MILWAUKEE — It's a non-stop job — hauling and sorting donated food to go to needy families. A delivery to Dispensa de la Paz pantry on Milwaukee's south side was no different.
"This is a lot of work. The food does not walk itself out the door," says Sophia Torrijos, with a laugh.
Torrijos now oversees operations for Friedens Food Pantries, but she had much more humble beginnings.
"I started as a volunteer seven years ago, breaking down boxes and stocking shelves, and here I am today as executive director. It's been a journey and I'm excited to be here," she says.
Amazingly, all this hard work happens every week with only a handful of people and wonderful volunteers. They haul and sort food to get it ready for the most vulnerable.
"It's really a lot of logistics involved. Imagine how much goes into running a grocery store," Torrijos says. "We have to make sure food is healthy. Providing a balanced meal is really important."
There's a lot of emphasis on fresh food. There's even a garden and hydroponics area where fresh herbs and vegetables are grown.
"Friedens has been building relationships with food for over 40 years. We have the know-how to get those resources out the door, but we have the hearts to treat people with compassion, dignity and respect. We ultimately create experiences for people that are restorative, trauma informed and really healing," Torrijos says.
And she admits, it's labor intensive.
"We are moving over a million pounds, we're serving 30,000 people, we're providing education, food rescue, where we take food from grocery stores and bring it back to the pantry, we're growing food on site," she says. "We do a lot of stuff with a small and mighty team."
Torrijos admits this would not be possible without volunteers and a strong community base.
"The support that we receive from our community partners is essential. We really could not do it without them."
Being able to reduce food insecurity is rewarding.
"I have learned an incredible amount. I think it's satisfying to know I can be part of this work, and folks at home can be part of this work as well," Torrijos says.