Food Bank helps those who need help

Eve Thompson
Frank Melo, volunteer at the Mt. Shasta Community Food Bank, standing before the bags of food given to families who call for help with groceries.

Five days a week, 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., a small but dedicated group of volunteers provide support for those who need food and clothing.

“I guess I have it in my genes,” laughed Lucille Cook, who works Mondays. “My mother was very active in a variety of charities. And it’s always been important to me that people don’t go hungry.”

“This is an opportunity for me to help those who need help,” said Merle Clure, the “Thursday man.”

“The priest asked me to help out,” said Sandy Meneni, who covers the Mt. Shasta Community Food Bank on Wednesdays.

“There are ten of us who man the pantry five days a week,”?noted Frank Melo, who handles calls for help on Tuesdays. “All a person needs to do is call 926-3061. We advertise on TV and in the paper. Sometimes people go to the Rectory Front door, too. We respond as best we can to the needs.”

The Mt. Shasta Community Food Bank is run by St. Vincent de Paul Society. “We’re separate from the Catholic church, but connected to it,” notes Melo. “I get goose bumpy thinking of all the community support we get.”

He pointed out that 3,414 pounds of food – nearly three and a half tons – were gathered during the May 2010 Postal food drive.

“Tri Counties Bank, the Chamber of Commerce, Coffee Connection, The Ski Park, Mercy Medical Center, TOPs (Take Off Pounds sensibly), Curves, Great Northern – all donate food, tons of food, to help out,” said Melo. “There’s an enormous need in our community and there’s enormous support for those in need. We get nothing from the government. Food and money, it all comes from individuals, other churches and local groups.”

“And it’s at all ages. Last year, catechism classes, and that’s little kids, collected over $600 dollars and went shopping in Ray’s to give us food,” Melo said.

“Last year or the year before, the Boy Scouts were clearing the Pacific Crest Trail,”?said Meneni. “At the end, they donated all their extra food to us. It was packaged and sorted, so it was perfect for the homeless people we help out.”

“One year, someone had a whole beef they couldn’t use so they donated it to us,”?said Barbara Rodriquez, who shares Fridays with Heather Breaux. “Keith at the Super ground it up and packaged it for us, so we could give it away.”

“Most of the people we help are struggling to make it own their own. Something unexpected has happened, and they’ve fallen through the gap. You know, a medical bill. Sometimes when they call, they’ll tell us they bought all their groceries but they can’t pay the rent. We want them to pay the rent. We’ll help with the groceries.”

The Mt. Shasta Community Food Bank has been operating since 1998. However, a little over three years ago, the original group fell apart and all of the money went to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Sacramento.

“Father wanted there to be something local,” said Melo. “So he asked for help. Sandy and I grew up together here. And my wife, Connie, who is the treasurer, said, ‘We ought to do this.’ I thought it would be a kick in the pants. I didn’t realize then the level of need.”

“Since October, we’ve responded to 1,353 calls for help. We get a lot of clients, and we treat them all with the utmost respect.”

Help comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes people need clothes. “We supply winter clothes, gloves. Everything is checked for cleanliness. Nothing is soiled or ripped,” said Melo. Sometimes it’s food. “We give one bag per family. A bag includes cereal, pancake mix and syrup, ground beef and hamburger helper, chicken, mac and cheese, pasta and sauce, a bag of rice, canned fruit and veggies, beans, canned soup, pb and j, bread if we have it. All cans are checked to make sure they’re not outdated.”

“We receive calls for a lot of different things,” observed Rodriguez. “In the beginning we had no guidelines to follow, but little by little we discovered what other community resources were doing and what we could do. We were all inexperienced, and we had no training, so we learned as we went along. Sometimes we give vouchers for medications or to cover the power bill or gas. It’s an individual decision. Mainly we work with people struggling to get on their feet.”

“We’re all volunteers here,” Melo said. “It’s a great service to the community, meeting the needs of those in need. And we’ve become very close.”

“I’ve come to care very deeply about the Food Bank,” Meneni said. “You have to be regularly available, make sure your day is covered so if a call comes in, you can respond. But it’s the most rewarding feeling to help others.”

“You meet all kinds when you’re doing this,” notes Clure. “Some stories are pretty painful. Most of them you feel pretty good about. We can always use more help and more food.  All anyone needs to do is call Kathleen at the Rectory, 926-4477.”