It was an exciting morning for Mimi Schuler, who helped to organize the Farmers to Families food box event on Saturday. The event served over 1,800 boxes of fresh oranges, grapefruits, plums and grapes to families in Porterville thanks to RJB Produce Inc. who sponsored the Farmers to Families event and supplied the produce.
Schuler, the Just Serve Specialist for south Tulare County, said that volunteers had been out at Holy Cross Catholic Church since 7 a.m. setting up the boxes and preparing the parking lot for the hundreds of cars that were coming that morning. Schuler partnered with the local Knights of Columbus and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who helped keep the event running smoothly by checking people in, directing traffic and loading boxes into vehicles.
“When Mimi called me she said she had food and she knew that I work at the food bank,” said George Martinez, a member of the local Knights of Columbus and a staff member at St. Anne’s food pantry. “She said they needed a partner because they needed a location and they needed manpower. I brought it up at our meeting and we said yeah, we wanted to help. The knights run the food bank so this falls right into our ministry. So we said yeah we will help, that’s what we're here for. This gives us a chance to work with our mormon and catholic friends. We’re all one.”
Schuler explained that the event was funded by a government program that allotted three billion dollars to farmers whose product was unable to sell due to the pandemic. The money was given to farmers who were then contracted to local food banks, shelters and food giveaways to benefit local communities.
Part of Schuler’s job as a Just Serve Specialist is to post local projects and non-profit events to social media so people can find the resources they need. Schuler reached out to Paul Ruiz, a peer of hers in Visalia who had held a Farmers to Families event before, and she piggybacked with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Visalia to bring more projects to the cities of Tulare, Lindsay and Porterville.
The partnership flourished and Porterville, Lindsay and Tulare were all host to food giveaway events. On Saturday, 3,300 boxes of fresh produce were passed out in those three cities, with 1,858 of those boxes given out in Porterville alone. Visalia also hosted two food giveaways on Saturday.
In order to claim boxes, online signups were implemented. Schuler stated that she had 550 vehicles that were expected to show up on Saturday morning. Schuler said that more people wanted boxes than she expected.
“I’ve had hundreds of calls on my phone,” said Schuler. “I didn’t mind because I was meeting the most incredible people and hearing the most incredible stories. I thought ‘okay, this is so much bigger.’ Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. We had a lot more people calling and asking for boxes than we have boxes here today. We want more than anything that these boxes get to the tables that need it the most.”
Through the government program, Sarah Bailey, the owner, manager and operator, of RJB Produce Inc., was able to provide 29 truckloads of produce for events across California on Saturday morning.
“She has been a rockstar in saturating our community with produce from her.,” siad Schuler
At 11 a.m., the event began and a line of cars was ready to pull forward. The process began with a check-in to see how many boxes of fruit were to be loaded into each car, then the cars would pull forward and their fruit would be loaded into their vehicle for them with no need for the driver or passenger to have to exit the vehicle.
When asked if the Farmers to Families food box giveaway event would occur again, Schuler was hopeful that it would.
“The grant has been extended through September so it would be a wonderful thing to duplicate this again, maybe in September,” said Schuler. “I would personally like to see the Knights do it again, but I’m also looking for other groups that might jump in and work in coordination with the Knights, so that we build these relationships.”
For more information or for news on upcoming events are coming to the community, visit www.justserve.org. Contact information for Mimi Schuler is available through the Just Serve website.