Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Yes, we can do something

I became acquainted with your wonderful paper over the Christmas holiday as I had the pleasure of spending five days with my mother-in-law, Ruth, and our family in beautiful Paso Robles, and had the unusual experience of recovering on Ruth’s couch following wisdom teeth surgery.

Each morning, I’d “eat” a milkshake and read the paper, celebrating the news of the area, learning about the challenges facing your community and coveting your beautiful real estate.

On the Tuesday after Christmas, I was feeling brave enough to leave the house and joined Ruth and volunteers from Covenant Presbyterian Church at Loaves & Fishes in Paso Robles. It’s this experience that leads me to encourage readers to support this amazing work.

I run a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. and I have the privilege of investing in and empowering young people to change the world. It’s a job that I love dearly, and I do good, important work and I feel fulfilled and blessed for the opportunity. I travel across the country on a weekly basis, and with each hotel stay, I collect shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste and soap for Loaves & Fishes. Ruth jokes that I spend more money mailing my bounty to Paso Robles than I should, but I’m happy to and it’s the least I can do.

I jumped at the opportunity to go to Loaves & Fishes and see how my Hilton, Marriott and Westin treasures were being used. I spent almost two hours in the kitchen, sorting through donated food items, packing plastic bags full of toiletries, oatmeal and fruit and finding a birthday cake in the freezer for one local woman who had walked there, on her birthday, to collect four bags of food to feed her family for the week.

In just two hours, I met a dozen local families who relied on this amazing organization to feed their families, take care of their children and provide hope in difficult times.

I’m blessed to have grown up without a need, naively unaware for too long about the uncertainty and trials of people around me, and as my husband and I left Loaves & Fishes, leaving Ruth behind to lock the doors and thank the volunteers, I had nothing but questions.

What if your kids don’t like tuna, which was the only protein on the shelves that night? How many heads can you wash with just a pill bottle’s worth of shampoo? What if you have a headache, and there is no Tylenol available?

Dave, my husband, answered my questions patiently, having been involved with the church and its work for a long time, and understanding the needs of the families in San Luis Obispo County. To the headache question, he answered, “You grit your teeth, and get through it, Maya.”

My last question to him was, can we do something? Luckily, the answer for me, and the answer for you, is yes. We drove to Food 4 Less and bought some of the items that had been missing that night — diapers , baby formula, toilet paper, cereal and instant noodles. We proudly displayed our purchases on Ruth’s kitchen table, along with a bouquet of flowers. She was so grateful, and proud.

Volunteers at Loaves & Fishes may have a little more on their shelves because of our purchases, but they still need more: They need donations to help meet the financial needs of families struggling to keep their utilities on as the weather gets colder; they need food donations to make sure that even the children whose parents can’t afford to shop can eat nutritious meals; and they need the community’s support to thrive in this difficult economy.

Each year, Dave and I will make Loaves & Fishes a part of our annual donations, and I hope we’ll spend more evenings in the pantry with Ruth and our kids — when we have them — will help her stack cans and count pasta.

For more information on how to get involved, please call 238-4742, or send a note (or donation) to Loaves & Fishes, P.O. Box 1720, Paso Robles 93447.

Maya Enista Smith is chief executive officer of Mobilize.org .