Good news seems scarce this year. But a new program to distribute donated free local food to needy families represents the best of the spirit of America.
Here in the great San Joaquin Valley we grow nearly half of America’s fresh fruits and vegetables. Despite this abundance there are still local people who struggle to provide adequate food for their families. The coronavirus pandemic has created food insecurity issues for even more.
The good news is that some generous local individuals and companies have stepped forward to create a “no-barrier” system to distribute food to individuals who may not be reached by existing nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The effort is being led by Jason LeFaive, lead pastor of Seven Oaks Church in Visalia and CityServe, Tulare-Kings.
Last week CityServe distributed 6,000 free boxes of fresh produce to needy families in Tulare and Kings counties. Each box weighed about 20 pounds and contained seven or eight items. They will soon deliver 10,000, or more, boxes each week.
Those food boxes are initially collected from distributors and farmers, and briefly stored in cold storage space donated by Garth Ramseier, manager of the Anchor Warehouse in Exeter. Similarly, Jamie Wilson, donates storage space for dry goods at Exeter’s Sequoia Orange Warehouse – he is a partner in that company.
Every Tuesday and Friday between 7 and 11 a.m., participating churches and organizations can pick up the prepared food boxes to personally distribute to needy families regardless of church affiliation. They are the “last mile” in the USDA’s program to fight hunger across America during the current pandemic crisis. Organizations that would like to join the network can reach Pastor Jason LeFaive at 559-802-3667.
For example, on June 9, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office loaded up 648 boxes for distribution in Traver. Brian McCullar, owner of B&R Transportation, provides free delivery of pallets of the food boxes when they have trucks traveling to remote locations in Kings and Tulare counties.
Pastor Jason’s church is part of a faith-based organization called CityServe which accepts donated products from retailers like Costco and Home Depot. Those items are then distributed through their regional partners. On May 21, the USDA designated CityServe and its partners as a “Community of Faith and Opportunity” which qualified them to become part of the “Farmers to Families” program. During the pandemic crisis the USDA pays distributors to deliver food products that farmers might otherwise be forced to simply plow under.
Within just 10 days, Pastor Jason’s regional group had located and secured donations of storage space plus contacted multiple food distributors who could meet USDA requirements to begin delivering products. Harold Meyers of Visalia, an agriculture consultant, quickly mobilized his contacts in the industry to jump-start the effort. Incredibly, they were able to secure and distribute their first 6,000 boxes in record time.
There was no delay with study groups or drawing organization charts. It was simply a focused effort by many good people who seized the opportunity to deliver free nourishing food to families who need it during difficult times. Well done!