Lynn Heatley started Love Riverside in 2016 with the goal of creating ways others could give back to the city and find inspiration to serve the community year-round. The organization started with an annual service day that gathered hundreds of volunteers who worked on 30 different projects. While the Love Riverside annual service day continued to be successful, in 2020 Heatley wondered if she could do more.

Heatley retired from her career as a nurse at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to put all her efforts into Love Riverside. She was able to secure a grant from the city of Riverside and during the pandemic began collecting and distributing groceries for those struggling with food insecurity.

“We are bringing practical help to our community and trying to inspire others to give back,” Heatley said. “We are so bombarded with negative news every day; I try to encourage others to be a part of the good stories.”

In the fall of 2020, Love Riverside’s partnered with Northgate Market to distribute two large trailers of groceries. Cars began to line up hours before the distribution. As the line stretched around blocks, the partners had to contact traffic control for assistance. That was when Heatley realized the depth of the need for food assistance.

Heatley spent 14 years as a nurse primarily working with seniors and her heart was with them as they struggled with isolation and fixed income, she said. Love Riverside began focusing on serving seniors in partnership with the city of Riverside and Riverside Unified School District.  The organization set up food distributions in market style at senior apartments.

Grant funding has allowed the organization to hire two part-time staff to assist. Love Riverside also utilizes four College Corps interns and many volunteers. The program has expanded to monthly food distribution at 19 different complexes, serving 1,500 seniors. Shoppers browse the selection of fresh produce and other goods, choosing what they need and use.

The program has had more impact than nutrition, according to Heatley. The ability to socialize with neighbors, Love Riverside staff and volunteers has helped many seniors with the challenges of being isolated.

“One of the apartment managers broke down and cried because it was the first time since the pandemic started that they had seen their residents happy,” Heatley said. “I feel very honored that we are doing this program in the city, and I see that it is helping our seniors in more ways than one.”

Recently, Love Riverside received a grant from Youth Grantmakers through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The program depends on grants and donations to cover a barebones budget, Heatley said. Individuals and businesses that would like to help can donate through Love Riverside’s website or volunteer. The organization is always in need of more volunteers.

Heatley was awarded the City of Spirit Award by Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock-Dawson in September 2022, bringing the organization wider recognition. The award honors extraordinary deeds and community spirit along with a dedication to enhancing the quality of life in Riverside.

As a small nonprofit, Heatley hopes that more of the community will discover her work and that Love Riverside will continue to grow. Her goal is to have more time to learn about and partner with other leaders and nonprofit organizations. She believes that Love Riverside can have more impact by coming alongside other nonprofits to help with their missions. The organization welcomes new collaborations.

“It’s a vital need to give back to our community and to support nonprofits that are doing the work,” Heatley said. “Support your local nonprofits. Give back or support whatever area you are passionate about.”

More information:  https://www.loveriverside.org/ or 951-374-0807

This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, December 2022.

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