Demand for food pantry services are up 150%, all south county residents qualify

Shareen Strauss
Maryann Etter and Nancy Shepard fill grocery bags with dry goods for distribution to help support their community. Etter says, "I enjoy volunteering. It's been a learning experience."

Demand for services from Siskiyou Food Assistance in Weed has increased 150%, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions have been lifted. Anyone in south Siskiyou County automatically qualifies to receive services.

As a non-profit food pantry, SFA relies on donations, grants, fundraisers and other programs to keep their doors open. They serve residents of Gazelle, Big Springs, Lake Shastina, Weed, Mount Shasta, Dunsmuir and McCloud (and sometimes beyond).

Every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. an average of nearly 100 people visit the pantry to pick foods the want.

During the pandemic, Siskiyou Food Assistance has a drive through where masked and gloved volunteers place the food in people’s cars.

“We use to have people pick what they want. Now we have to minimize people touching the produce and we just have them drive through and we put it in their vehicles,” said SFA board president Lee Fulcher, who volunteers about 20 hours a week. “All we need for tracking purposes is the number (of people living) in the household and what city they are from. We don’t turn people away during COVID. Some people come from out of the area. We get homeless that have walked up with their carts and we load them up.”

Executive director Denise Spayd, who has worked with SFA since 2003, said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization served 75 people each week. Now it is around 130 families.

“In 1996 there was a mill strike,” Spayd explained. “There were three mills in Weed at the time. Pastor Jerry Broomfield with Wayside Church of God in Christ in Lincoln Heights, along with his wife Denise, started the food bank to help support the community. We became a 501(c)(3) in 2001.”

After operating from a storefront on Weed’s Main Street, SFA moved to the Great Northern building on School Hill. What that building was destroyed in the 2014 Boles Fire, SFA moved to COS for a few months then settled in with the Weed Elementary School District. The old elementary school annex building looks like a regular grocery store on the inside with a produce section, shelves of dry goods and two triple-wide freezers and refrigerators.

“We pay the power bill and maintain the grounds in exchange for free rent,” Spayd said of their new location.

SFA offers food baskets for everyone, including vegetarian and families with babies, dogs and cats.

“We focus on nutritional foods,” said SFA accountant and board member Suzanne Otvos. “We are very particular about our food. We provide three proteins, complex carbs, 8-10 pounds of fresh produce, soups, as well as canned fruits and veggies.”

Every week General Produce donates “number 2” inventory. Volunteers conduct a “fresh rescue” operation each week.

Other foods are donated by Grocery Outlet and R Dub Distributing. Potatoes come from Tulelake and Klamath Lake County Food Bank donates bread. They have received food donations from several Mount Shasta churches: including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh Day Adventist, St. Barnabas and Mountain Christian Fellowship.

Rescue Ranch in Yreka provides dog and cat food.

SFA also purchases foods with grants from Shasta Regional Community Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Sharing Wealth, Inc., East Bay Community Foundation and The Rohlen Foundation.

A group of volunteers from First Baptist Church in Mount Shasta has been providing delivery service each week since the pandemic began.

Volunteer Elizabeth Morgana is in her mid 70s. She comes for the produce but volunteers to give back to her community.

“Siskiyou County really takes care of people who economically need this,” Morgana said.

“It is rewarding and I get exercise,” said volunteer Jean Anderson.

Volunteer Noa Cantrell said she appreciates the people. “I came here as a client. It was these good wholesome people that keeps me here.”

“I enjoy volunteering,” said Mary Ann Etter. “It’s been a learning experience. How all of the produce is inventoried and managed and then packed. We get some unusual stuff like artichokes, fresh dill, jicama – it is different every week.”

The Weed Senior Shuttle van, driven by David Villarreal, delivers food to shut-ins.

Recently, a new volunteer effort has begun. Right across the street from SFA is the old elementary school garden space. The soil is being nourished and the project will teach people how to grow their own food. Jim Crabtree is the leader for that project and is looking for help getting the garden up and running.

To transport food orders and donations, SFA staff use their own private vehicles. They are currently shopping for a cargo van as funds have been awarded by the McConnell Fund at Shasta Regional Community Foundation and many North State Giving Tuesday donors.

As people drive up and have bags of food placed in their cars, one person hands a volunteer an envelope that says “For the Weed Food Pantry.” Inside is a thank you card with a note of appreciation.

Fulcher says, “We get a lot of positive feedback and people thanking us. Many say that they would go hungry if it weren’t for our assistance each week.”

Siskiyou Food Assistance also provides Thanksgiving boxes the Monday before Thanksgiving, thanks to the Ford Family Foundation.

Located at 780 S. Davis Avenue in Weed, the food pantry is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. except for major holidays. Contact SFA by email at or by phone at (530) 408-6115. More information can be found at