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Striving For a Meal, Part 2
Services find it difficult to keep up
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part look at hunger in Porterville.
Hunger was a problem even before the economic downtown, those who assist those in need say.
“We are seeing some increase, perhaps more often than what we’ve seen earlier in the year, of homeless individuals who seem to have become recently homeless,” said Jim Perrine, who along with other volunteers from the Knights of Columbus, runs and mans the St. Ann’s Food Pantry.
When asked, those who volunteer or work for various agencies, like Perrine, Elva Beltran of Porterville Area Coordinating Council, or Lupe Diaz, who works for the City of Porterville and who is coordinating the Porterville Project Homeless Connect, can tell you that hunger inPorterville isn’t necessarily a new problem.
Beltran, who has worked in this field for 15 years, says that she and others have worked to provide for families before the economic downturn five years ago. However, the current economic situation has greatly exacerbated the problem.
“This is happening with a lot of families,” Diaz said. “People work and make enough to pay bills, but not buy food.”
Diaz said that if the goal is providing three hot meals a day to people, there is just so much agencies can do.
“It is very difficult to provide three meals a day for a person that is homeless. We have the Helping Hands Soup kitchen, they can go there once a day for a hot meal. That is one way they are getting served, but that particular place it is not just for the homeless, it’s for the needy,” Diaz said. “The ministry that we do on Saturdays... provide meals for the homeless.
Sometimes it is a hot meal, sometimes a sack lunch, but they do have that to see themselves through the weekend, because there isn’t anyplace open Saturday or Sunday.”
The meal ministry, Diaz explained, was started as a coalition of three churches in town, which got together to extend help to the hungry during the weekend, when other avenues would be closed off. It has grown to seven churches serving, as best they can, hot meals each Saturday out of the parking lot of the First Assembly of God at Plano Avenue and B Street.
Diaz says the churches try to pray for and give hope to the people they serve, while also providing clothing, shoes, toiletries and anything else they can.
“We do our best to provide for every need,” Diaz said.
Feeding a hungry homeless population is very different, both Perrine and Diaz pointed out, and Diaz said that helping Porterville’s transient population has given her a new perspective on the needs of a person who does not have access to any sort of shelter.
“We do try to think about that on our Saturday ministry,” Diaz saidabout the way in which she and other volunteers have adapted to meet the needs of those they serve meals to. “We will have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they can take with them for an evening or next day meal, and easy-to-open cans. The things we don’t even think about, I have learned so much while working with the Saturday ministry. Eventually we would like to provide meals on Sundays as well. So if other churches joined us, that would be wonderful.”
Perrine says that St. Anne’s has likewise developed a system to tailor their food packages to the needs of the person or family receiving them, depending on their housing situation. Some, Perrine continued, who have access to refrigeration and an area to cook because they are living with or camped near friend’s homes, are given a different mix of goods than others who do not have a place to keep perishable items, or access to a kitchen. Care packages for those without a way to store goods come with easy-open canned goods, jar goods like peanut butter, dry box goods and fresh fruit. The problem affects different demographics, including families with young children.
“What breaks my heart,” Diaz said, “is there is a particular family that comes every Saturday. They have eight kids.”
With so many mouths to feed, Diaz says that any sort of item passed along to a family like this can help keep them from going hungry. After all, if clothing and shoes can be provided to a family, any money that would normally be spent to supply those items can go toward feeding the family. As the issue has so many interconnected parts, events like Project Homeless Connect can be very effective, not simply by providing food baskets, but by providing people a one-stop opportunity to connect with governmental agencies in the area which can help with food, housing and unemployment.
“With project homeless, we don’t have food boxes there on that day,” Diaz said. “We have the agencies that may be able to help an individual get all these benefits: We have Health and Human Services, CSET and Proteus, and so an individual doesn’t have to travel all over the place to talk to these groups.”
Project Homeless also brings in professionals who can help this population with dentistry, optometry, mental health screenings and brief medical screenings by nurses, as well as flu shots from the County, all available for free to those who would otherwise be unable to afford these services. Diaz also said that people do not necessarily have to be homeless.
Diaz said that the 2011 event was attended by 400.It is hosted by the Continuum of Care, a national organization which helps by gathering information on the less to provide information that can be used for service resources and advocacy efforts. The organization takes a yearly count, called a “Point in Time” which documents the problem in individual service areas. The 2011 report says that county-wide, 804 people were homeless.
Thirty-nine people comprised homeless families with children which were living completely unsheltered, and 67 people were identified as “chronically homeless.” Continuum of Care is one of the agencies supported with funding through the Housing and Urban Development Homeless Resource Exchange.
While a 2012 Point in Time has been created, it is not yet available on the HUD HRE website. Continuum of Care members can receive a report on the 2012 PiT by becoming a member of the organization.
Diaz says the PHC is still seeking donations, especially of used backpacks and sleeping bags, as long as they are gently used and bicycles, which do not need to be in optimal repair as Genesis Bike Shop in Porterville will be donating time to fix-up any bikes. Donations of clothing, especially jackets and shoes, are always welcome.
Both Perrine and Beltran, however, say that food donations are always welcome, as are monetary donations. Beltran is gearing up for the PACC Christmas Basket Event, which will begin it’s pre-registration on Nov. 5, and anyone wishing to donate food can drop it by the PACC office at 368 E. Date Street. Project Homeless Connect is scheduled for Nov. 1 at the First Assembly of God Church, 105 E. Olive Ave.