State - INACTIVE

Modesto lunch truck helpers deliver loaves and wishes

No one in Modesto likely serves lunch to more people than Glenda Price and Liz Silveira.

They feed the working poor, the disabled, seniors on limited incomes, the homeless, winos and drug addicts, and those who've lost their jobs.

The two women drive a United Samaritans Foundation lunch truck Monday through Friday on a nearly 15-mile route through the city, delivering free meals at six parks and one subdivision.

The route takes them through working-class and poor neighborhoods south of Yosemite Boulevard and in west Modesto.

As the truck pulls up to a park, people line up for lunch. On Wednesday, it was elbow macaroni with gravy and bits of turkey, canned green beans or corn, a roll and a doughnut or pastry. People also got a loaf of bread or bag of rolls.

Lutie Larsson, 45, said she has been a regular at the Mono Park stop since she lost her job at Taco Bell several weeks ago.

"We're trying to make ends meet," Larsson said as she and daughter Jessica Gonzales, 21, ate lunch at a picnic table. "Rent is due on the first."

Julie Rand, 72, said she relies on the free lunches to help her stretch her monthly disability check of $900.

"It's important that I can come here and get food when I'm hungry," said Rand while eating at César Chávez Park, the lunch wagon's fifth stop Wednesday. "I've got to pay my rent, my food, my insurance. At the end of the month ..."

Price, Silveira and volunteer Doamel Aguirre served 521 meals Wednesday, including 21 bag lunches at The Salvation Army shelter for the homeless who pick up their mail there.

About a third of those fed Wednesday were children.

"It's good," said 7-year-old Oswaldo Garcia as he ate lunch huddled in a group with brother Juan, 9, and friends Jose Nunez, 7, and Uriel Suarez, 10, at Marshall Park.

Except Oswaldo wasn't too pleased with his slice of what looked like banana nut bread for dessert. "I want a doughnut," he said eyeing a friend's plate that had a chocolate-covered doughnut.

Price and Silveira served more than 113,000 lunches in 2009. They prepare the food in the kitchen at St. Stanislaus Parish School. They also hand out birthday cakes donated by local grocers when someone is having a birthday.

Four trucks serve area

The Modesto lunch truck is one of four that Turlock-based United Samaritans Foundation operates. The others serve Turlock, Keyes, Ceres, Hughson, Waterford, Denair, Hickman and Empire.

The trucks served about 354,000 lunches through November, which is about 70,000 fewer than for all of 2008.

Demand has not dropped, said Maris Sturtevant, United Samaritan's chief operating manager. She said the trucks each were off the road eight to 10 days in 2009 for repairs, leaving fewer days to serve lunch.

United Samaritans has a fifth truck it once used as replacement when one of the four was being fixed. But that stopped last year.

"It can't pass the environ- mental inspection," Sturtevant said. "It's a 1985. It's had a lot of use."

Price and Silveira are longtime employees of United Samaritans. Price has worked for the nonprofit for 11 years, Silveira nearly five. They learn about the lives of the people they feed. Many are regulars and tell them their troubles and their hopes.

"You see these people every day," said Silveira, United Samaritans' Modesto kitchen supervisor. "You talk to them, you feed them."

Price, the Modesto site manager, joked that sometimes people give them "too much information." She said it's not unusual for the people they feed to ask for a blessing. "A lot of the time people ask you to pray for them because we're a Christian ministry."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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