BARSTOW • The U.S. Department of Agriculture surplus food commodities program is helping hundreds in the Barstow community and surrounding areas get enough to eat.
In line at the First Congregational UCC Church, food distribution occurs for about five days once a month and offers canned goods, bread and, when available, frozen meat to low-income families and individuals.
"You run out of food, you don't get food stamps and you're on a fixed income. How are you going to make it? After you pay your bills? It's impossible," food recipient Janet Register said.
According to the City of Barstow, about 21 percent of the community lives below the poverty level, which is the main qualifying factor to receive food.
Jeannine Fikstad, the food coordinator, sat at a desk with a stack of names of program recipients. She greets each one by taking their information and making sure they have their identification cards as they come in.
"Hundreds. It changes every month. You can't put a figure on it," she said.
She said the increasing need for food assistance isn't exclusive to Barstow.
"It's everywhere in the United States right now. Food prices and gas prices have gone up. We need to give a little help where we can and fortunately they're able to come in."
Sherri Randolph, executive director of Desert Manna, said the food program is their largest.
"We definitely serve triple the amount of people with our food program than our shelter and other services," Randolph said. "These are seniors, vets, local families, people with jobs and retirees."
According to Randolph, the organization is in the process of becoming an official food bank because already they help deliver food to other service organizations in the community. Right now Desert Manna delievers food to the Senior Centers of Barstow, Yermo and Daggett, New Life Fellowship Church and St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
"We have secured at least a couple hundred thousand dollars in various foods whether it's the military or other sources and have redistributed that to other nonprofits in the community. So we have become a primary supplier," Desert Manna Board President Darrin Fikstad said.
Although, the USDA Food commodities program is headed by the San Bernardino County Community Action Partnership. Desert Manna collects food from them each month by the truckload. According to Randolph, Fidelity Moving Company donates a semi-truck trailer and driver every month for the pick-up.
Volunteers are another significant contributor to the program she said. The shelter relies on them to help unload the truck each month as well as bag and distribute.
"We have a very generous local community. We couldn't do this without their support," Fikstad said.
For more information on the food program or to volunteer contact Desert Manna at: (760) 256-7797 or www.DesertManna.com.
Contact Brooke Self at BSelf@DesertDispatch.com or (760) 256-4123.