‘This church saved me’: Pomona food bank helps local families make ends meet

Cars line up along Foothill Boulevard in Pomona for Newlife Church’s December 8 weekly distribution of groceries through its food bank. Courier photo/Steven Felschundneff

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The line of cars along the north side of Foothill Boulevard in Pomona starts forming early every Friday morning. One by one, people keep arriving until the idling cars reach Towne Avenue, turn the corner north, and stretch all the way to Briarcroft Road in Claremont.


Americans have become accustomed to queuing up for a new attraction at a favorite amusement park or perhaps to get a table at a popular LA restaurant. But these people are waiting patiently — sometimes for hours — not for a table or a rollercoaster, but for basic necessities like bread, fresh vegetables, a bag of rice or perhaps a turkey for Christmas dinner.

The food bank at Pomona’s Newlife Church has been operating since 2009, a pet project of Zamar Alkiezar, one of the church’s pastors, along with his wife Anna Alkiezar.

Before the pandemic, the food bank served a couple hundred families per week. That spiked to 1,400 in 2020. Since then, the numbers have subsided somewhat, but alarmingly started surging again over the past year as high inflation forced more people to seek food aid.

“We started to notice an increase again because of the economy,” Alkiezar said during the food bank’s regular distribution in early December. “Last week we got 900 families.”

Zamar Alkiezar, director of the food bank at Newlife Church in Pomona, and his wife Anna Alkiezar. Courier photo/Steven Felschundneff

The food bank is open to anyone who needs its services, regardless of income or city of residence. Alkiezar said people come from as far as Chino or West Covina, but most are residents of local communities including Pomona, La Verne, San Dimas, and Claremont. The food bank is open every Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and there is walk up service for people who don’t have cars. While it will be closed December 22 and 29, it will resume service on January 5, 2024.

The operation runs on the labor of about 35 volunteers who do everything from directing traffic to loading the food into waiting cars. There are also people who coordinate the donations, move giant pallets of food into and out of the church, and keep everything clean.

Alkiezar said the volunteers also receive a certain satisfaction from helping others, even when they may need help themselves.

“I was homeless and living across the street,” volunteer Arthur Munoz said as he took a brief break from hefting large boxes of donated food into waiting cars. “This church saved me.”

A man with Alzheimer’s disease helps keep the food distribution area clean. His daughter told Alkiezar that every week her dad looks forward to coming to the church for his job.

The type of food available changes depending on the donations. On December 8 the church provided each family with a mixed box of “essentials” plus bread, cauliflower, yogurt, butter, juice, cottage cheese, dried fruits, a turkey, and fish. They also provide toiletries, detergent, soap, baby wipes, and diapers when available.

The cars form two lines that loop through the parking lot, stopping under two giant tents where the food donations are loaded into the vehicles. A third line on the south side of the church serves those who arrive on foot or by bike.

La Verne resident Nathan Lorenz leaned on his bicycle as he waited in the walk-up line. This was his second visit to the food bank where he collects staples for himself and his father.

“I get food stamps too, but it usually doesn’t last all month,” he said. “It does help a lot and you can see a lot of people come here. It’s nice that they do it and it’s helpful.”

Lorenz works in construction, but he said the donations help him to stretch the family food budget.

Zamar Alkiezar, left, director of the food bank at Newlife Church in Pomona, greets veteran Jonathan McKinney at a recent distribution. People like McKinney, with five people to feed, illustrate the importance of the food bank, Alkiezar said. Courier photo/Steven Felschundneff

While Alkiezar said most of the people they help have jobs, the rising cost of housing and inflation in general stresses their budgets. He described one woman in her 70s who came to the food bank last year looking very thin. During their conversation she confessed that she often has to choose between paying the rent and buying food.

“Originally my wife and I worked with the homeless in south Pomona, and then we noticed there was a lot of help for the homeless but not enough help for the families that are not making ends meet,” Alkiezar said. “So that is why we decided to come here, and the church opened the door for us to feed the families.”

According to researchers at the USC Dornsife Public Exchange, food insecurity among Los Angeles County residents, defined as not having enough food to meet one’s basic needs, reached 30% in 2023. Among low-income people, 44% were food insecure, an increase of 7% over the previous year.

“After a brief decline in 2021, food insecurity rose in Los Angeles County in 2022 and again in 2023,” according to a Public Exchange research brief. “This has impacted over 1,000,000 households and nearly a third of the population (30%), with a disproportionate impact on low-income households, women, young adults, and Latino and Black residents.”

Veteran Jonathan McKinney from San Dimas came to the food bank to help feed his family of five. He is currently living on a Veterans Administration pension while looking for work. But prospects are slim. He described the food he received as “basic essentials.”

“I think it’s a wonderful outreach for the community,” McKinney said. “It’s nice for the church, and the good people, to help others out.”

He also expressed interest in volunteering. “I will do whatever you need me to do.”

“The little bit that we have to give is able to help his family of five provide some food,” Alkiezar said about McKinney. “That is the only reason we are here, for the people. To bless them. So, we need to make sure we can do the best we can.”

The food bank’s large donors include the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Albertson’s, Aldi, Grocery Outlet and Sprouts.

Alkiezar does have a couple of “wishes” for the food bank. He would like to build a warehouse on the side of the church to store the food and to facilitate distribution. Currently, food is stacked up in nearly every room of the church. Second, he would love to have another forklift.

Cash or food donations are always welcome, Alkiezar said. Donations can be made directly to the food bank via the church’s website, newlifepomona.com. For more information call (909) 593-5000 or email office@newlifepomona.com.


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