Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center prides itself on a bevy of programs aimed at educating South County residents of all ages about good nutrition, health equity, healthy eating, and sustainable farming. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the National City-based nonprofit stayed true to its roots while pivoting its focus toward feeding several hundred families suddenly finding themselves in need.

“Like a lot of organizations, we had to take a second to pause and contemplate what’s next,” explained Jen Nation, Executive Director of Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center. “Fortunately, we grow food on two of our eight acres, so we decided to package and distribute that food to people in need.”

Established in 2010, Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center draws an average of 10,000 annual visitors with offerings that include a Children’s Garden and Nutrition Education Program, as well as a host of other programs that promote health eating, healthy cooking and bilingual community education and outreach.

With National City registering some of the highest numbers of coronavirus and unemployment rates in the region, Olivewood Gardens partnered with White Rice and Craft Meals San Diego in preparing and distributing 100 Filipino rice bowls every Sunday, worked with Fish to Families in packaging dozens of weekly meals consisting of fish and gleaned backyard produce to 40 families each week, and reaped what it had sown in its own garden for weekly produce distributions to an additional 70 or so families each week – distributions augmented with food staples donated by the Chula Vista/Eastlake Sprouts store. Educational programming, meanwhile, moved online.

Critical to carrying out the initiatives was a $30,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation that allowed Olivewood Gardens staff to buy additional seeds, materials, and tools, not to mention leveraging the donation to raise even more needed support.

“The funding really gave us the confidence to keep doing what we had been doing – working with the community and our community partners to make a difference,” shared Nation.

Those who have been served by Olivewood Gardens agree.

A $30,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund to the San Diego Refugee Community Coalition is helping provide support to the region's growing refugee population.

“For me and my family, we say thank you because this is a joy to come here,” said one local parent in National City. “We definitely feel the good energy and we appreciate all the staff and the volunteers for offering this to us during this time of need.”

Added one South County parent, “If we were not in this program, we’d be struggling.”

Nation explained that these messages represent the widespread response from the community that needs nonprofit support now more than ever. She continued, “Everybody has been working together, working collaboratively and stepping up. It’s really made a difference.”

As the pandemic continues, food insecurity remains a priority for communities most impacted by the crisis. Prior to COVID-19, as many as 1 in 7 San Diegans were food insecure in the region, according to research from the San Diego Hunger Coalition. Now, that number is exponentially higher as more and more residents file for unemployment. The County of San Diego estimates that more than 1 million individuals are food insecure as a result of the pandemic. As COVID-19 continues to impact our region, help San Diegans in need by donating to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.