Scott Highfill isn’t an expert in food distribution. But he does know how to sell and wholesale tires. When the coronavirus first hit California, he decided he couldn’t sit back and expect others to do all the work.
Highfill, the western regional sales manager for Penn Tires who previously owned Great Western Tire, says he “had a hunch that food banks would get stretched” as more people were forced out of work.
So he created a simple flier, a letter really, and walked around his neighborhood with it, taping it on doors, asking others to consider buying a few extra food items when they shopped. He asked them to bag up those items on Friday mornings and set them on their porches.
“On Friday morning, I drive all over and pick up food.” Then he takes the items to Journey Church in La Mesa, Calif.
Highfill doesn’t have a longstanding connection to this church, but knows the small church operates a food pantry. When his children were in school, they sometimes volunteered at the church’s soup kitchen as part of a service project. “That’s my only connection to this church.”
In normal times, the pantry serves 80 to 100 people at its weekly distribution. On a recent Friday, more than 300 showed up.
“I’m just one guy trying to do what little I can,” Highfill says.
As the weeks have gone on, he’s printed more fliers and taken them to a neighborhood where he used to live. He’s also emailed a few longtime friends and invited them to participate. A couple people have volunteered to help him.
“As time goes on, people forget or they think, ‘I’ve already done it twice. That’s enough,’” he says. So he expands his perimeter a little more.
Some people have preferred to donate money. One week, he handed the church $300, but realized that means the food pantry volunteers have to go shopping to collect the supplies. So he asked the church if they could pick one thing and asked, "What’s the best thing he could buy?"
They suggested spaghetti and sauce. He now uses the cash donations to buy those items in bulk from a wholesaler.
Highfill says he collects about 30 bags of food every Friday. He admits it would be easier to just write a check rather than print fliers, deliver them and make weekly neighborhood runs to look for bags left on porches.
“I thought, 'Maybe I’d inspire somebody to do the same thing. There might be a domino effect,'” he says.