April Chillura is an Alpine resident who took it upon herself to use a day’s worth of income and tips as an Uber delivery driver to purchase food for homeless individuals back around the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday.
Since then, her 26-year old daughter, Crystal Davis has joined her in growing what started as a one-time project into a regular, monthly distribution of food.
The first run, Davis said, was relatively local. She and her mother drove meals down the mountain and handed them out to visibly homeless individuals in nearby El Cajon, primarily because it is the closest location to Alpine and there appeared to be plenty of people with food scarcity.
“We started off in El Cajon but what got us was driving through downtown San Diego by the Petco stadium. It seems like there is just an overwhelming number of homeless people in that neighborhood,” Davis said.
Although she is a recent transplant from Florida, Davis’ observation is in line with the 2020 Point in Time count, a one-night snapshot that tallies the number of homeless people in different census blocks. The report shows just one unsheltered homeless individual living in Alpine, 310 in neighboring El Cajon and 2283 in San Diego city, over seven times more than El Cajon.
“Now we’ve just been going downtown and last time, we ran out of food after one street. It’s so sad because we’ve had people run to our car to get food. I gave away cookies I’d bought for my son to a lady for her grandkids,” Davis said.
Out of nowhere, Chillura said, a third lady joined forces on the project. Lisa Sitko heard about the homegrown project and thought they might be able to utilize unneeded to-go boxes from the discontinued Great Plates program, a home meal delivery service for the elderly that the Federal Emergency Management Administration canceled as of July 9.
“The program was wonderful— it was designed to keep seniors out of stores and reduce exposure to COVID, while supporting local restaurants but I saw they were closing that program down and all their containers were good sized and microwavable, designed for delivery. When I saw April’s post on an Alpine site, I had her pick them up,” Sitko said.
Since then, Sitko, who knows Alpine well after almost 30 years in the community, has put the volunteerism skills she acquired through decades as a Navy spouse together and has been helping to coordinate picking up items for Chillura and Davis to hand out.
With each food run, the project, now dubbed Helping Hands Alpine by Davis and Chillura, develops a little more as the women learn of individual needs.
“I think it was the second time we did it, we passed out about 100 burgers and about 10 vegan burgers. So many people were grateful for the ones with no meat that now we try to include more things like that,” Davis said.
Chillura and her daughter buy shelf-stable items in bulk and plan ahead for how to stretch their dollars when it comes time to buy perishables so they can create as many meals as possible to hand out along with canned soda and bottled water.
“There are things that some take for granted others can’t get such as a clean bottle of water, a hot meal or even toiletries,” Chillura said.
A few members of the community have started to take notice as well. Alpine Well Cafe owner Alan Kennedy “puts aside some resources to help” each month, Sitko said. Toiletries have been donated by some individuals as well as dog food.
“Alpine is really coming together. Junktion 101, the store, had us take some boxes of food and we picked up some chicken from an older lady who heard us say there was someone who wanted a blanket so she gave us tons of blankets,” Davis said.
Although, she says, “we had someone get rude with us about supporting the homeless, called them crackheads,” most people they encounter thank them and ask what church they’re with.
“We say we’re not from a church, that we’re just helping the community. Sometimes, I bring my two-year old son with me because I want him to learn that even though some people aren’t in a good place they still deserve help and support. Having to worry about your next meal is a bad feeling,” Davis said.
She and Chillura don’t have a specific day each month that they deliver food, but currently schedule their runs about four weeks apart.
“It’s like a good overwhelming,” Davis said.