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100 sets of helping hands
Church group helps provide food for struggling families
Lillian and Jack Cushman during the Thanksgiving food basket distribution effort. - photo by HIME ROMERO

• WHAT: Helping Hands Ministry distributing 210 Christmas food baskets
• WHERE: Cornerstone Community Church, at the corner of East Highway 120 and Comconex Road.
• WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 17, 10 a.m. to noon
• FOR MORE INFO: Call 825-1220

Distribution of Thanksgiving food baskets at Cornerstone Community Church was from 10 a.m. to noon.

Helping Hands volunteers Jack and Lillian Cushman arrived at 8:30 a.m. so they would have time to get the place ready. But as early as they thought they were, “the line was already a block long” when they got there, Lillian said.

In fact, she said, “one lady came at 6:30 in the morning” to make sure she was going to go home with a food basket.

“You should have seen it. There were so many people because a lot of people bring the whole family including little ones. I even saw one little tiny baby in a stroller. The parking lot was full (of cars) but there was one family that walked. I saw them leaving, and somebody told me that they walked to come and get a box of food. And they had a baby in a stroller.”

They gave away 209 Thanksgiving food baskets that day.

This Saturday, Dec. 17, also from 10 a.m. until noon, Cornerstone’s Helping Hands ministry expects to distribute 210 Christmas food baskets, each with either a turkey or ham, and all the trimmings.

The Cushmans, who have been coordinating the outreach program for the last seven years, are confident they will have a turkey for each of the food baskets.

They are picking up the turkeys today at Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca. “I believe we are getting all that we asked for, which is really awesome,” Lillian said.

“Mike (Mallory) works really hard trying to get stuff for the holidays so that nobody has to go hungry. And Turkeys R Us is doing a wonderful job collecting money and turkeys, plus people do fund-raisers, so all the turkeys are donated,” she said of the combined efforts of people in the community to make sure struggling families can share a traditional meal at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Unlike other agencies and facilities where individuals and families have to sign up ahead of time to receive the food baskets, the Helping Hands food distribution operates on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“A lot of people see (the announcement) in the paper and that’s how they come,” said Lillian.

Once they get there, though, they have to fill out a form and show proof of residence in Manteca before they are given one of the 210 cards.

Those who will be there on Saturday will also receive something extra for Christmas earmarked for the young, she said.

“The Spanish Church (of Cornerstone) is going to be giving out gifts for the children. They have them all wrapped up,” Lillian explained.

The people lining up in the parking lot to receive the holiday goodies will receive something extra, too.

“We feed the people while they are waiting. We make coffee. My girlfriend and I make chili beans,” Lillian said.

Unfortunately, the church does not have an indoor facility big enough to handle the number of people who come for the food give-away, she said, “so we just use what we have,” which is the church parking lot.

“A lot of them come with blankets and stuff, especially if it’s cold,” to keep them warm while they wait in line, Lillian said.

Nearly 100 volunteers help in the food distribution

Nearly 100 church volunteers are expected to come out and help distribute the food boxes on Saturday. Among the volunteers who will be there to help carry the food to people’s cars are the church pastors and their families. They include Pastor Scott Hoag and his family, Pastor Eric of the Spanish Church and his wife, and Pastor Chris Reis and wife Tiffany.

“Pastor Travis Martin and wife Nicole just had their first baby so I don’t think they’ll be there,” Lillian said.

The volunteers also include the Cushmans’ son and daughter-in-law, David and Sylvia, who are there every year to help.

While the turkey and ham are provided by Second Harvest Food Bank, the rest of the items in the food boxes are all donated by various people, primarily Cornerstone’s members.

“Our shelves were cleaned out Thanksgiving – vegetables and chicken broth and other canned goods – so we’ve been building that up again,” Lillian said.

“Some of the people from church took some of the boxes and brought them back” filled with the food items that they need, she said.

As a rule, each box is filled with enough food for four people. For larger families with six or seven members, “we give them two boxes,” said Lillian who owned and operated the former Pietro’s Restaurant in Manteca with husband Jack.

Cornerstone’s Helping Hands outreach ministry is not just mobilized during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They serve people in need year-round. They distribute food every third Saturday of the month, also from 10 a.m. to noon.

For more information about Saturday’s Christmas food distribution, call the church office at (209) 825-1220. Cornerstone Community Church is located at the corner of East Highway 120 (eastbound Yosemite Avenue turns into Highway 120 past Highway 99) and Comconex Road.