Hundreds of Exeter families, who may have had to skip Thanksgiving because they could not afford it, will sit down for a full meal tomorrow giving thanks for the community in which they live in.
The meals were provided by you – the residents of Exeter – whose overwhelming response to a recent food drive left the Exeter Food Closet with an estimated 8,000 pounds of food they received on Nov. 19. Food Closet Director Bud Mayabb said the donations should last four to five months.
“This has been one of the best responses I’ve ever seen,” said Pastor Bud Mayabb, who has been involved with the Exeter Food Closet for 15 years. “It’s more than I could imagine. Thank you Exeter, from the bottom of my heart. This is truly a blessing.”
The food drive was a last minute effort to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the community organized by Exeter Responds, a coalition of public and non-profit organizations and churches who recently collaborated to put on the Trunk or Treat safe Halloween event at Faith Tabernacle Church in Exeter. The coalition is a partnership between the Exeter Police Department, Courage To Change, California Cadet Corps 3rd Brigade, Exeter Public Schools, Tulare County Board of Supervisors, countywide law enforcement, faith based organizations and local businesses.
Sgt. Liz Yarber said the Exeter Police Department and the California Cadet Corps delivered 2,300 donation bags to homes and businesses throughout Exeter on Nov. 14. In just five days, they picked up nearly 1,000 bags full of non-perishable food items and delivered them to the Exeter Food Closet on a flatbed trailer on Nov. 19.
“I was shocked and surprised to see this amount of food,” Yarber said. “I’ve always known there was no limit to the amount Exeter continues to give back, but I was really overwhelmed by the generosity and love. Some homes donated three to four bags.”
Yarber said some bags were planned out to provide a full Thanksgiving meal for a family of four. Others had whatever people could spare from their cupboards. One bag came with a message written on the side: “Sorry there’s not more. God Bless.”
“It really makes you thankful for the kind of community we live in,” Yarber said.
Sgt. Celis Rabena said the Exeter Police Department was still receiving calls throughout Monday morning with people saying they forgot to put the bags out and at least another bag to donate. He said people who still have items to donate can take them directly to the Exeter Food Closet and there are also 25-gallon donation drums at SaveMart, R-N Market and Faith Tabernacle Church.
“I’m usually not surprised by Exeter’s generosity, but this is probably double what we were expecting,” Rabena said.
Yarber said she spared as many officers as she could to help pick up donation bags throughout town, but most of the work was done by the 3rd Brigade of the California Cadet Corps, a military-based program to help former male gang members and troubled teen boys to turn their lives around.
“This would have taken us a lot longer without their help,” Yarber said. “I was very impressed with their boys. They wouldn’t be in this program if they had not gotten into some kind of trouble but they were very respectful, hard working and just fabulous.”
Brian Gambini, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the California Cadet Corps, said the program uses military principals and procedures to instill discipline, respect and honor into the boys. They are issued uniforms, earn rank, have daily duties and responsibilities, study hard and offer a variety of community services, including graffiti removal, set up and clean up for events, etc.
“When people in the community call us they can expect to get an organized, professional crew of workers,” Gambini said.
Gambini said the 3rd Brigade is the largest and fastest growing brigade in all of the California Cadet Corps. They have more than 300 cadets from Tulare, Visalia and Exeter. Just in the last few years, Gambini said the 3rd Brigade has begun outreach programs at Wilson Middle School and Exeter Union High School.
“This is the kind of community service response we expect when people call up the Cadet Corps for community service,” Gambini said.