Merced County Food Bank receives donations for programs

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comMay 21, 2014 

The Merced County Food Bank has recently received donations that will help its programs move forward.

Last month, the food bank received two $10,000 grants, one from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and one from American AgCredit. The food bank also received a $5,000 grant from Yosemite Farm Credit.

According to the food bank’s executive director, Bernadette Mello, the funding received from PG&E will go toward the nonprofit’s Senior Brown Bag program, which provides groceries for about 1,250 seniors in need.

Mello explained that some of the grant money will be used to purchase 5,000 reusable grocery bags. These are part of the food bank’s efforts to go green, and will replace the need for brown paper bags that cost about $230 a month.

The brown bags, which are distributed twice a month in 18 different locations, are filled with whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables and dairy products.

The grants received from American AgCredit and Yosemite Farm Credit are specifically for drought relief efforts. Mello explained that in times of severe drought, the need to alleviate hunger in farm communities is greater. This funding will help increase food security for farmworkers, she said.

Vice President and branch manager at American AgCredit, Stephen Moitozo, said the donation to the Merced County Food Bank is one of several made to the farm communities in the state.

“We’re agricultural lenders, and we see the effects that the drought is having in our communities,” he said. “We’re just trying to do our part as a good corporate citizen.”

The food bank procures and supplies food pantries throughout Merced and Mariposa counties. Last year, it distributed 4.2 million pounds of food.

In addition to the Senior Brown Bag, the food bank runs the Agency Clearinghouse Program, a network of 126 Merced County nonprofit agencies that rely on the Food Bank to provide food assistance to the elderly, the chronically ill, the homeless, the unemployed and the working poor.

The food bank also hosts the Emergency Food Assistance Program, in which food is distributed monthly to about 2,598 families in parking lots at area churches and community buildings.

The food bank also receives donations and gets volunteers from other area organizations and companies such as the Central California Alliance for Health, Pick-n-Pull, Save Mart and UC Merced.

Mello said she had no idea how many people she would be reaching and the impact she would have on the community when she first began working for the food bank in February of last year.

“One thing I wanted to bring to the food bank when I started was education, especially during the economic times that we’re in,” Mello said. “There is no shame in asking for help. I don’t want people to go two days without food before they’re asking for help. There are plenty of food resources in Merced County; we need to get the community educated, and we need to help them.”

Mello, who works with a staff of eight, said the goal for the food bank is simple: meet people’s basic needs.

“Nothing else can happen if our basic needs aren’t met,” she said, “and that includes education; our children cannot concentrate in school if their stomach is grumbling.”

Mello explained that many residents have to choose between medication and food. “That’s not OK,” she said. “People should not be forced to make that choice.”

The food bank is always accepting donations. Mello said some of the most requested items are cereals, peanut butter, canned tuna, canned vegetables and pasta.

The food bank will be accepting canned goods at the Merced County Fair. The donation of two cans of food will grant a free admission to the auto races.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.

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