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Providing food for the soul , food for the spirit
Fresh vegetables and fruits donated by various individuals were among the bonus items that were given away during the weekly food distribution at St. Pauls Food Pantry on Friday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

For Christina Silvia, St. Paul’s Food Pantry is a God-send.

Her husband was laid off last week from his job as a mechanic. With two children ages five and 17 to support, and with the only bread winner in the family losing their only source of income, the bag-full of food items that she received from the Methodist church’s outreach ministry on Friday was like manna from heaven.

The Silvia family was not alone in this kind of predicament. Last month alone, St. Paul’s Food Pantry served 1,111 people including home deliveries for the homebound. Statistics also show that program volunteers deliver 30 to 40 food bags every Friday. That’s the day people come in between 1 and 3 p.m. and pick up their bags of food filled with various food items that they can stretch into seven meals.

Each bag contains nutritious food with a lot of protein. Inside a typical bag includes the following: a 16-oz. canned vegetables (corn, peas, beans or mixed vegetables), 16-oz. canned fruit (cocktail, peaches or pears), 10-oz. canned soup (cream of mushroom or chicken for cooking, and others for eating), 26-oz. can of spaghetti sauce, 6-oz. can of tuna, dry beans, 1 lb. of long grain rice, 12-oz egg noodles, 7-oz of macaroni and cheese, hamburger or tuna helper, 64-oz apple juice or 48-oz. Sunny Delight orange, peanut butter, and cold breakfast cereal. Depending on their availability the day of distribution, other “bonus” items are added to the above staples every Friday.

Each individual or family receiving the food bags is also given a list of seven suggested meals based on the items that they received.

Other bonus food items can also be fresh produce, which was the case on Friday. Under the covered tents outside the building where the give-away was being conducted were tables where boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables that included tomatoes, zucchinis, pears and other vegetables were placed. The clients helped themselves to whatever fresh produce they wanted added to their bags of food that day.

Some of the vegetables were donated by church members or volunteers who picked them from their gardens at home. The others came from the vegetable plots at Crossroads Grace Community Church.

About a third of the food supply in the pantry came from Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca where the Food Pantry buys the rest of the items that are placed in each paper bag. Since there has been a shortage of food supply at Second Harvest due to the ongoing bad economy which diminished donations, the program has been buying some of the food at Winco, said Patty DeRoos who is the coordinator of the Food Pantry.

Food distribution done in an orderly manner

Thanks to the help of a crew of volunteers, the food distribution that is conducted every Friday is accomplished in a very orderly manner. After filling out a simple paper work, the clients then sit down with some of the program volunteers to help determine what their needs are or if there are other areas where they would like to have some assistance.

“Some don’t even know about WIC (acronym for Women, Infants, and Children which is a government program that ensures proper nutrition for poor mothers and their children) and PG&E’s utility reductions,” said DeRoos.

“And if they ask us to pray with them, we do that too but they are never forced to do so,” she added.

An inter-faith volunteer crew

While the Food Pantry is a program of St. Paul’s United Methodist in Manteca, volunteers are not limited to church members. Many of them are from other churches in town. A good number of them who worked on Friday were retired school teachers from Manteca Unified School District like DeRoos. Michael Seelye, who was one of those conducting client interviews, is a retired college professor who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. He is also the current president of the Manteca Unified School District Board of Trustees.

The other retired school teachers who made sure the food distribution was working in an orderly manner were Joan Buckner, Carol Strait, and Tina Axtel. Kirk Kammeraad, also retired, is a former management employee of Kaiser Permanente.

Another volunteer was Manteca Love INC executive director Steve Parsons who was instrumental in the launching of the ministry for the homeless and economically disadvantaged family several years ago.

“God found them,” DeRoos simply explained when asked how the volunteers came to know about Food Pantry.

Some of the retirees’ husbands are also involved in various capacities as volunteers. Phil Buckner, for example, and Dave Strait both help in the the pantry.

“They’re real servants of the Lord,” DeRoos said of the volunteers who include her husband, Jim, who taught at Weston Ranch High School, and daughter Katie who helped oversee the fresh produce distribution on Friday.

Program started in 2007, thousands of meals served

When St. Paul’s Food Pantry opened in July of 2007, the program served 18 people most of whom were homeless. Since then, the program has shown a dramatic increase in the number of people and families served, bags of food distributed, and meals provided out of that.

The following statistics bear that significant program growth:

•In the first 9 months of the program, more than 8,000 bags of groceries were distributed to over 6,800 families.

•6,000 people served in 2008 with food for about 60,000 meals; 49 percent of those served were children.

•In 2009, Food Pantry distributed 9,000 bags of food to over 7,000 families with the food providing over 90,000 meals.

Each bag of food is valued at over $7.50.

The primary focus of Food Pantry is to help people like the Silvia family – individuals and families “with low and extremely low incomes, recently unemployed, and the homeless,” according to the program brochure.

“I love this program. I heard about it from my father,” said a smiling Silvia on her way out the door of the food pantry Friday, her arms loaded with the shopping paper bag full of food.

Besides giving out nutritional foods, the program also assists clients with resources to help them “improve their situation.” The intake process is to provide the program “with more information on how to best help our clients,” DeRoos said.