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Ventura County

Volunteers' Time Is Asset to Food Bank

June 06, 2002|SUZIE ST. JOHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the course of 13 years as a volunteer at Food Share, Mary Page figures she has sorted more than 5 million canned goods. So it was only fitting she was crowned the "Queen of Cans" at the first Food Sorting Relay on Wednesday at the Oxnard warehouse operated by Ventura County's food bank.

Page joined more than 100 volunteers from local businesses, colleges and churches in boxing 55,000 pounds of food collected last month by postal carriers in Oxnard and Ventura during their annual food drive.

"What I find is that people who have the least give more because they've been there before," said Simi Valley letter carrier Sandy Gaunce, who has served as the food-drive coordinator the past five years. "But this year I think Sept. 11 played a big part, because people wanted to find a way to help others and with this they know exactly where their help is going."

Gaunce said the group of post offices stretching from Ojai to North Hollywood collected 420,000 pounds of food this year.

Page and her royal court of volunteers have spent the past two weeks sorting through the collected food to make sure nothing was broken, damaged or beyond the expiration date.

"I know we are helping people less fortunate than us and we want to make sure the food is safe," said the Camarillo resident, who will celebrate her 80th birthday Monday. "I may have a sore back sometimes, but when I'm not here I sure miss it. There is a lot of camaraderie, and we have fun."

In addition to representatives from local businesses such as Red Lobster and Wells Fargo, county Supervisor Steve Bennett and members of his office staff were among the first to box the food that will help feed 100,000 county residents this year through a network of more than 200 charities.

Groups of 25 at a time congregated around bins filled with canned and boxed goods. Three assembly lines were set up to take food items from the bins and place them into cardboard boxes, which were then taped and stacked on pallets.

"In my first year [in office] I tried to tour as many local organizations as I could, and I was so impressed by Food Share," Bennett said. "When they put out this call to action for volunteers, I felt like we had to help. This is such a volunteer-dominated organization, and they really need another wave of people to start volunteering.

"Ideally it will be the baby boomers that are getting ready to retire." The relay was part of a series of events held across the country in support of National Hunger Awareness Day, born out of a call for an additional 365 million pounds of food to combat hunger in America. It is estimated Ventura County's share of that need is 4 million pounds.

While food is the top component needed for Food Share to operate, it also requires volunteers to not only sort the food but pick it up and deliver it, work in the office and glean the fields of participating local growers.

"Volunteers are a key part of our program," Food Share President Jim Mangis said. "They enable us to do what we need to do. Our dilemma is that not only is the need growing for more food, but our long-term dedicated volunteers are now in their 70s, 80s and 90s. So they can't do the same physical work they used to do."

Mangis said he hopes the relay will help plant the seeds of volunteering in younger people.

After her volunteer shift was up, Alex Mooney of Ventura decided to donate more time.

"I think it's good for our kids to see us leading by example, so I signed us all up as family volunteers on Saturdays," said Mooney, a Web site designer. "I just love participating, and it's a great workout. I did a lot more bending at the waist than I do sitting at a computer all day."

Anyone interested in volunteering can call 983-7100, Ext. 43. Food Share's collection and sorting operation is open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, and every third Saturday.

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