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Christian Food Sharing Still Serving Up Aid
Food giveaways for the poor become even more important in this season of high unemployment and traditional midwinter feasts and the largest of the local distribution groups is very busy.

Christian Food Sharing was established here a few decades ago at the Scout Hall and has been handing out food to the disadvantaged ever since.

Each Friday morning those in need gather in long lines stretching from the doors along West High Street next to the city corporation yard.

The group is staffed entirely by volunteers, more than 20 of them, according to Yolanda Guider, who started working with the group soon after its foundation and is currently one of three women who share the organizational duties.

Working in shifts both midweek to prepare the food and on Friday morning to hand it out, volunteers tend to stay on for many, many years.

"We had to retire Betty Asman recently because she has knee problems. We were worried she would fall," said Guider. "But Ida Kennedy is still with us and she's been working here for 25 years."

The number of clients varies considerably each week but peaks around the Christmas holidays. This past week, volunteers served 562 people in 153 families, somewhat more than average. Friday happened to be the last distribution of the group's financial year in which it served 11,184 people.

Christian Food Sharing works on a federal financial year of December to November, because it receives an Emergency Food & Housing federal government grant of about $20,000 per year. It must keep exact figures and reapply each year. The rest of its funding comes in donations both in money and in food.

The group uses the grant to buy food staples at a large discount from the Second Harvest food bank in Manteca and supplements that with donated food. Sysco Company and SaveMart, for instance, donate vegetables and dairy items. Christian Food Sharing is constantly negotiating prices with companies like Grocery Outlet of Merced, Costless in Oakdale and Valley Dairies. It supplements that with fresh produce.

"Farmers used to let us go into the fields to glean vegetables after the harvest. Under new regulations, they can't do that anymore. But some local farmers still drop off fruit and vegetables on our doorstep evenings and weekends. One Escalon farmer recently brought us a pickup full of squash three weeks in a row."

According to the federal grant, anyone in Stanislaus County can apply for aid to Christian Food Sharing. But the group tries to limit its services to Riverbank and the immediate area, covering four or five different zip codes to the east and south that fall within the Riverbank Unified School District boundaries.

"We don't turn anyone away the first time," said Guider. "Even if they are outside our area, we give them something and refer them to the distribution center they should be going to."

Clients also must meet federal guidelines defining their income as low to extremely low. Eligibility ranges from a single person living on $12,500 to a family of four with an income of $17,000 to a family of eight with an income over $60,000. But some clients may visit the food distribution center every week, others every two weeks and some only once a month.

Guider commented she is required to gather many figures on clients such as ethnicity, gender, age, even veteran status and whether or not disabled.

"We have a large number of applicants over (age) 62 for example," she said.

Employment also is required information, she said, noting many field laborers are now losing their jobs because of winter rains. They can apply now for unemployment but they won't get any money until January or February.