Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Fulisha Oscar and her son, Nathanial Salinas volunteer to help distribute 400 food boxes to the community for the Madera County Food Bank on Wednesday at the fairgrounds.
Even with the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, the Madera County Food Bank keeps moving along, serving the residents of Madera County.
“In the past two weeks, the food bank has given away about 12,000 boxes of food that weigh about 300,000 pounds. In an average month, the food bank gives away 8,000 boxes and 250,000 pounds of food, which is quite a bit for a smaller food bank like ours,” said Ryan McWherter, Madera County Food Bank director.
“It’s been pretty hectic,” McWherter said. “We’ve seen an influx of calls every day. Our phones are ringing off the hook from 9 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m. and slowing until we close at 4:30 p.m. We have our pantry programs every day that we’ve distributed to over the years. The last three weeks, we’ve done extra distributions here at the food bank. We’ve had to do 60-100 extra boxes. We’re doing extra distributions. We helped with one at Chukchansi. We did one for 400 boxes of food at the fairgrounds and we did 350 boxes at Cornerstone Church in Chowchilla today.”
In addition to the extra distribution, the food bank also takes care of more than 100 residents each day with a daily distribution.
“We’re being really careful,” McWherter said. “Everything is drive-through only. They are showing us the ID, they pop open their trunk and we put their box in and they drive away. Our daily boxes are about 100 here. Our regular pantries are stepping up. They are taking extra boxes to help take away some of our traffic.”
With a staff of six, what is usually a slower month of March turned into Christmas season all over again for the food bank.
“What we would do for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are doing every other week,” McWherter said. “We worked day-by-day when the pandemic first started, but then got ahead. We’ve been getting our same donations from the same people. People are definitely stepping up with donations.”
Just Wednesday, Sunrise Rotary donated $5,000 to the food bank to help with their needs, and McWherter expects another donation next week.
“The monetary donations coming in are going to help us with our bills, gas, maintain our vehicles and cover some of the program costs,” McWherter said. “We need it. The money coming in will purchase food and also pay our bills. We got a grant for $10,000 to spend on food.”
Also, the monetary donations help the food bank purchase food, which they can buy at a much lower rate than other businesses.
“Those monetary donations are so important to keep doing what we are doing,” McWherter said. “It helps us utilize to buy more food to give out to the community.”
In addition to what they did on a daily basis, McWherter and his team distributed 750 this week more commodity boxes to Madera County residents.
“Our commodity box is rice, beans, pasta, spaghetti sauce or some kind of tomato sauce, fruits, canned vegetables, juice concentrate, nuts and peanut butter,” he said. “Sometimes, we supplement that with fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries and meat. Right now, we’ve been a little low on pastries because they have been selling them at the stores.”
With the pandemic sweeping the world, McWherter and his teams show no signs of slowing down, much to the delight of residents who take advantage of what the food bank has to offer.
“We know we are on the front lines,” he said. “We are in a situation where we can”t stay home. We have to be here. We are taking all the necessary precautions. We are wearing gloves, wearing masks in everything we do. We know we have to be here for the people that are in need. There is nobody else that is going to do it. We are the resource for the whole county. We take care of everyone in Madera County.
“Our offices have been closed for three weeks. We are encouraging people to call in to get an emergency food box or learn about our programs that they haven’t received from us before. This might be a thing where they have to use us for a few months.”
When the pandemic first started, McWherter’s team started distribution quickly, but has now settled into a routine.
“We worked day-by-day when the pandemic first started, but then got ahead,” he said. “We’ve been getting our same donations from the same people. People are definitely stepping up with donations. We just gave out 350 boxes in Chowchilla. Now, we are going to have to prepare at the end of the month to do the same thing in Chowchilla, plus the commodity boxes we take out there in three locations. We send out boxes to Raymond, Coarsegold and Oakhurst. On the week of the 20th, we are already going to be setting up for a distribution in the mountains so we are getting a little ahead now. Before, it was kind of hard because we didn’t know where it would take us.”
The food bank is also taking care of the county’s senior citizens by also hosting drive-through distributions.
“Because our senior centers are closed, we let the seniors know they are a priority,” said Michelle Ruiz, Madera County Food Bank operations manager. “We take care of them here so they don’t go without food. The third Wednesday of each month, they come here to get their bags.”
McWherter and his team is still around to help the residents of Madera County and is also grateful for any donations that may come his way.
“People are realizing what is going on,” he said. “Every bit of the money we get can’t all be for food. Some of the money has to go towards bills and maintenance.”
For information or to donate to the Madera County Food Bank, visit their website (maderafoodbank.com) or call 674-1482.