Food drive profile: Box of groceries alters course of family’s life

Mar 21, 2023

A local family is living proof that donations to The Salvation Army’s March Food Drive can help Minnesotans in miraculous ways.  

Enter Fernando, Zarina and their 10-year-old son, Isaac. Two years ago, a box of food from The Salvation Army altered the course of their lives. 

The family had recently arrived in Minnesota after fleeing socialist chaos in their homeland of Venezuela, where Zarina and Fernando had worked at a state-controlled oil company – Zarina as a chemical engineer, Fernando as a plant operator. 

Their lives had become a life-or-death struggle after Fernando reported to authorities that government troops were stealing gasoline from the oil company. He was identified as a whistleblower at a government checkpoint, where military officers beat and stabbed him. Their message to Fernando was clear: Keep your mouth shut, or die. 

Fernando was treated by a friendly doctor at his home, keeping him out of the hospitals where mortality rates had skyrocketed. He knew his family’s only hope was asylum in America as part of a program to help people escape oppression and war. 

Eventually the family found their way to Minnesota, where a friend from the oil industry lived. They arrived with nothing and spent months living in a shelter. 

One day, at a bus stop, Fernando and Zarina received a flyer about a food distribution at The Salvation Army in Brooklyn Park. They stopped by and received a big box of bread, meat, produce, and other foods provided thanks to your gifts to The Salvation Army.

The box of food changed the trajectory of their lives. After receiving it, they struck up a conversation with the Brooklyn Park Salvation Army’s leader, Captain Josh Polanco (pictured), and learned The Salvation Army is not just a place of service, but also a Christian church. Fernando and Zarina were deeply moved.

Polanco remembers the day he met the couple. “I remember Fernando saying, ‘This is the type of church I’ve been searching for my whole life,’” Polanco recalled. “He and Zarina came in for food, but walked away with a renewed sense of purpose and calling after hearing about the mission of The Salvation Army.”

Fernando and Zarina began attending church at the Brooklyn Park Salvation Army every week. They were thrilled to join our mission of serving the Lord through helping others.

“We were used to going to churches that only helped in spiritual ways, but this church also helps with your needs – like food and coats,” Fernando said. “They help whoever comes in, no matter who you are. They help people who don’t know what will happen tomorrow – we know what that feels like.”  

Today, after receiving their work papers, Fernando and Zarina are interns for The Salvation Army. They assist in a wide range of duties, such as distributing food and coats, helping at Sunday morning worship services, and assisting local Nicaraguans who have fled dire circumstances like those in Venezuela. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to be an example to Hispanic people – to show what God can do in your life and how The Salvation Army can help,” Zarina said. 

Their next goal is to attend a training college to become officers of The Salvation Army, after which they will spend the rest of their lives in service to others.  

And it all started with a box of groceries. 

Get involved

Please help The Salvation Army raise 2 million pounds of food by donating nonperishables, hosting a food drive, giving a cash donation, or volunteering.

This food drive is perhaps the most important one we’ve ever launched, as everyday families struggle to afford surging food prices that have increased more than 11 percent – the highest rate since 1979. In addition, many Minnesotans are in danger of falling off a “hunger cliff” this month as food-stamp benefits are slashed across the country. 

Donate food: In the Twin Cities, drop off nonperishable foods March 1-31 at Cub grocery stores, Morrie’s auto dealers, Slumberland FurnitureSchuler ShoesSPIRE Credit Union, or Salvation Army Store locations. View a map of drop-off locations.  

In greater Minnesota, drop off nonperishable foods at your local Salvation Army Worship & Service Center anytime in March. 

(High-demand foods include pasta, rice, and peanut butter, plus canned items such as fruit, veggies, and soup.)

Donate online and your gift will be matched: Help us feed hungry families by donating online. Your gift will be matched, up to $10,000. This matching opportunity means a gift of just $25 become $50 – enough to buy up to 280 pounds of food for Salvation Army food pantries. 

Host a food drive: Collect nonperishable foods from friends, neighbors, coworkers, church members, and others. We will send you a Food Drive Starter Kit that includes tips and promotional materials for your website or social media. When you’ve finished your collection, bring your food to The Salvation Army’s headquarters in Roseville, 2445 Prior Ave. N., on Saturday, April 1 for a special drive-thru weigh-in event. (Read about successful grassroots food drives from previous years.) 

Volunteer: Do you have time to spare? Support our food drive by helping us unload delivery vehicles, weigh food, stock shelves, and more. Sign up to volunteer now


Watch this video message from Lt. Col. Dan Jennings, leader of the Salvation Army Northern Division, about why this year’s food drive is so important. 

Editor’s note: Fernando and Zarina also have two adult children and are working to bring to them to America once they finish college in Venezuela.  

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