of our clients, but also it is the support we’ve received from them for our staff.”

Grateful Hearts currently serves both Los Angeles County and Orange County.  In addition to serving individuals and families within the city of Los Alamitos, a large portion of their clients come from the Anaheim, Long Beach and elsewhere. They were first established in 1998 by Blair Pietrini, then incorporated in 2000.

It was while working in an accounting department of her local church for 7 years that Pietrini continuously received numerous calls from people seeking assistance, hearing stories of single mothers not able to provide food or other basic necessities for their children. At the time, she did not know of any other program in existence that could help. She felt compelled and began to search for ways to help.

“She started by hosting a canned food drive,” said Ovando. “We now serve up to 9,000 meals a month through our Food Distribution Program.”

Grateful Hearts also provides clothing, hygiene products, furniture, appliances, and other necessities free of charge to the jobless, working poor, the disabled and elderly as well as those experiencing times of crisis. They do this not only locally but also abroad as part of their mission “to provide hope for the hurting”.

Over the years, the organization has learned that showing up to a food pantry or seeking assistance for basic needs is not an easy thing to do.

“People come to us afraid, embarrassed, sometimes even feeling ashamed,” said Ovando. “But here at Grateful Hearts, we just want everyone to find hope, we want everyone to know that they are not alone, and anyone can find themselves in a situation of need at any point in life.”

To qualify for services, one only must be an individual in need, she added. For reporting purposes, they do request documentation (except from homeless individuals and families). This includes a photo I.D., proof of residence for all claimed household members over the age of 18 (that must be current with 60 days), and all household members’ dates of birth, birth certificates or custody documents (for claimed members 17 years old and under).

Ovando said that due to recent increases in requests for services, Grateful Hearts asks all individuals and families seeking help to make an appointment (except for the homeless and those without access to phones). She said appointments help the organization to be mindful of their neighbors, regulate traffic flow and avoid interrupting other businesses in the area.

Besides being supported by Second Harvest, Grateful Hearts is also supported by many individuals and other organizations, some who are local churches, the Los Alamitos Police Department, the Rotary Club of Los Alamitos/Seal Beach, and many local companies.

“There is no way Grateful Hearts could do all that we do without their assistance and support,” added Ovando. “Whether through volunteering, generous one-time giving, ongoing donations, or non-cash donations, we have been blessed to receive support from other organizations.”

Grateful Hearts is always seeking donations and volunteers. They welcome donations of factory-sealed nonperishable food products and nonfood essentials such as hygiene and cleaning items. They are also in need of PPE for staff and volunteers, specifically disposable gloves. For more information on ways to give, please visit their website at www.gratefulhearts.org/give or call 562-431-0880.

 

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