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Second Harvest helps meet nutritional needs of locals
Second Harvest
Starbucks employee Vanessa Altamirano of Stockton hands out ears of corn to families who were lined up for a long time at the Ceres Unified School District property on Lawrence Street Wednesday. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A long line of Ceres residents began forming early Wednesday morning at the Ceres Unified School District property in what is now a routine event – the distribution of free food from Second Harvest Food Bank. A small army of volunteers began setting up after a truck rolled up from Manteca filled with fresh fruit, a variety of lunch meats, vegetables and some boxed foods.

Every other Wednesday at 9 a.m. the mobile distribution site south of Walter White Elementary School provides food stuffs to individuals and families who don’t have to prove need. But if you ask Rudy Valencia, Second Harvest’s director of operations, they wouldn’t be showing up – some as early as 6 a.m. – if they weren’t financially needy.

Starbucks employees from around Manteca and Stockton volunteered their morning to organize and hand out food in a company effort that included presentation of a $150,000 check to Second Harvest to benefit residents of both Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. The donation was a part of the company’s $1.5 million commitment to Feed America mobile food banks.

“I’m from the downtown Starbucks Stockton store and I see a lot of homeless and hungry and the people come into the store and they’re begging for food and I’ll give them food,” said Starbucks employee Vanessa Altamirano of Stockton. “To be able to do it for a wider community just gives me a lot of satisfaction. It’s awesome to be able to fight it and do it with my peers. I want to do it more often. Seeing this line you can’t help but get all teary eyed seeing how many people get a lot out of it.”

An estimated 250 to 300 families were represented in the line. 

Valencia said typical distributions in Ceres are manned by local residents but Starbucks employees – consisting of district managers, store managers and baristas – gave them a break.

Among those were applauding the effort was Edith Narayan, principal of Walter White, who helped connect the district to Second Harvest.

“I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child and if they don’t have food to eat they can’t learn,” said Narayan.

Food distribution does not end for the summer vacation since many of those students come from food insecure households.

“This program is ongoing – it never stops – but the summer push is just because we saw the need of kids not being in school,” said Valencia. “We were gearing this up, it started in about January with Ceres Unified to reach mostly all schools.”

Second Harvest also conducts regular distributions at about 10 Ceres schools during the school year, he said. The CUSD has issued a calendar to direct families to the events.

Valencia said about 90 percent of the food given out at the mobile distribution sites is donated from various manufacturers like General Mills and companies like Amazon and C&S Wholesale that supplies Target with items. He pointed out his organization gleans prepackaged sandwiches and wraps from local Starbucks who won’t sell them past their expiration date. Food is also “rescued” from Costco, Save Marts and Raley’s.

Second Harvest also partners with about 90 different food pantries in the two counties which pick up food in Manteca.

Valencia said Second Harvest is not concerned with residents meeting any income eligibility standards or showing IDs. Time spent ensuring need is demonstrated is better spent in distribution, he noted.

Jay Simmonds, assistant superintendent of CUSD, said he has seen families waiting two hours in the rain to get food at events this past spring.

Second Harvest 2
Employees of Starbucks from San Joaquin County volunteer their morning to drive to Ceres and help Second Harvest Food Bank pass out assortments of foods to those in Ceres who waited in line for up to two hours on Wednesday. - photo by Jeff Benziger