LATHROP – More than a hundred people lined up at the San Joaquin Emergency Food Bank Tuesday morning for a chance at a free bag of fruit.
Plums and plumots – fresh from Ripon’s Bruno Farms – were hauled off in crates, packed into boxes and carried away in shopping bags by needy families grateful for a healthy snack.
And it was all orchestrated by the Lathrop trio of Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos, Bennie Gatto and Tosh Ishihara – teaming up to provide for those who can use a little bit of extra help in a down economy.
In the end, says Ishihara, it’s the least they can do.
“The United States is the most giving country in the world, and I just like to do anything that I can to help people,” he said. “People were lined up out there and were happy to get something a little bit different.”
Less than six months removed from the farmed salmon giveaway that Santos orchestrated – where seniors and needy families from throughout Lathrop and the surrounding communities went home with a massive, post-spawn salmon – he teamed up with a Ripon grower that was preparing to dispose of several pallets of excess fruit.
Instead of sending them out to the dump, Santos packed them up in the back of a truck and took them out to Stockton where two were allocated for the food bank and one for St. Mary’s Catholic Church – which operates its own food pantry.
Getting to help so many people, he said, was a blessing.
“We have people who aren’t able to eat and we can do something about that, we have to – we’re Americans and that’s what we do,” he said. “We have to take care of our own. That’s always been my philosophy, and to see so many people elated when they were walking away with their bags of fruit was amazing.”
While Tuesday’s giveaway showed the good nature of Lathrop and its residents, it definitely wasn’t the end of the service that Ishihara and Gatto tackle on a regular basis.
As volunteers with the Senior Center’s brown bag and commodities programs, both Ishihara and Gatto are regular faces on the local community service circuit.
When he isn’t busy with those commitments, Ishihara drives around to Food-4-Less and Save Mart stores to pickup day-old pastries that are added to the mix of food given away to seniors that need a little extra boost.
“You don’t want anything out of it when you do things like that – you’re rewarded by the man upstairs with your health,” he said. “I’m lucky to have my health at my age and it’s a chance to show thanks for that. I enjoy it – these people are human beings that need help and that’s why I do it.”