By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Food Providers Face Rising Demand
Placeholder Image
Food distribution lines sometimes become so long at the Riverbank Scout Hall, Christian Food Sharing staff get concerned they will run out of food.

The 25-year-old charity has in recent months been serving 130 families or 340 people a week on average, said Yolanda Guider, who shares the group's leadership with Lynda Silva and Julie Boos.

The numbers served have gone way up this year. Handing out food staples, fresh vegetables and canned goods each Friday morning, the all-volunteer group concluded they served 458 families representing 1,201 people last month compared with 359 families or 962 people during August of 2010.

Figures ran at an all time high through June and July with 601 families or 1610 people served during July.

Generally the number of applicants falls in summer as agricultural laborers find work in the fields. But there are fewer agricultural jobs available for more workers and the good weather has not drawn down applications this year.

Encouragingly, the first Friday in September showed a decisive dip, with only 99 families or 247 people seeking food on Sept. 2.

"We reckoned it was because it was a four-day weekend," said Guider. "(Some had) just got their welfare payment and they'd picked up their Salvation Army commodities at the Community Center before coming over here.

"Without the federal grant, we're just squeezing by. Local donations have helped. But some volunteers have been buying stuff out of their own pockets. That's how we started back in 1985-86 before we got 501 (non-profit) status."

Christian Food Sharing used to get an annual federal grant of $20,000, although they originally applied for only $15,000.

But for this year the federal government had cut the group down to $17,000 and a government representative that recently visited showed graphs showing they can expect to receive only $15,000.

"We're running about 30 percent more than last year (in the number of food applicants)," said Silva.

"From last December to July we served the equivalent of 90,000 meals," she told the Riverbank City Council on Sept. 12.

Local residents were still out of work last spring and stayed so throughout the summer when the demand for food distribution services generally declines.

"So many construction jobs went away. The agricultural people cut back," she said. "I'm in a ranching business with my brother and we did not hire as many workers as usual. The politicians keep on saying the economy is improving. I've yet to see it."

Christian Food Sharing bases its figures for meals served on a bag or box of staples that includes rice, beans, pasta, eggs, canned goods and vegetables and fruit, plus some meat.

But they try to add fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and pastries and other items donated by local stores and even individual gardeners who grow more than their family can eat.

"We don't refuse anything," said Silva. "If you've got extra zucchini, we'll take that too and give it away."

An all volunteer organization, the group needs about 15 people to run the distribution each Friday but can call on a total of 30 or so staff. Some of the volunteers have been there almost since the group's foundation under Bernice Bick, who recently retired.

The annual grant is from the federal government under the Emergency Food & Shelter Program and this year it's late.

"We've been approved for $15,000," said Silva. "Normally we get it in March. So far we haven't seen it this year. We're struggling to keep our shelves stocked. If it wasn't for a number of grocery stores selling us stuff for a few cents over cost and the Salvation Army passing on some commodities ..."

The group interviews new recipients to ascertain local residency, income, number in the family and other qualifications to meet government requirements according to lists passed down through the food bank Second Harvest. They then decide how many times a month the recipient may receive food.

"There's a mass of paperwork involved. We don't see a lot of big incomes," said Silva. "What saddens me is the older people. They've worked all their lives and now they're retired and find that Social Security does not cover their basic expenses."