For families struggling with hunger, there is help. Many programs provide food to the needy in City Heights

For City Heights families living in poverty and hunger, the upcoming holiday season can be especially tough. It’s American tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Day, with food and lots of it.

The good news is that a number of nonprofit organizations distribute food – canned goods and fresh produce – in and around City Heights to needy families. Many of these same organizations also help residents apply for CalFresh public assistance, which comes in the form of a debit card that can be used to purchase food at grocery stores and some farmers markets, including the City Heights open-air market which takes place every Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. off University and Fairmount avenues.

We have compiled a list of food providers with details about their programs:

San Diego Food Bank

Phone: (866) 350-FOOD


The San Diego Food Bank administers several federally-subsidized food assistance programs based on income eligibility, as well as the Neighborhood Distribution Program which has no income restrictions.

The federally subsidized programs target special groups, such as seniors, mothers with children and pregnant women. Eligible recipients get a bag of food once a month. Applicants must provide proof of income and other documentation, To find out if you qualify, call the Food Bank.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program is another federally-subsidized service. While applicants must self-certify they fall below 180 percent of the federal poverty line and fill out a form stating their income and household size, documentation is not required. This program operates the first Friday of every month 9 a.m.-11 a.m. at Church of the Nazarene in Mid City, 4101 University Ave., and New Hope Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 2420 52nd St.; as well as the first Friday of every month starting at 9:30 a.m. until all goods are gone at Villa Alta Apartments, 4227 52nd St.

Other emergency food sites that are open throughout the month include: Home Start at 5296 University Ave. Suite F2, which is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. but closed on the first Friday of the month, as well as on Nov. 24 and 25; and Catholic Charities Family Resource Center Mid City, 6184 University Ave., which is open Tuesday through Friday from  9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and closed on Nov. 24 and 25.

The Neighborhood Distribution Program hands out food monthly at ten sites throughout the county. The closest distribution sites to City Heights are: Teen Challenge, 5450 Lea St. near 54th Street and University Avenue. Distribution takes place the second Monday of every month at 9 a.m.; and LGBT Community Center, 3909 Centre St. off University Avenue and Park Boulevard. Distribution takes place the first Tuesday of every month at 9 a.m.

In addition, the Food Bank has the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program for elementary school students from low-income households who are at risk of hunger over the weekend when free school meals are unavailable. While there is no formal application process, the program is based on school referrals. Once a child is identified for the program, a legal guardian has to sign a permission slip to allow participation. Currently, five schools in the City Heights area  – Cherokee Point, Fay, Adams, Edison and Ibarra  – have children enrolled in the program.

Besides direct food assistance, the Food Bank helps low-income residents apply for CalFresh, California’s food stamp program. Qualifying households receive an average of $200 in food benefits per month in the form of an Electronic Benefits Transfer Card, which looks and works like an ATM card.

The Episcopal Refugee Network

Phone: (619) 283-1337

The Episcopal Refugee Network, a nonprofit organization which started by helping Sudanese refugees and expanded to assisting refugees from other parts of the world, operates food assistance programs tailored to newcomers.

The Network distributes food every Thursday, starting around 11:30 a.m., at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 3725 30th St. For refugees who can’t make it to the distribution site because of a lack of transportation or other reasons, Network volunteers make home deliveries.

The executive director of the Network is Majur Malou, himself a refugee who fled the war in Sudan and came to the United States in 1995. Affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, the Network has an office in City Heights at 4305 University Ave., Suite 630, where it also provides other services, such as housing and translation assistance.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego

Phone: (858) 637-3000

Jewish Family Service of San Diego operates the Hand Up Youth Pantry at St. Paul’s Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Ave. on the western edge of Balboa Park. Food is distributed 1 p.m.-3 p.m. every Thursday. Those who plan to pick up food are advised to bring a government identification card.

Feeding America San Diego
Phone: (858) 452-3663


Feeding America San Diego, which is a member of the Feeding America national network, has food assistance programs for families, children, and seniors.

One of its largest programs is the Metro Mobile Pantry, which partners with a number of churches in central San Diego, including Church of the Nazarene in Mid City to distribute food. Distribution takes place three times a week at 4101 University Ave.: Tuesdays at 3 p.m., Thursdays at 9 a.m., and Saturdays at 9 a.m. For a complete list of Feeding America’s Metro Mobile Pantry distribution sites and times, visit the organization’s website.

Like the San Diego Food Bank, Feeding America has a backpack program for children who are at risk of hunger over the weekend. It currently serves 2,400 children in 20 schools countywide and is accepting waiting list applicants. The application form is available online.

In addition, the organization provides CalFresh application assistance.

During the holiday season, food banks tend to see a spike in demand. For those who fortunate enough to not require food assistance, consider giving a donation to agencies that fight hunger.

By Helen Gao