Rays of Hope: Lisa Anderson’s Mission to Feed Dunnigan

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The story of Lisa Anderson, a special Yolo County resident who transformed her own experiences of hardship into a mission to feed her community.

A Ray of Sunshine: Meet Lisa Anderson

On a rainy and gloomy day, we encountered a ray of sunshine in the form of Lisa Anderson. Lisa is a Dunnigan resident and lead volunteer for the Public Community Food Distribution held at the ampm store in Dunnigan. From the moment we engaged with Lisa, her love and passion for her community was evident. 

But Lisa’s role as a volunteer lead transcends the ordinary, and this distribution goes beyond the typical Public Community Food Distribution. There’s a story here, one of resilience, perseverance, and community. 

Dunnigan, CA: A Community Left Behind

Understanding the significance of this story requires delving into the character of Dunnigan itself. Nestled at the most northern tip of Yolo County, this small community is home to merely 1,000 residents. As is typical with small communities, the town of Dunnigan is isolated from services and often overlooked.

The availability of fresh food is extremely limited in Dunnigan –  the nearest grocery store is 20 miles away. With the absence of reliable public transportation, residents without personal vehicles have little choice but to depend on nearby gas stations and fast food restaurants to feed themselves. This situation leads to poor nutrition and much higher food expenses since eating out for every meal is far more expensive than purchasing groceries and cooking at home. This adds a financial burden to an already economically strained community.

“It’s really hard out here, we have no grocery store, we have nothing,” Lisa explains. She describes Dunnigan as the forgotten segment of Yolo County, emphasizing, “We’re still here, we’re still part of the county – and we are starving.”

“It’s really hard out here, we have no grocery store, we have nothing,” Lisa explains. She describes Dunnigan as the forgotten segment of Yolo County, emphasizing, “We’re still here, we’re still part of the county – and we are starving.”

Lisa’s Journey of Resilience

Not long ago, Lisa found herself unhoused and living on the streets of Sacramento. Despite facing the challenges of homelessness, Lisa kept hope. With the help of a local RV park manager in Dunnigan, she was able to find stable housing in a mobile home. 

Just as things were looking up, Lisa faced another tragic challenge – a severe car accident left her temporarily immobilized and left her husband unable to work ever again. 

This of course turned out to be one of the most difficult periods of Lisa’s life. As she struggled with medical bills and the inability for both her and her husband to work, affording food and other basic necessities became nearly impossible. As someone who is always helping others, Lisa was now needing to rely on the support of her neighbors. With the help of her community, eventually she was able to get back on her feet. 

After her accident, Lisa was riddled with injuries that continued to make having access to consistent food difficult. In the midst of it, Lisa had a providential conversation with her friend Kristy. Kristy informed her about Yolo Food Bank’s weekly distribution in Woodland at the Yolo County Fairgrounds, and Lisa immediately headed over.

Overwhelmed with relief for finally having reliable access to fresh food, Lisa’s first thought turned to those she knew who were also struggling. Determined to help, she began picking up food for others as well. Collecting food for her elderly neighbor whom she is a caretaker for, ensuring he got the nourishment he also desperately needed. 

A Close-Knit Community 

Within the confines of Dunnigan lies an even smaller, tighter-knit community: Happy Times RV Park, where Lisa resides. “We all look out for each other. Someone will help out if one of us needs something,” she emphasizes. Many of the park’s inhabitants live with disabilities and are elderly, thus they’re unable to drive and procure food for themselves. Word quickly spread throughout the community about Lisa’s weekly visits to the Yolo Food Bank Public Community Food Distribution in Woodland, sparking a wave of residents asking Lisa if she could pick up for them as well. She gladly accepted, excited to extend her support to her neighbors in need.

As the number in need of assistance grew, Lisa joined forces with a small group of friends – Kristy, Trina, and Stephanie. Together, making the weekly trip to the Yolo Fairgrounds picking up food for more and more people every week. 

Though Yolo Food Bank had already established a modest Public Community Food Distribution in Dunnigan, it became clear that the need in the community was greater. Soon, Lisa began discussions with Yolo Food Bank to see what could be possible. Matthew Hanson, Yolo Food Bank’s Programs Manager for Public Food Distributions, worked collaboratively with Lisa to create a new, larger food distribution in Dunnigan.

The Beginnings of a New Distribution

Lisa now had her own distribution to run, but a new major trial arose: finding a location. She tried using a nearby hotel, but it wasn’t reliable and soon shut down. Lisa persevered and was determined to find a place amongst very limited options. 

After some time searching, Lisa found solace in a familiar face in Dunnigan: Joyce, the manager of the local ampm store. When Lisa had her accident, Joyce and the staff at ampm were there for her in her recovery, giving her food when she needed it most, and providing critical emotional support. “If it weren’t for the staff at the ampm store, I would no longer be in Dunnigan. The ampm store and the people that work here are amazing, they will help anyone who is in need. They want to give back just as much as we do,” Lisa said. 

Throughout Dunnigan, the staff at ampm is known for their consistent assistance to those in need. In line with their character, ampm and its employees embraced Lisa’s vision to establish a new distribution in Dunnigan and offered to host it at their site on a probationary basis.

A New Day for Dunnigan

The ampm store in Dunnigan

Understandably, the inaugural distribution in December was an anxious time for Lisa. On that rainy and chilly afternoon, the ampm owners were there, adding to the pressure. She was unsure how the distribution would unfold, and most of all if it would align with the owners’ expectations. Much to her relief, the distribution went seamlessly. At the end she was greeted by the owners with smiles from ear-to-ear expressing their gratitude and excitement for the distribution to continue. Lisa now had a permanent location, solidifying her ability to continue serving Dunnigan, and giving the community much needed resources. 

With a stable location secured, there was no looking back for the Dunnigan distribution. Since December, the distribution attendance has grown from serving approximately 50 households per week to over 100. It has expanded far beyond just Happy Times RV Park, now serving people from all around Dunnigan, who are food insecure. 

“People come through the line crying, and saying ‘we don’t know what we would do without this food’” Lisa recalled. “It’s helped create stability for so many…at least they know where their next meal is going to come from.”

“It’s helped create stability for so many…at least they know where their next meal is going to come from.”

A Spirit of Service

This Dunnigan distribution has a remarkable team of volunteers who make it possible. For them, it’s personal – they too, are food recipients. As one volunteer, Ken, who had recently faced homelessness, remarked, “We need food too, but sometimes we don’t take much home at all because we give it away.” And Lisa added, “Even though we need the food, we are not here for the food, we are here to help people.” Despite their own food insecurity, this group consistently prioritizes the needs of others, showing their selflessness, compassion, and the spirit of service this community has. 

Reflecting on a Community Transformed

What’s happened in Dunnigan goes beyond people having their food and nutrition needs met, it’s a community that’s come together in service of those who are most vulnerable. Lisa has seen a big change since the distribution began. “I’ve seen a lot of positive growth in terms of people trusting the community,” Lisa reflects. “Seeing us come here every week and being reliable – it’s changed people’s lives.”

While this story is focused on one very special Yolo County resident, Lisa Anderson, it isn’t just a story of an individual. This is the story of an entire community coming together to help each other out. In the words of Lisa, “We’re a community, we need to help each other…it’s the only way we are going to survive.” 

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