Center accused of discrimination by non-English speakers

Some latinos who seek food assistance at Kennedy Community Center are accusing center staff and the center's manager of disrespectful and discriminatory treatment, including verbal abuse and giving them spoiled food.

The accusations and the responses of Center Director Beverly Foster have erupted publicly at San Joaquín County Board of Supervisors meetings in recent weeks and have triggered an investigation by the county's Human Services Agency.

San Joaquín County government oversees a network of community centers that provide services and distribute 7 million pounds of food a year to people in need.

On Aug. 7, a group said some at the Kennedy Center received favorable treatment and more or better food, while others -- particularly Latinos who speak limited English -- were regularly treated unfairly or with disrespect when lining up and collecting food. Those critics were back on Aug. 14 with more concerns.

The critics and defenders of Kennedy Center staff took turns at the podium in a sometimes racially charged debate.

"Center Director Foster is fair to everyone," longtime volunteer Linda Rhodes said. "What we try to do is give everyone the same thing."

The controversy has been drummed up by "so-called community activists" who don't live near the center in an attack on Foster, said the Rev. Willie Douglas.

It's an attempt to oust Foster, and there's a racial element, too, volunteer Lamont Howard said. "Hispanics think one of them could do a better job."

Foster is black.

It's not about replacing the head of the center with someone of a different race, said Gracie Madrid, who has been critical of Foster. "We want someone who is a people person; ... we don't care what color you put in there."

Foster said that another activist, Rosalinda Galaviz, said at a meeting of the center's advisory board that the center should be headed by a Latino.

Galaviz denies this, saying she only said there needed to be someone at the center who understood Spanish-speakers.

Galaviz said she has strong ties to the neighborhood, where she lived, taught and still owns a rental property. She has been one of the organizers bringing forth complaints of staff or volunteers yelling or flinging food at clients of the center.