Groups work to feed less fortunate

FRESNO -- In the San Joaquín Valley, which is often considered the "breadbasket" of the country, there are thousands of people who can't afford to buy food.

And in the Fresno Unified School District, nearly one out of every two children goes to school hungry.

"Even in a community like ours, there can be hunger," said Sarah Reyes, chief of staff for Assemblymember Juan Arámbula, D-Fresno. But fortunately, she said, there are "organizations working diligently to improve these statistics."

Reyes served as moderator of a discussion on food shortages held last Friday morning at California State University, Fresno.

During the workshop, which was sponsored by the organization Common Threads, representatives from local food banks and food distribution programs described their efforts and suggested ways for other people to help fight hunger in the community.

Jim Bates, chief financial officer of Fowler Packing Company, said it was painful to know that 20 percent to 45 percent of his company's tree fruit would be dumped because it was too small, too large, or slightly discolored, especially when there is so much hunger and poverty in the region.

So Bates said he joined up with the "Food to Family" program, which allows him to identify produce that is unmarketable -- but still "certainly is edible, healthy, and nutritious" -- and donate it to the Community Food Bank.

Those tree fruit and citrus fruit donations are very welcome at the Community Food Bank, which is now serving about 70,000 people each week, according to Dayatra Latin, director of operations for the local food bank.

The food bank reaches those people with the help of 160 agencies, including the Bulldog Pantry, a food distribution site organized by Fresno State students.

The Bulldog Pantry began handing out groceries in November 2007, and is now serving about 180 families each week, according to Celeste Pilegard, a sophomore at Fresno State.

At the end of the discussion, Reyes and the panel participants urged people to do their part to end hunger in the San Joaquín Valley.

Latin encouraged people to donate money and products to the food banks. With one dollar, she said, the food bank can purchase $8 of food, allowing the organization to provide families with healthy diet staples.

"If you have it, call us and we'll make it work for folks," she said.

"It just takes one person to commit to help," Reyes said. "If not you, then who? It really does take one person."