Meet Chelo Gonzalez – the Food Bank’s new Director of Programs

We’re so excited to introduce you to our new Director of Programs! Chelo Gonzalez has a decade of hunger-fighting experience under her belt, and she’s seen the Food Bank from many different angles. In fact, she was originally one of our agency partners – providing food to our community through her church’s food pantry in Pittsburg. 

We sat down to ask her about her path to the Food Bank, what she’s most excited to do in her new role … and more!

How did you become a hunger fighter?
I was getting a Master’s in Organization Development at the University of San Francisco, and we had a global immersion program that took us to Spain. One of the assignments while we were there was to find something that we could bring back to our neighborhood.

One of the things that stood out to me was seeing people who were asking for food or money and the dismissive manner in which they were treated.

It was a very simple assignment, but I realized that it’s so important to treat people with dignity and respect – whether it’s someone who comes up to us in the street or if we’re doing volunteer work.

Eight months after I submitted that assignment, I heard someone speaking about Saint Vincent de Paul and needing help with their food pantry. And the light bulb went on. My original intent was to spend a couple of hours putting cans on a shelf. I ended up working with the team there for 10 years and got involved with the Food Bank as one of their  partner agencies – the soup kitchens and food pantries we work with to serve our community.

Why was fighting hunger so important to you?
It seems really basic, but we’re called to serve; to help each other out and to be kind to your neighbor. 

Not to be too philosophical, but our life here on Earth is very short. So what can we do to make someone else’s life better or easier in any way, shape or form? 

At the food pantry, one of the things that we stressed was that we were kind and compassionate. We might be the only smiling face a person sees that day. And who knows how many other lines they may have stood in to get Social Security or EBD – or even at a bus stop.

Just treating people with kindness, that’s the driving force.

How do you think your experience as a Food Bank agency partner will shape your work as Director of Programs?
I think it will bring some understanding and empathy – knowing their day in, day out; knowing that the bulk of their staff, so to speak, are volunteers; knowing that many of them have full time jobs and they’re helping here and there.

I also know that as a former partner agency, I didn’t even realize everything that was available from the Food Bank until I started working here! And I had been a partner agency for four years.

What are you most excited to do as Director of Programs?
I want to help build a network so that our agency partners don’t feel as though they’re an island. I want them to know there are other partner agencies in the same situations that they can reach out to, even across counties. 

And I want to connect our direct service programs with our partner agencies, and with our CalFresh team, and find more opportunities for all of us to partner together. And find opportunities for all of us to work with other nonprofits that support our community – just to create a network of organizations helping each other.

What is your favorite food distributed by the Food Bank?
Cheese. I love any kind of cheese.

What’s a fun fact about you people might not know?
I used to scuba dive.

Who is your favorite musician?

Serving Contra Costa and Solano Counties seven days a week

Hunger looks different for all of us. Learn more about our programs to fight hunger and address the needs of vulnerable populations, and the 260 soup kitchens, food pantries and other agency partners we work alongside daily.