Giving away food a life's calling for Merced couple

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 3, 2012 

— Floyd Roland didn't allow the morning rain to stop him from feeding the hungry -- a mission that's been his life's work for the past 30 years.

"I know people think I'm nuts, but I just want to help people out there that are hungry," the 84-year-old Roland said, with a humble smile.

As Friday's downpour pattered furiously against the 4,500-square-foot warehouse Roland built on his own, he was joined by his wife, Ione, and three faithful volunteers.

Together, the team unpacked pallets of food -- everything from rice to beans to canned goods -- to be distributed to needy families in Merced.

Although his nonprofit, called Harvest Time, started out small, today it's meeting some very big needs.

Last year alone, the organization handed out 379,000 pounds of food to those in need. Put another way, they fed about 5,181 families through food boxes.

It began 67 years ago when Roland was 17 years old.

He fell madly in love with his next-door neighbor, Ione, who was 13 years old at the time. "I'm going to date you someday," he told her.

The couple eventually eloped and spent the next 65 years in marital bliss.

At age 43, Ione found her calling in food ministry while living in San Jose and began volunteering to feed the hungry.

She and her husband devoted the next three decades -- 37 years for her and 30 years for him -- volunteering their time and personal resources.

"It makes me real happy to see people who come with little children and know they have something to eat," Ione said. "I have a soft spot for the children."

Donations from stores

A move to Merced, three children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren later -- the couple haven't slowed down.

After retiring from a successful painting and drywall business in San Jose and moving to Merced 22 years ago, Roland asked God how he could continue feeding the poor.

"I prayed about it, saying to God, 'If you'll furnish the food, I'll furnish the gas and truck to pick it up,' " Roland said. It didn't take long for Roland to get the answer he was looking for.

Listening to his heart, he began Harvest Time, and approached supermarkets such as Safeway, Save Mart and Rancho San Miguel for donations, while purchasing many foods himself.

"We've never run out of food," he said, remembering the prayer almost a lifetime ago.

Without pay, Roland uses his truck to pick up the food from the supermarkets each morning, transporting it to the warehouse six days a week -- rain or shine.

Roland also used his own resources to build a 4,500-square-foot warehouse in a vacant lot behind the Calvary Assembly of God church to store the food and supplies.

He donated the warehouse to the church.

The Harvest Time volunteers assemble food in the warehouse and hand it out to homeless people in Merced parks three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

On the third and fourth Thursday of each month, they distribute more than 300 food boxes to families who begin lining up at 6 a.m.

This Thanksgiving, they handed out 623 boxes and expect at least 500 families to register for Christmas meals Dec. 20. But the organization needs 400 turkeys for Christmas this year, and has received about 100 so far. People can donate turkeys by dropping them off at the church, at 1021 R St. in Merced.

Relatives and friends have told the couple to slow down, enjoy retirement or just take a vacation. But they're moving full-steam ahead.

"I tell them, 'God called me into this ministry, and he never told me to quit,' " Roland said, with his wife by his side.

Ione added, "As long as we have our health."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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