There’s a lot of symbolism surrounding an image of a white horse — it can be interpreted as one of Apollo’s white stallions pulling his golden chariot (which represents the sun) across the sky, innocence, power or unbridled freedom. For the White Pony Express, the white horse stands for unity and expediency in connecting vulnerable communities with the resources they need.
Founded in 2013 by Carol Weyland Conner, White Pony Express began as a food rescue effort to redistribute grocery stores’ produce surplus to low-income communities in Contra Costa County, where more than 10% of the population lives below the federal poverty line. Since the onset of the pandemic, Executive Director Eve Birge estimates the nonprofit has tripled the amount of food deliveries and donations, sometimes delivering as much as 37,000 pounds of food in a day.
“The food supply got broken. Everything was upended and nobody had planned for this,” said Birge. “We’re all in this together. You read things now about people that are hungry, and it’s your neighbor, your colleague.”
But White Pony Express doesn’t stop with food. Since 2014, the nonprofit also hosts a general store space that accepts and distributes clothing and toy donations to organizations around the county. And with the ongoing wildfires deepening the need for basic food and household items, the organization has expanded its operational space and upgraded the general store, adding a second daily shift for volunteers and food drivers.
In addition, White Pony started delivering to one of its new partners, Bay Point-based Team Jesus Outreach Ministries, back in March when shelter-in-place and climbing unemployment rates first began. Team Jesus founder Flori Paniagua says her group gets two trucks’ worth of food from White Pony three times a week, and the food is always gone by the day’s end.
“There’s a lot of need right now, (and) a lot of people who lost their jobs are coming here,” Paniagua said. “People drive here from Daly City all the way to Concord. We have 25 groups that receive food from Team Jesus. We want to share the burden.”
Like White Pony, Team Jesus is operating at capacity with increased demand, and it hopes to expand into a renovated home space to serve its community better.
Most recently, White Pony has started the Blessings Project, a food delivery program in partnership with Concord-based nonprofit Monument Impact. Through the project, volunteers compile and deliver culturally relevant food kits, with items like masa flour, onions and chili peppers to Latinx families in Concord.
“Their work is to ensure that immigrants, refugees and low-income residents in Concord and surrounding communities have the voice, tools and relationships necessary to have an equitable share of the social and economic wealth in our region,” said Birge.
Looking ahead, Birge and her team are working on an expanded clothing version of food rescue — making stores’ deadstock and out-of-season items available to people affected by the northern California wildfires. They have also partnered with their local chapter of Black Infant Health to provide infant and postpartum supplies in “baby backpacks” to Black mothers.
“Donations and support for operations is critically important for us right now. We rescue food that would otherwise be landfill,” Birge said.
“We feed hungry people. We provide basic necessities like clothing and toiletries to people who don’t have them. More than ever we seek to bring people from the margins to the mainstream, restore dignity and treat everyone in our circle as our family.”