BARSTOW DeVrice Valentine was the first of about six people who came to pick up a bag of groceries from Desert Manna Ministries Monday.

Valentine has picked up commodities food provided to low income residents through the United States Department of Agriculture for about 10 years, she said. But after hearing that the program may be cut due to a potential reduction in its budget next fiscal year, Valentine was worried.

"If (a cut) does happen a lot of people would go hungry," she said. "We've already had a lot of cuts."

The food commodities program could face a cut of about $26 million once congressional lawmakers pass a budget for the 2012 fiscal year, according to Marlene Merrill, spokesperson for Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino County. Another federal program that provides energy assistance to low income families may be cut by $390 million nationwide. The 2012 federal fiscal year begins in October.

Community Action Partnership distributes commodities to 200 food banks and soup kitchens countywide, including Desert Manna, Merrill said. It also distributes energy assistance funds to 25,000 low income individuals countywide.

"There's been a lot of efforts on our parts and our friends in Congress and our different affiliated agencies to try and stop (these cuts) from happening," Merrill said. She added that Community Action Partnership receives private donations of food and funding. "We (won't) close up shop, we'll just have to significantly pare down operations and try to find other sources of income," she said.

A cut to the commodities program would affect 700 families in Barstow, said Sheri Randolph, Desert Manna's executive director. About 50 households a month in Barstow also receive assistance in paying for their energy bills.

Randolph said there has been a major increase in the demand for food and a decrease in federal, state and county funding. To combat the increase in demand, Desert Manna will be conducting its Stamp Out Hunger food drive in May.

"It's going to get bad," she said. "For the last two years the demand has been so great. They're estimating that one in five people in California doesn't have enough food."

Commodities distribution at Desert Manna starts the first Thursday of the month and runs through the third Thursday of the month.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com