EL Centro, Calif. – U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, team members helped sort and bag donated food at the Niland Food Shed, Niland, Calif., Feb. 20.
The third Wednesday of every month, residents of the Niland area leave their homes with empty cupboards and arrive by foot, by carpool or any other means to the Niland Chamber of Commerce and leave with more than they can carry.
Several Blue Angels team members, along with Lt. Jared Smith, Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro base chaplain, and Lt. j.g. Lisa Lill, of Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, assisted in bagging and distributing 438 bags of food for those in need in the Niland area.
Aviation Machinist Mate (Aircrew) 1st Class Isaac Dominguez, assigned to the Blue Angels Quality Assurance shop said he enjoyed helping the volunteers and community.
“Even though we don’t get to see the immediate result of our efforts today,” he said, “having the locals come up to us as we’re working and thank us for being here, solidified that we are helping make a difference in the community.”
The Niland Food Shed originally started out of the home of Constantine and Pat Vellas. The Vellas partnered with Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego and distributed food to local families.
“When we first started out we paid 14 cents per pound and Catholic Charities would deliver the food to us,” said Vellas.
The Vellas’ reached out to the Imperial Valley Food Bank for more support but still had to purchase the food. Eventually, they registered under the United States Department of Agriculture Commodities program and no longer had to personally pay for the food and became a federal program.
Since then, the Niland Food Shed has grown, moved to the Niland Chamber of Commerce and has taken on more volunteers.
Before the Sailors started to assist with the program, the volunteers were mostly made up of elderly women, said Volunteer Nellie Perez, Niland site leader.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much it helps to have the extra help from the Sailors,” said Perez.
“We used to have to do all the heavy lifting, bag everything, along with the sign-ups and distributing of the food,” said Jenifer Hudson, Niland site volunteer. “With the Sailors helping us, it dramatically cuts the time and helps us focus on the people waiting in line.”
During the month of February the Niland Food Shed fed approximately 228 families for a total of 590 people.
Smith said he believes the attention the Blue Angels attract also brings visibility to this area of the country and the people who live here, “Niland is a forgotten community.”
“All morning people have been stopping me and asking me ‘are those the Blue Angels?,’” he said, laughing.
The Blue Angels team members regularly participate in community outreach programs similar to the Niland Food Shed throughout the year.
The Blue Angels are conducting winter training at NAF El Centro. The Blue Angels are preparing for the 2013 air show season, which kicks off at NAF El Centro March 16.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to enhance Navy recruiting, and credibly represent Navy and Marine Corps aviation to the United States and its Armed Forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors of good will.[nggallery id=28]