Christian Ramirez (right) with La Mesa Sunrise Rotary Club members Jeff and Fern Hall at the food table. Photo by Mimi Pollack

The pandemic brought shock, tragedy, and a big change to life as we knew it. It also proved to be a catalyst for some to start second careers or donate time and money to help others as COVID-19 hit hard.

In Sherman Heights, a local resident took on the issue of food security. Christian Ramirez put a table out in his front yard offering free fresh produce from his garden. He called his table La Mesa de la Justicia y Esperanza — The Table of Justice and Hope — and what started as a small project grew and took on a life of its own.

Ramirez, who works as a policy director of the SEUI United Service Workers West union, was at home sheltering in place last spring, so in-between Zoom meetings he decided to spend more time in his garden.  He proved to have a green thumb, and ended up with more produce than he, his wife, and his son could consume. 

So he set up a table in his front yard and La Mesa de la Justicia y Esperanza was born.  Ramirez describes it as a mutual aid community pantry created to address the food insecurities in his historic barrio that was devastated by the pandemic.

Since it started, the table has really grown as more people and some stores began to donate food.  The residents of Sherman Heights don’t always have easy access to fresh produce, so a table that offers food and a sense of comradery is always welcome, especially for those who lost their jobs. Ramirez now has a group of volunteers to help, and together they serve about 300 families a week.

It is not surprising that the table has become so popular and has helped so many as Ramirez has dedicated years of his life to giving back to others. Living a life of service has been his calling for many years.

In the 1990’s, he began to volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee and was eventually hired by them. He worked with the Quaker organization for 15 years, including running their border and national immigration programs. Later he directed the Southern Border Communities Coalition, an organization that encompassed 60 community groups in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

La Mesa de la Justicia y Esperanza has received donations from multiple sources, including the La Mesa Sunrise Rotary Club.  They donated bags of citrus fruit that their members picked from private backyards that had surplus fruit.

This rotary club has been going around San Diego picking fruit from backyards to donate to various food banks since the pandemic began.  They like giving to grassroots endeavors and are always happy to help communities in need.

Finally, because some of the residents lost their jobs and could not pay rent, several neighborhood cats were left behind, including a pregnant mama cat. The Ramirez family adopted them and are now taking care of 10 cats. The residents and cats of Sherman Heights are grateful.

The table is open around-the-clock and everyone is welcome to pick up or donate food items. People are asked to wear masks and use the antibacterial gel that is available. It has become a neighborhood hub where stories and recipes are exchanged along with information on the importance of getting flu shots and where they are given.

Christian Ramirez’ humble table has grown into a community resource with its own Facebook page and many grateful recipients. It’s an example of one of the positive outcomes from the pandemic.

Mimi Pollack is a former English as a Second Language teacher and a freelance writer.

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