Fire destroys food bank in Hayward

July 31, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Everything that a food bank was storing to help thousands of people in the East Bay was destroyed inside a warehouse that caught fire. It's a devastating incident that will have far-reaching consequences for people who depend on the Hope for the Heart food bank every day.

On Meekland Avenue firefighters were mopping up late into the night. The food bank has suffered a total loss and the family who runs it, is in a state of flux.

What likely started as a vehicle fire, quickly engulfed a warehouse next door. I wasn't just any warehouse. It stored everything for a food bank, called Hope for the Heart, which for one family, has been a labor of love for the past eight years.

Victoria Popejoy and her mother Vivian Vargas founded the food bank to help the poor people in their Hayward neighborhood.

"It's all the people and all the families that we serve every single day that is definitely going to suffer at this point," said Victoria Popejoy, from Hope for the Heart.

The fire started just after 3 p.m. It took firefighters well over an hour to knock it down. Flames destroyed everything -- the building and the thousands of food items, toiletries and Christmas gifts inside.

11,000 people came to rely on Hope for the Heart every month, including members of the Seventh Day Adventist Spanish Church next door. Part of their building burned down too, but they say the loss of the food bank is going to hit the community harder.

"I'm talking diapers, okay? Which is something that is a big necessity. They had diapers, they had formula, they had stuff that babies rely on day in and day out," said Valerie Nuno a church member.

The loss of Hope for the Heart has come at an especially bad time. More people are depending on food banks than ever before, a direct result of families having a tough time making ends meet due to the sluggish economy.

"We have people in line at 1:30 a.m. and we run out of numbers by 5:30 a.m., and the need is just insane," said Victoria Popejoy.

Regardless, this family is not giving up. They don't know how, when, or where, but they say they are certain they will operate again soon enough. They know the community is counting on them.

"This is not going down, we're just going to go up. I'm looking for change and I'm looking for the silver lining," said Vivian Vargas, from Hope for the Heart.

Hope for the Heart does have some items stored at another location, but it is a relatively small amount. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

To donate to Hope for the Heart Food Bank, visit any Wells Fargo Bank or call (510) 415-0197.


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