Serving the community through Warrior Pantry


Kim Cameron shows off some of the food items to be handed out to visitors to the Warrior Pantry on Thursday, May 6. Much of the fresh produce the Warrior Pantry provides is donated by other organizations including Whole Foods and Food Forward. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)

Her high-spirited voice fills the air around each of the four surrounding tented stations. She sings Selena Quintanilla’s “Como La Flor,” while making sure they are all stocked and occupied by workers. She’s brought her speaker this day to liven up the mood and energize her colleagues.

“Como la flor, con tanto amor, me diste tú, se marchitó,” she continues along with the rhythm. “Ah-ah-ay, cómo me duele,” both voices conclude. And she starts the song over, once again.

As cars begin to line up, among them a blue Honda Civic, a blue Dodge Charger and a beige Toyota Camry, Kim Cameron, a special services professional at El Camino College, checks to ensure each part of the Warrior Food Pantry’s drive-thru distribution is covered and meets everyone’s needs.

Produce, including tomatoes, cherries, cucumbers and bell peppers, colorful enough to bring light to an otherwise lacking storage area, are lined in boxes and set to be handed out in plastic bags. Toiletries, inlcuding deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and brushes and diapers, are also given to each car that drives through the pantry’s distribution.

Some products are bought, but most of them are donated, Kim explains as she glances over at each station.

The pantry used to operate out of the Physics Building before the COVID-19 pandemic caused nearly all El Camino facilities and resources to go into remote service. Now, the program is based out of the Manhattan Beach Boulevard Modules, the bungalows adjacent to Parking Lot B near the northeastern corner of the college.

For Kim, who manages the Warrior Pantry, the main thing that has kept her spirit up during the troubling times caused by the pandemic has been seeing the contributions and generosity from the community that supports the pantry.

“It’s been really exciting for me to watch the community come together to support each other. I see genuine humanity, you know,” Kim says.

Kim, 57, is familiar with supporting her family through foods received at local food banks and through the support from a local community.

Kim Cameron organizes some of the canned foods, lining them up by type, on Thursday, May 6, in one of the Warrior Pantry tented distribution stations. The food handed out at the Warrior Pantry include a good mix of canned foods and fresh produce. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)
Kim Cameron organizes some of the canned foods, lining them up by type, on Thursday, May 6, in one of the Warrior Pantry tented distribution stations. The food handed out at the Warrior Pantry include a good mix of canned foods and fresh produce. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)

On Oct. 31, 2000, Kim lost her husband after he suffered a cardiac arrest incited by issues with diabetes. At the time, her three children, all boys, were 2, 3 and 4 years old, and they were living in the city of Independence, Missouri, without any friends or family to fall back on immediately.

“I lost everything,” Kim says. She lost her car and didn’t have a place to live, she added.

The day her husband died, Kim broke down crying inside the bus while taking her son to school.

“I don’t know how to tell my son that his dad died,” she remembers telling the female bus driver, who had noticed Kim was crying.

While walking to the grocery store, pushing her kids in a stroller on a snowy day, Kim figured she had to take charge and find a way to move her family forward.

“I realized I wasn’t going to make it with the way I was trying to do things and I needed help,” Kim says.

She remembered the time after her husband’s death, wondering if her family would die out in the cold.

Soon after, around Christmas, Kim was helped by the local Salvation Army, which set up a food bank for her and others in need after the organization reached out to her. Kim also applied for affordable housing through Section 8 and for food stamps. Meanwhile, others in her neighborhood had caught wind of the situation her family was enduring.

The bus driver, who Kim spoke with, had started raising funds for Kim and her children within the transit department, as well.

“I started seeing people really helping, you know, for someone who they didn’t even know. They didn’t know me, so I was really moved,” Kim says. “It moved me to the point where I really decided that I was going to make something of my life.”

Her local community’s response encouraged Kim to build a solid foundation for her boys, which included going into college in the hopes that it would help her land a better job — something she had not been able to achieve because of her lack of education.

After she was able to get back on her feet, Kim and her sons relocated and reunited with her family in California. Her parents lived, and still do, only a few miles up the street from El Camino in Lawndale.

In her quest to earn her education, Kim first learned how to work on computers and soon knew how to do several tasks, including writing essays.

Once this was taken care of, Kim enrolled at El Camino College. She did not have a major in mind, so instead, she opted to focus on general education requirements for an associate’s degree.

“I thought ‘OK, now I’m prepared. Now I’m going to go to El Camino and going to really start,’” Kim recalls.

However, her journey in revitalizing herself suffered a small setback when she had to start from basic-level classes and while she balanced the roles of mother and college student.

“I was struggling,” Kim says. “I needed all this help with watching my kids, and I had to cook and I had to help them with their homework.”

During this time, Kim was hired as a federal work-study student in the EOPS program at El Camino. Here, she became familiar with other on-campus services including the Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE) program and CalWorks. She was then invited to become a student services advisor, a role in which she helped others familiarize themselves with campus resources.

In 2009, Kim lost her job at El Camino as a result of budget cuts.

From that year until 2017, Kim was not a part of ECC, not as a member of faculty nor as a student. At that point, Kim only had two classes left to pass in order to earn her associate degree.

During her time away from ECC, Kim helped her father set up a company within the food industry. To accommodate herself in this industry, Kim worked at farmer’s markets and earned her food handler’s permit, a certification still essential to her today, as she deals with food in the Warrior Pantry.

She also found out about a non-profit organization known as Food Forward. She calls it a “produce rescue” organization, which, today, helps stock the Warrior Pantry with fresh produce — a feat that could not happen before the pandemic struck.

“I wanted to make a change. I wanted to help people and also bring awareness,” Kim says, while noting how special it is for the pantry to serve produce. “My mission became creating awareness through the resources for people.”

With her husband having died from diabetes, Kim prioritizes in ensuring those who visit the Warrior Pantry are offered produce and healthy foods.

While working at her dad’s company, Kim bore a huge thought in mind: finishing her last couple of classes.

“If something were to happen with my dad’s company, I would be out of a job again without a degree, without something saying I’ve accomplished something,” Kim says.

Kim returned to El Camino in 2017, was hired in the outreach department and completed the last couple of classes she needed to earn her associate degree in general studies. Kim capped off her long academic journey as part of the class of 2018, nearly two decades after deciding to go to school.

She alludes to ECC President and Superintendent Dena Maloney’s words: “where you belong, where you succeed.”

“This [El Camino] is just really where it all happens. This is the beginning of the path for a lot of people,” Kim says.

Jaime Ulloa, an accounting assistant for the Student Development Office at ECC, describes Kim as the “perfect fit” for managing the Warrior Pantry.

“I don’t believe anyone else was better equipped to run the pantry, from a lived, an experienced viewpoint,” Jaime says.

He is not alone in this statement. Kim believes several people knew she was ready to assume a full-time position at ECC, more importantly, they believed in her and wanted her to succeed.

Before landing the full-time gig managing the Warrior Pantry, Kim couldn’t find the right fit for her in other full-time positions. She’d look at one job and another, but she never truly felt comfortable taking any of them.

Overcoming the odds after losing her husband, gathering support from a local community, as it allied behind her and her children and familiarizing herself with the El Camino College campus community molded her into the bubbly, diligent spirit she is today. Kim knew it, too.

When the Warrior Pantry position became available, she knew she would make the best fit, tailor-made through her lived experiences.

“They were like ‘Oh my god, that’s the perfect job for you. Are you going to apply for it?’ I was like ‘Oh, yeah!’” Kim says.

The relationships she built with folks in different departments, including David Brown, the assistant director of the EOPS, CARE and CalWORKS programs, and Robin Dreizler, former director of outreach and school relations, over the years helped her on her journey to secure a full-time job at ECC.

David also affirms that Kim was the best candidate for the job.

“No one could have done it like she is,” he says.

Kim was happy to finally get the job.

“I had been wanting a full-time position here for a long, long time,” Kim says.

Kim maintains that reliable connections within the community have attributed her to gain the necessary tools to succeed. At a farmer’s market recently, she crossed paths with a woman from Frog’s Bakery, a place down the street from ECC on Crenshaw Boulevard and quickly networked with her for any possibilities to receive goods for the pantry.

“I feel really fortunate to be able to be witnessing all this wonderful outpouring of generosity,” Kim says.

These days, Kim is focused on the Warrior Pantry and the ways it can help students in need of basic necessities.

As cars line up to receive food and other supplies from the Warrior Pantry, Kim Cameron takes a moment to pose next to one of the balloon decorations she set up for the Warrior Pantry on Thursday, May 6. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)
As cars line up to receive food and other supplies from the Warrior Pantry, Kim Cameron takes a moment to pose next to one of the balloon decorations she set up for the Warrior Pantry on Thursday, May 6. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)
Kim Cameron looks along the shelves, gathering the bundle of food and supplies to give to visitors on Thursday, May 6. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)
Kim Cameron looks along the shelves, gathering the bundle of food and supplies to give to visitors on Thursday, May 6. (Mari Inagaki/ Warrior Life)

As she often sees people going through similar difficult circumstances she once was, Kim says helping them find out about necessary resources is a vital part of her mission.

“It’s frightening because we don’t really know what the future holds with COVID going on,” Kim says. “Knowing that those resources are available is reassuring. I think it helps people to be at peace.”

During the stressful times caused by the ongoing pandemic and as students try to find the balance between coursework, home situations and their jobs, Kim hopes the available resources can help them move forward to fulfill their goals rather than worrying about basic needs.

“It is my mission to give back to the community that once helped me when I desperately needed resources to improve my life so that I could raise my sons and, eventually, be able to stand on my own without any assistance,” Kim says. “El Camino and this community helped make it possible for me to achieve my dream. Now it’s my turn to help and give back.”

Breeanna Bond, an advisor in the CARE program, says Kim is as dedicated as anyone she’s ever known at El Camino.

“She is unmatched,” Breeanna says. “No one comes close to Kim’s level of dedication.”

Overall, Kim believes she is a lucky person, having garnered the support of several local communities, including rotary clubs in the South Bay who have raised funds for the pantry, members of the Boy Scouts who have volunteered to build customized wooden carts for Kim, grants awarded by LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and several contributions from the LA Regional Food Bank.

“People [are] being genuinely generous and being willing to leave their comfort zone to help other people,” Kim says. “And I just think that’s something that right now, during all this chaos, not everybody gets to see.”