OXNARD — Used to building roads and bridges in foreign lands, the Seabees took on a task a lot closer to home Wednesday when they visited schools in Oxnard and picked up donated food for hungry families.
Jeff Ellenburg, 29, and Robert Jones, 37, are part of a county Food Share operation aimed at collecting 100,000 pounds of food and an additional 2,000 turkeys, which will be distributed to about 3,000 families through service organizations such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.
Most of the time, the two men, who are stationed at Port Hueneme's Naval Construction Battalion Center, went about their tasks with the same kind of quiet anonymity with which their colleagues build housing in Kosovo. But when students spotted them, they caused a stir.
"Check out the Army man!" shouted one boy among a group of McAuliffe Elementary School students who eagerly watched Ellenburg, donned in battle fatigues, as he scooped up barrels of food.
"Kids are impressed with people in uniform," said Isabel Nava, an office manager at Sierra Linda Elementary. "They know they're people who help the community."
At Rio Lindo Elementary School, the pair were called to the stage and applauded at the beginning of an awards assembly. But, at most schools, there was little fanfare, which was just fine.
"I just do it to help the other families that need it," said Jones, who volunteered with Ellenburg to pick up the food. "There are a lot of people out there that are going hungry every day."
It means a lot, however, to Food Share. "Whenever we have a need, they're available," said Jim Mangis, Food Share's executive director. "They've always come through."
The Seabees have participated in the food drive for at least three years, said Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Murphy, a senior enlisted advisor for the 31st Naval Construction Regiment at Port Hueneme.
Needy military families at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu also benefit from food bank donations, he said.
"It's great work that needs to be done," Murphy said.
"The group of people needing food assistance has changed over the last few years," Mangis said. "More and more it's folks that have some income . . . but it's so expensive to live that their salary isn't enough to support a family."
Food donations in the past have topped off at about 75,000 pounds, said Mangis.
This year, organizers raised the goal. When the food drive wraps up next week, a local grocery store will donate a semitruck load of food to the organization. That should help the group reach its target, Mangis said.
"I think we're going to make it," he said.
A local Realtors' association will provide the Oxnard schools with pizza and ice cream parties, as well as library donations to the classrooms and schools that donated the most food.
Food Share will continue the food drive through Wednesday. To donate food, call 983-7100.