SAN BENITO — Before he died, bookkeeper Eugenio Castillo asked his family to let the San Benito Food Pantry remain in his building free of charge.
Now, his daughter Elia Castillo said she was forced to evict the pantry from the old building at 109 E. Stenger St.
After 29 years, the pantry moved yesterday into its new home at Living Stone Family Church, 2007 E. Expressway 83.
“It’s a pure blessing,” Forest Walker, the pantry’s president, said Friday. “This is exactly what we need. They came through for the community.”
For Castillo, the pantry has been part of her family’s life.
She still remembers her father’s words before he died in 2005.
“Before he passed away he told us, ‘Please let them stay for as long as possible,’” she recalled. “They were the first people to move into my dad’s building after he bought it. We kept them as long as possible.”
But questions surround the reason behind the pantry’s eviction.
While Castillo claims a rat infestation plagued the building, Walker said she saw no more than a couple of mice.
According to Castillo, a rat infestation forced her to evict the pantry from a part of her building that needs a new roof.
But Walker said the building was not infested.
“There was no infestation,” Walker said. “When we saw a couple of mice, we called our exterminator right away and we haven’t seen (a mouse) since.”
At City Hall, Bernard Rodriguez, the planning director who oversees the city’s code enforcement department, stated the city will inspect the building.
“The owner of the building came to us and said that, in their opinion, the food pantry created a rat infestation,” Rodriguez stated.
In response, he stated, officials told the owners to exterminate any pests before allowing others to move into the building.
“We did not shut them down,” Rodriguez stated.
Castillo has been trying to sell the building.
But first, she said, it needed repairs.
In September, she told the pantry it had to leave the building.
“I was very, very shocked,” Walker said. “It wasn’t enough notice. We didn’t have a place to go.”
Then in October, Castillo took the pantry to court, requesting it be evicted.
“It’s a shame,” Castillo said. “They’ve helped a lot of people. They’re doing a great job. If there would have been a way we could keep them, they would have stayed.”
For 29 years, the Castillo family helped the pantry, which feeds as many as 5,000 residents a month, Walker said.
“I have to thank the Castillo family,” Walker said. “We’ve never paid rent and been here for 29 years
Today, Pastor Ernesto Garcia is opening his church’s doors to the pantry.
Now, many in his congregation want to help the pantry feed the area’s poor, Garcia said.
“It’s a blessing we can let the San Benito Food Pantry in,” Garcia said. “If feeding people is not the church’s job, I don’t know what is.”