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Striving for a meal
Hunger pains reach deep in the heart of the Orange Belt
Editor’s note: This is a first of a two-part look at hunger in Porterville. Part II will look at homeless and hungry.
With the holidays approaching, thoughts will soon turn to upcoming family gatherings and elaborate meals that need to be planned. Thoughts are also turning to “giving” to those in need. For those who work year-round to see to the needs of the poor, homeless, and most importantly, hungry in Porterville, the up-coming holidays can only serve as a reminder of a year-round problem, which, according to Jim Perrine, who currently oversees St. Anne’s Food Pantry, has gotten worse during this last year.
The jump is in the number of recently homeless, over the last few months, and Perrine says that number is being sustained.
Those who are newly in need, he said, are “just people who have undergone economic crises in their life: Employment related and health related problems that have stretched their economic capabilities, and so they are coming for assistance.”
“We provide emergency food assistance, but it’s only supplemental,” Perrine continued. “It’s enough to get them by. They are eligible for once [one care package] a month, on the norm, and in no way can we give them food to feed them for an entire month. But if someone comes to us who is desperate, who has kids, we will give them more food. It is not the rule, and people understand and are doing their best to make things stretch. They are very appreciative of the assistance they get.”
Elva Beltran, who is the director of the Porterville Area Coordinating Council which currently helps warehouse food for the pantry, Perrine and Lupe Diaz, who organizes the Project Homeless Connect, says the one trend that is most common now is that people are having to make an extremely tough choice, pay bills or rent, or buy food. And as a dollar doesn’t stretch as far, anymore, Diaz said, food has dropped in terms of priority.
One woman, Beltran said, receives government assistance through CalFresh (“food stamps”), was forced to use her assistance to pay her rent.
“I can’t explain how,” Beltran said adding that the woman had children and didn’t want to see them without a roof or hungry, but the woman, who has children, is in a very familiar situation to Beltran: she’s found herself trying to choose between feeding her children or being able to provide a roof over their heads.
Perrine says that many of the people he helps are struggling with medical emergencies which have made them desperate.
“A lot of them are dealing with illness, recent hospitalizations, so they are just financially strapped and are just looking for assistance,” he said. “They come to us for a few months and then they are off and maybe they have been able to recover, find other assistance, or connect up with family, so we don’t see them.”
As the numbers of needy people have risen, agencies and groups are having to deal with more need while utilizing less resources. Some, like the United Way, Beltran said, have taken to simply giving out referrals instead of help.
“As much as I am not happy with United Way -- they do a lot of referrals [to PACC] and that’s not right. Our families need help – churches and people that believe donate money to us. How can we can be better than some of these organizations, how can we be the ones doing the work?” Beltran asked, adding that the United Way doesn’t provide any sort of monetary help to PACC.
FoodLink of Tulare, Perrine says, the main source of food for the pantry, is another example of an overly-taxed agency.
“We’re trying to do what we can to raise awareness, but it comes at a time when the historical sources of funding and food donations to assist people are curtailed. During this year calendar year 2012, there’s been a reduction in the amount of food that comes from FoodLink, and that’s greatly because of the reduction of the sources of food that are provided to them through federal and state programs,” Perrine said.
He continued that FoodLink is striving to fill the gap with new business partners, even as old partners have reduced the amount of goods donated. This has put St. Ann’s in a similar position, and they have begun to network for new donors while strengthening ties with other local non-profits or church groups.
PACC, Helping Hands, St. Anne’s Food Pantry (which is run solely by volunteers from the Knights of Columbus), the Senior Gleaners, and Commission Honorifica are now all loosely connected by such partnerships. Donations which come to St. Anne’s but which could be better utilized by Helping Hands or the Gleaners are diverted to these groups, and the
Gleaners in turn divert goods to St. Anne’s. PACC prepares food baskets each Christmas for those who come in to register and qualify, and what is left over heads to Helping hands or the Pantry.
Both also credit area businesses with stepping up, like local packing houses which, Perrine said, has been providing the pantry with much needed fresh fruit. Other business have come through with food because of nation-wide food drives, and others through monetary assistance. Perrine says that the Feeding America Program has been working well for them, in partnership with SaveMart, and that both SaveMart and Walmart store and distribution center have been a great source of donations in the form of slightly dated, or light damaged products. Perrine said that these sorts of donations provide quality goods to the pantry, because the food contained within a dented can, or a can which has a torn or stained label, is still good, even if it is no longer considered marketable by the business selling it.
Perrine says that he’s started searching for grant programs, and has been able to obtain two from WalMart and the Smart and Final foundation. Grants and monetary donations, he added, are always more than welcome, as he can use these to buy goods in bulk, which can be broken up and distributed out to more people than an individual food donation.