Local News

Monday, May 19 2014 03:51 PM

Food giveaway aims to combat drought-driven hunger

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Nine-year-old Anthony Rodriguez struggles as he helps his mom Destiny Rodriguez with two 30-pound boxes of food items they received from the Community Action Partnership of Kern.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Calvin Butterbedt returns to his van with the box of food given to him by the Community Action Partnership of Kern.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Maureen Andrew, food sourcer for the Community Action Partnership of Kern.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    George Alexander, driver for the Community Action Partnership of Kern, waits with a load of 30-pound boxes of non-perishable food items that was distributed at the offices of Catholic Charities on Chester Avenue. At left is Kodi Harmon of Catholic Charities and volunteer Juliet Coronado, center.

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  5. 5 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Staff and volunteers of Community Action Partnership of Kern and Catholic Charities worked together to distribute boxes of non-perishable food items for those in need. Each box weighed 30 pounds and contained items such as beans, rice and canned goods,

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

People shouldered the 30-pound boxes, piled them on strollers, balanced them on bikes or borrowed cars to come and pick them up.

Food is heavy.

This past Saturday, Community Action Partnership of Kern parked a truck with 600 boxes of food behind Catholic Charities offices on Chester Avenue, set up a folding table and started handing the cubes to those in need.

By the end of June, CAPK hopes to put 925,620 pounds of beans, rice, vegetable soup, canned fruit and spaghetti into the hands of people who have been affected by California's crippling drought.

Each Drought Food Assistance Program box, delivered though the California Department of Social Services, has enough staple foods to provide a family of four with meals for five days.

Kern County has 30,854 to give away.

Sherry Kidwell, who is on Social Security disability, picked up a box early Saturday morning and cracked it open to see what she had to work with.

She'd have liked some canned meat. But the rice, beans and pasta are all great.

"I can make a meal out of that can last three or four nights -- or more if I can freeze it," she said.

Her son, she said, works in agriculture supply and grows almonds.

"My son thinks they're going to lose a third of their almonds this year," she said.

Many of the families that came to pick up boxes Saturday hadn't had a hardship tied directly to drought conditions. But all that is required is to sign a form attesting that the family has been impacted by the drought

Stacey Phillips and Aaron Michaels got a box and said it will make a difference for their family of five.

They just moved to Bakersfield from Texas, thinking they had jobs lined up here. But the jobs fell through and they are left to hunt for work.

Phillips is a veterinary technician with a college degree but the jobs are tight.

Maureen Andrew is a food sourcer for Community Action Partnership. Her job is to convince farmers to donate food and get the food to families.

Being married to a farmer helps, she said.

Andrew said that everyone -- whether they work in ag or not -- is impacted by the lack of water.

"Farmers are saying, 'I've got water through July,'" she said.

But after that, production drops, work dries up and growers have to make hard choices about their permanent crops.

That means an economic downturn for Kern, Andrew said. Everyone feels that.

The goal of the CAPK program and the Food Assistant boxes is to help families get the good, healthy food they need to keep going.

"No one should go hungry," Andrew said.

When Saturday's two-hour food handout ended, fewer than 200 of the 600 boxes on pallets in the back of the truck had been distributed.

But Ken White, the food bank manager for Community Action Partnership, said handouts across Kern County will continue until all of the food is distributed to those in need.

He said 800 boxes were handed out in Arvin Monday night, 600 went out in Shafter on Tuesday and 250 in Tehachapi Wednesday.

People who need a hand can call the CAPK information line at 211 and learn where the next delivery near them will be.

Families can take one box for every four members.

White said the need is great here.

Kern County's high rate of unemployment or under-employment has given it the dubious distinction of being the second most drought-impacted county in California behind Fresno, White said.

And that means people in one of the most fertile parts of the nation have trouble putting food on the table.

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