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Group to Send Food to Tulare

Feed the Children is making plans to help the impoverished Central Valley community.

June 02, 2003|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

The nonprofit Christian organization Feed the Children is planning food deliveries to the Central Valley's Tulare County after learning about the grinding poverty that is leaving many people in the rural area hungry.

The Oklahoma-based group, known for fund-raising television commercials that dramatically depict need around the world, sent a representative to the struggling agricultural county last month to assess the problem. Local church and community leaders took the project manager, Sean Jobe, to visit families living in lean-tos and trailers, many with no plumbing or electricity.

The organization learned about Tulare County's poverty from an April article in The Times. Feed the Children plans to send a film crew to Tulare County in July and has told community leaders that it hopes to start food shipments shortly thereafter, said Robert Shipman, Tulare County's executive director for Love in the Name of Christ, a nondenominational Christian group that will serve as a conduit for the aid.

Shipman's group began receiving some shipments from Feed the Children earlier this year, hauling the goods to the Central Valley from a warehouse in the City of Industry. After reading about the situation in The Times, Feed the Children contacted Shipman to offer direct aid. The Times story described the challenges of welfare reform in some of the state's poorest rural pockets. Tulare County was featured, along with remote Trinity County in the state's onetime timber belt.

About a fourth of Tulare County's population lives in poverty -- the highest rate in the state -- and hunger is endemic. A UCLA study released last fall showed that 41% of poor adults there struggle to put food on the table -- a higher ratio than in any other county.

FoodLink, a nonprofit food bank that serves Tulare and Kings counties, distributes 6.5 million pounds of food annually. But the strained charity system cannot keep pace with the need.

Many children depend on free school breakfasts and lunches -- a fix that falls short.

"We're going into summertime when kids are going to be out of school," said JoAnn Stefanos, coordinator of Healthy Start in the farm community of Earlimart. "They need to be fed."

Stefanos was among those contacted by Feed the Children, as was Susan Henard, who heads the compassion ministry for the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Tulare.

Her church food program concentrates on dinners during the school year, then switches to breakfast and lunch in the summer, skimping on dinners. It can provide milk for only five days a week. Henard took Jobe to several neighborhoods on the outskirts of Tulare where families live in makeshift shacks with no plumbing -- and even no power. Some are on welfare but their aid doesn't stretch far enough. Others are undocumented field laborers who are not eligible for government aid.

They also visited a cluster of oleander bushes that has recently become home to about 60 men and women.

"The needs are so great, we can't do it all," said Henard, who has been asked by Feed the Children to select 30 families to be interviewed by the film crew that will produce a fund-raising piece.

"Their goal is to eventually send food every other month," Henard said.

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