Compassion, community, and collaboration were on full display at the grand opening of the Rialto Unified School District’s Keystone Cafe Food Pantry.
The Keystone Cafe Food Pantry officially opened on Nov. 19 at the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Center for Education with a drive-thru food distribution event. RUSD Nutrition Services coordinated the project and distributed more than 700 boxes of food, which included fresh produce, bread, cereal, pantry boxes, meats, cheeses, and more during the two-hour event.
The Keystone Cafe Food Pantry is a collaboration between RUSD Nutrition Services, the Career Technical Education department, and students in the international cuisine and catering class. Students in the class help run the Keystone Cafe under the supervision of instructor Chef Theo Crawford. Working alongside Nutrition Services and District staff, the students were heavily involved in preparing and distributing boxes of food. The students quickly loaded up each car as they drove through the line.
“The Keystone Cafe and Food Pantry are both projects which are intended to promote health and wellness. The Cafe and Pantry will provide a service for the community, and ensure that students will be able to use the Keystone Facility to promote student entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and philanthropy. It was wonderful to observe the success of another program which is benefiting our students and community,” stated Dr. Cuauhtémoc Avila, RUSD Superintendent.
Gloria Aguilar, Eisenhower High School senior, said she watched Nutrition Services’ drive-thru meal service in the past and wondered how it all works. The Food Pantry project gave her hands-on experience which she can use as she pursues a culinary arts degree in college.
“I think this is so cool,” Aguilar said with a smile.
“It’s important to build a sense of community with the students,” Juanita Chan, RUSD Agent of Science and Career Programs, explained. Chan oversees the Career Technical Education department and helped get the students involved in the project. “That’s something we are trying to instill — community service. And the students are super excited about that part of it.”
The students showed it as they distributed the food.
“It’s nice to be able to give to people,” Lailah Johnson, Carter High School senior, responded. “I like to think of myself as a people person and being able to help out so many people feels nice.”
Even on a Friday evening with Fall Break about to start, the students said they were happy to help out with the project.
“Everybody is full of energy,” said Daniel Larrazabal, Eisenhower High School senior. “Nobody is really tired, everybody is happy to be here. Everybody is here simply because they want to because they like lending a helping hand. I think that’s a great thing.”
When schools closed in 2019 due to the pandemic, Nutrition Services sprung into action with a drive-thru meal service to meet the needs of students. Nutrition Services provided students with seven days’ worth of meals as students attended school in Bridge Academy, the Rialto Unified School District’s version of distance learning. Drive-thru meal service ended once RUSD students returned to campus for the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Instead, they received free breakfast and lunch at school, but the greater need was still out there, Chan said.
“There was a lot of need in our community based on a lot of different data points that said this is something the community needs,” Chan responded. “It was just a question of how we can make it happen, how we can make it work.”
They figured it out with great success. And the Keystone Cafe Food Pantry will be more than just a one-off event. District officials are already planning another event in December and more after that.