2007-09-14 / Front Page

FOOD Share partners with agencies to feed the county

By Michelle Knight knight@theacorn.com

MAKING  ENDS  MEET- On crutches due to a sprained ankle, Katharina  Bourget  thanks volunteer Cheri Carroll for loading food into her car at Jehovah Jireh, a food pantry in Camarillo. MAKING ENDS MEET- On crutches due to a sprained ankle, Katharina Bourget thanks volunteer Cheri Carroll for loading food into her car at Jehovah Jireh, a food pantry in Camarillo. A woman named Ruby leaves a Camarillo food pantry on a recent afternoon with bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods and boxes of breakfast cereal, pasta and graham crackers.

But like everyone who comes through the Jehovah Jireh food pantry, Ruby can only take one roll of toilet paper, even though she has a family of eight to care for.

Toilet paper and diapers, what pantry Coordinator Cecilia Rexford calls "luxury items," are in short supply here.

The church-operated pantry and about 150 other Ventura County nonprofits, faith-based organizations and distribution centers depend on Oxnard-based FOOD Share for life essentials they can give to the needy in their communities.

Although FOOD Share transitions about 11 million pounds of donated food and other essentials through its two warehouses every year, it receives a relatively small donation of the paper goods, as well as meat items.

So the county's largest food bank must ration the number it gives to its partner agencies.

Shopping alongside Ruby at the tiny pantry on Mobil Avenue is 67-year-old Nancy Galvin.

Holding a photograph of her and her husband in healthier, happier times, Galvin said both of them are disabled and depend on Social Security for income.

Stress, worry and illness have taken their toll on their health, she said, and they have both lost large quantities of weight in a short period time. Her husband has terminal tongue cancer, Galvin said.

For more than 18 months, Galvin has depended on the pantry, whose name means "The Lord will provide," to supplement their meals.

"It's a great idea, fantastic, beautiful help," Galvin said, adding that without the pantry, they'd have to look to friends for handouts. "That's why I said this place is a life saver."

Katharina Bourget, 45, is also disabled and must make $340 a month in Social Security payments cover her bills. She gets housing and food assistance from the government, but it's still hard for her and her 10-year-old daughter to get by, she said.

"We would probably skip meals" if the pantry had no food or closed down, Bourget said.

Cecilia Rexford said that's not uncommon. A teacher once told her about a young student who soon after arriving in class began asking if it was lunchtime.

Finally, the teacher asked if the girl if she'd eaten breakfast. No, it wasn't my turn, Rexford said the girl replied.

"That's what goes on," Rexford said.

FOOD Share, the county's largest food bank, is responsible for feeding an average of 38,000 residents through its partner agencies and its own programs, said Operations Manager Jayson Muelder.

"And every year that number is rising and where we see it rising the most prevalently is (among) the working poor," he said.

Contrary to popular opinion, the typical face of Ventura County's hungry population isn't a homeless person with chemical dependency or mental illness but a single-working mother with a couple of children and a family with both parents working low-paying jobs, Muelder said.

Thousand Oaks' Many Mansions is one of FOOD Share's partner agency.

It depends almost entirely on FOOD Share staples for two of its programs- one that helps put food on the table for more than 160 families and another that provides about 70 lowincome students in an after-school homework program with nutritious snacks.

"If there was no food with us, they may well go hungry," said Fiona Kilner, Many Mansions director of services. "We would not be able to replace the food in any way."

Food pantries in Simi Valley and Moorpark also depend on FOOD Share for a significant amount of food they give to hungry and undernourished families.

"It's really important," said Catholic Charities Coordinator Patricia Calderon of FOOD Share. "Because some times private donations are not coming in."

The Moorpark pantry relies on FOOD Share for about half of the bread, canned goods and other food it dispenses to some 300 families. "So thank God that we have FOOD Share, because like I said if we didn't have FOOD Share we wouldn't have fresh fruits and vegetables for those families," Calderon said.

About 500 lowincome families, senior citizens and homeless people show up to Simi Valley's Care and Share each month. The non-religious nonprofit receives about 1,500 pounds a month of food and other essentials, including laundry detergent, diapers and shampoo, from FOOD Share.

"They help us a lot, a lot," said Veronica Rubio, coordinator.

For information, call:

•Ventura County's FOOD Share, (805) 983-7100

•Jehovah Jireh food pantry in Camarillo, (805) 402-3887

•Moorpark's Catholic Charities, (805) 529-0720

•Simi Valley's Care and Share, (805) 522-5676

•Many Mansions in Thousand Oaks, (805) 496-4948

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