Una-Vida leader inspires army of volunteers to feed Petaluma
If Lynne Gordon Moquete had her druthers, her name and personal story would not even appear in this newspaper, simply so that there would be more room to highlight the other needs in our community.
Her parting words during our interview were that she thought I should write about Jennifer King and Jim Maltos, both of whom she met through the fires and who have been at her side ever since, always stepping in where help is needed.
A true giver, Lynne is driven to help lift others up, whether that means assisting kids and families through tough times or simply opening eyes, ears, minds and hearts. She reminds us that a lot of us have it pretty good, while both near and far there are many in need, often of nothing more than compassion and understanding.
“We are primarily serving them dignity and love, but that often comes through the connection we’ve made through food,” Lynne said.
She prefers the word “participant” to “volunteer.”
“We want people to see that we are all on the same level,” she explained. “None of us are any better than any of them. The moment we look down on people, we can’t be of service.”
It is not about giving back; it is simply about giving, no matter how small that effort may seem. Lynne is not pushy nor preachy; she leads by example. She does not have to ask us to be better people – that is something that seems to miraculously manifests itself in those that spend time around her.
I first heard of Lynne a couple of years ago when a request came across the Petaluma Foodies page on Facebook asking for any help available for her PB&J Club. As a teacher at Casa Grande High School for the past 26 years, she had noticed a disturbing pattern when more and more kids were showing up at school without lunch or lunch money. So, she asked for donations of these simple sandwiches, and the community piled on the PB&J. For years, Lynne has always had at least a sandwich available for any student who may wander to her room.
It continued to grow from there. Lynne’s classroom now offers a full pantry, and acts as a safe place for kids to come if they need someone to talk with. Lynne always offers up no-strings-attached compassion.
“They can take whatever and however much they want, but what they are usually here for is more than just food,” she says. “Primarily, we are offering dignity and love.”
Of course, the challenges of COVID and distance learning have caused Lynne and her massive team of “participants” to pivot. It has not dampened their spirits or their efforts. In fact, it has inspired new programs, outreach and donations at a time when it is needed most.
“Normally, the kids are at school, so we can easily feed them if they need it,” she said. “We survey all freshman and find out which families are in need. We are still doing that and then figuring out how to get them that help.”
However, it is a challenge. It is not unusual for Lynne’s crew to give away 500 PB&J sandwiches a week during the regular school sessions — there is no shortage of need.
The Petaluma School District reports that, at Casa Grande High School alone, more than half of the kids are in the free or reduced-cost meal program, a commonly used indicator of food insecurity on school campuses. Although much of Petaluma is affluent, Lynne sees it firsthand every day the needs of our more vulnerable.
Lessons Growing Up
The hardships Lynne grew up with helped shape who she is and what she does.
“People deserve dignity, compassion and understand, no matter what their personal situation,” Lynne said. “If my life experiences can help them see that they are not alone, then I feel like I have an obligation to share them.”
Raised in Marinwood with her family, she had two older siblings. Her father struggled when, as a child, he was moved from Hawaii to San Francisco without his family in order to attend high school. Lynne’s grandfather was employed by the Queen of England at Balmoral Castle, a royal estate in Scotland that is privately owned by the Queen of England. He was lured to Hawaii to manage a sugar plantation, which is where he met Lynne’s grandmother, a teacher from Pennsylvania. They raised Lynne’s father and auntie as part of the tight-knit community of the Big Island until the children finished primary school.
The only option for high school at the time was Punahou, a private school the family could not afford. Instead of ending their education early, the children were shipped off to live with friends in San Francisco where they attended Galileo High School, which was free to the public, something not available in Hawaii at the time. After growing up in such a small, insulated and supportive community, the big city experience was a shock. Lynne’s father finished high school and then attended San Francisco State University, where he graduated with a degree in recreation and then took a job in Marin, where he would retire as the recreational director in Marinwood.