Maria Sabi follows her calling in serving others

Paso Robles is a region of undulating hillsides dotted with centuries-old oaks, sprawling ranches, farms, rows of winegrapes and pioneer homesteads. Yet in this cornucopia, where California ranks as the top exporter of America’s produce and among the top 10 exporters of agricultural products in the world, people are going hungry.

Every morning from Monday through Thursday, between 9-11:30 a.m., four to seven people meet up at the Loaves and Fishes facility at 2650 Spring Street in Paso Robles. Here, they rotate and organize food to be distributed by seven more volunteers between 1:30-4 p.m.

No one who arrives to receive groceries the Loaves and Fishes pantry leaves empty-handed. Perishable and non-perishable food and toiletries are available in one room, while another is devoted to food storage. The volunteers are largely made up of people from businesses, civic clubs, and participating churches.

Maria Madrid Sabi at Paso Robles Loaves & Fishes. Photo by Rick Evans

Maria Madrid Sabi at Paso Robles Loaves & Fishes. Photo by Rick Evans

“We buy and collect locally from grocery stores,” said Loaves and Fishes Executive Director Maria Madrid Sabi. “Most often, we shop at Food 4 Less, Grocery Outlet, and we purchase from the Food Bank, who also gives us fresh produce. Use of the building is donated, but we pay to keep lights on, food refrigerated, do repairs, and business operating costs.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the fair market rent of a modest two-bedroom apartment would require a person earning minimum wage in 2017 to work 118 hours per week or $30.92 an hour. Housing costs, relative to the cost of living in California, is anywhere from 30-60 percent higher than the rest of America.

“We are a frontline ministry,” said Maria. “We relate to people face-to-face. We’re not invasive, but we assess what they need – whether they have cooking facilities, or if they’re homeless. Surprisingly, just 10 percent are homeless. The rest are ‘working poor’ or single moms, those with disabilities, seniors living on Social Security. We serve 20-30 people a day, four times a week. Most of them are taking food to feed their families. That’s about 1,600 people a month. Our volunteers understand the need, and some have known what it’s like to receive, too.”

With 46 percent of the Golden State paying rent – and the rest paying off mortgages, credit card debt for out-of-pocket health costs, elder care and more – it doesn’t take math wizardry to see how an imbalance of income can disintegrate even the most regimented of household budgets.

“The poor will always be among us,” said Maria. “What we’re called to do isn’t to be an agency, but a ministry. If someone is open to prayer, we’ll do that. Our job isn’t to coerce, but to do what we’re called – to share the love of Jesus.”

Loaves and Fishes in Paso Robles is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Call 805-238-4742, send an email to or visit for annual event information.