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THE REGION | TIMES HOLIDAY FUND

In 24 Years, Food Program Grows to Feed Thousands of Needy Citizens

October 31, 2002|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

They were talking about all the food that went to waste in the fields of Ventura County. There were seven of them, sitting in a garage, thinking how great it would be if they could get some of that food and give it to the homeless.

That was 24 years ago, and it was the start of the largest food bank in Ventura County -- an operation that now distributes $10 million worth of food a year to thousands of citizens, with a special emphasis on children.

Jewel Pedi remembers that day. She and the others decided to take matters into their own hands, and hit the farmlands to glean whatever they could from the fields to pass along to the needy. They came back with a few boxes of cabbage.

"That was the start," she said last week, sitting in one of the offices of the huge Oxnard warehouse that is now the storage center for the thousands of pounds of food distributed daily by Food Share Inc.

"Within two months, we had 75 gleaners," she said. After two years, the group moved into an old fire station, "and we were distributing up to about 5,000 pounds of food a week."

Pedi ran the organization for the next 15 years. Today, it serves 320,000 meals a month to more than 38,000 people. A force of 500 volunteers gleans the waste from the county's fields and helps with warehouse operations. James Mangis is president; Pedi is the program director.

A program called Kids Cafe brings a special passion to Pedi's tone. "If you have an empty stomach, you cannot study," she said.

Kids Cafe serves about 3,000 children every week. "About half our Kids Cafes have kitchens that can serve hot meals in the afternoon during the school year and breakfast and dinner during summer. The others have microwaves and blenders for things like pizza and tacos and smoothies."

"But there are a lot more kids who need this," she added. "We should probably be doing double what we are doing now."

Mangis said Food Share's resources are limited: "We are maxed out."

This holiday season, The Times is highlighting programs and organizations that serve needy youths and families in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties as part of its effort to raise money for worthy causes. Food Share received $15,000 from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.

The campaign was established in 2000 and is run by the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The foundation will match the first $700,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar. The foundation and The Times will absorb all administrative costs.

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HOW TO GIVE

Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign. All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times unless the donor requests otherwise. Acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed for donations received after Dec. 18. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.

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