Salinas, California, to Tehama & Lake County, CA
By Rebecca Isaacson August 11, 2020
At The Farmlink Project, we have two primary goals: maximizing the amount of fresh produce delivered and ensuring delivery to the people who need it the most. However, some of these food insecure communities are located in areas hard to access for large produce trucks or even smaller vehicles. To reach these communities, The Farmlink Project took to the skies for the very first time to move produce to families in need.
On Friday, The Farmlink Project partnered with Angel Flight West to deliver 320 boxes of fresh produce from Salinas, California to Tehama Together in Tehama County and Clearlake Gleaners in Lake County—two of the most food insecure counties in California. Angel Flight West is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization founded in 1983 that arranges free, non-emergency air travel for patients with serious medical conditions that cannot get to their medical treatment, as well as other emergencies, including COVID-19 relief flights.
When the pandemic first hit, passengers started calling Angel Flight West explaining that their doctors were cancelling non-essential appointments. “Missions were down to a trickle,” noted Cheri Cimmarrusti, the Associate Executive Director of Angel Flight West. Throughout April and June, when Angel Flight stopped flying patients, they found another way to do their part to help in this pandemic—by transporting personal protective equipment (PPE) to the areas most hard-hit by the virus, particularly to indigenous reservations around the Four Corners region of the country, such as the Navajo Nation and Hualapai Tribe in Arizona. Cheri explained that, “during that time, we were actively looking for other ways to help across the twelve western states we work in.” In this search for new ways to help in the pandemic, Cheri connected with The Farmlink Project via a group of student interns similarly seeking to link farms with food banks through technology.
Owen Dubeck (Farmlink Project Team Member), and Peter Zadrozny (Volunteer Pilot)
Peter Zadrozny, one of the twenty-two volunteer pilots that flew this produce mission, described what his work with Angel Flight West means to him and the other volunteers. “All the pilots of Angel Flight West are very passionate about flying, and then we combine that with our civic duty of trying to give back to the community—that’s why we are a part of the Angel Flight West organization.” Motivated by his “love of flying and love of the opportunity to give back to the community,” Peter was eager and excited to be a part of this mission as, “being able to help with this food produce is in line with the medical missions we do.” Having flown patients for Angel Flight West for the last ten years, Peter has helped countless patients get to and from their treatment. He recalled his experiences with these many patients—from the heartbreaking to the heartwarming. Seeing both those who have won their battles with their illness as well as those who have sadly lost inspires and drives Peter to continue to volunteer for this incredible organization.
These produce flight missions are not only beneficial to the farm providing the produce and the food banks receiving it, but also for the Angel Flight West pilots. As Cheri explained, “Angel Flight West and the pilots were all so thrilled to be a part of this mission because so many have wanted to give back and help during COVID-19 but have not had the ability to fly passengers.” Even though they are starting to fly patients again, not all the pilots can do so if they higher-risk for the virus. This produce mission has given them the opportunity to still be a part of Angel Flight West and give back during these times when people need it most.