WHAT: Health, Wellness and Hunger Coalition
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. alternate Tuesdays; next meeting Nov. 13
WHERE: Patterson City Hall, 1 Plaza
Jenifer West, the city of Patterson’s senior account clerk, recently recalled the day a man went to City Hall a few months ago asking what services were available for families in need.
His family had fallen on hard times, he said, and his wife was ashamed to ask for help.
The encounter prompted West and Adrienne Chaney, the city’s recreation and community services director, to form a new group in July that they named the Health, Wellness and Hunger Coalition.
“I realized that there is a whole segment of the population that is newly in need and needs to know what resources there are,” West said last week.
The coalition, which pools together people who are trying to ease hunger in the community, is working to do more to meet the community’s food needs and address healthy habits.
Since that time, the group has attracted about a dozen people each week. They include representatives from local churches, Patterson Joint Unified School District and the Center for Human Services, community volunteers and people from local nonprofits.
Members have suggested a range of ideas, including taking advantage of free canned food warehoused in a Stockton food bank. Coalition members also hope to start collecting unwanted fruit from trees in local yards, modeled on Finger Pickin’ Good, an outreach program run by Tracy resident Elizabeth Kirby.
One of the coalition’s top priorities is to create a resource guide listing the organizations that help the needy and the services they provide.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” West said. “It’s just a matter of connecting the dots.”
Chaney said she initially became interested in the coalition as a way of promoting better nutrition habits among local residents.
“It’s really important that when people eat something, that it is going to truly nourish their bodies,” Chaney said. “That’s something we want to impress on people who are taking the classes.”
The city seeks to do that by joining with the Four Season Community Garden program to open a community garden sometime in 2013 at American Eagle and Sperry avenues. West, who heads up that program, has dreamed of getting a community garden in Patterson since early 2010.
In addition, the city will host courses taught by Tracy-based Kiona’s Farm’acy at the Hammon Senior Center next year on topics including herbal remedies, organic foods and physical activity. Kiona’s Farm’acy focuses on health lifestyle habits and disease prevention.
The Agricultural and Natural Resources program from University of California, Davis, will lead classes for senior citizens at the senior center about budgeting and menu planning.
Helping the hungry
The city’s hunger needs gained attention when the Howard Training Center stopped offering meals at the Hammon Senior Center every weekday from May through October, instead serving meals only three times a week, Chaney said.
She said her work with the coalition had also made her aware of challenges facing the Westside Food Pantry, which a few months ago was short on volunteers and lacked a potential future president.
The pantry, which serves up food goods from a trailer in the Federated Methodist-Presbyterian Church parking lot, has gained new volunteers following the publication of a Sept. 13 story in the Irrigator.
The pantry still is short on food, however, President Olga Holcombe said this week.
To help alleviate local hunger, the coalition is working on a plan to deliver cans from the Stockton-San Joaquin Emergency Food Bank to Patterson. Once in the city, they can be sorted and labeled and distributed to local groups and agencies that help the needy.
Many such groups already receive food from the Salvation Army, said Sandra Ortega, assistant program manager for the Salvation Army in Modesto.
In addition, the Salvation Army offers food boxes to needy families once a month at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and locations in Newman, Grayson and Westley. Ortega said the ministry gives out 190 to 220 boxes each month in Patterson alone.
Claudia Smith, who coordinates the Trust in Jesus Cuisine Program, which feeds people most days in North Park off Plaza Circle, said she had noticed an increase in the number of people needing help in Patterson through the years. When she first arrived in 1990, she said, she did not notice any homeless people in town.
Now, about 40 to 65 regular attendees, including some who are homeless, show up at North Park for meals Monday through Saturday, she said.
Some have lost homes or jobs, while some farm workers are temporarily unemployed between harvests, Smith said.
A few people who received food at the park last week said they were happy to hear of the new hunger coalition and glad for the existence of groups such as Trust in Jesus Cuisine.
Josh Cervantes, 21, noted that he was homeless about a year ago, and the meals served in the park supported him through that tough time.
“It really does help out,” he said.
Regular attendee Frankie Torry, 46, said he and others have benefited from the program, though he would like to see a local program serving meals in the evenings, too.
Other coalition members are seeking to ensure that local residents have skills that will help them. For instance, the Center for Human Services offers nutrition classes in conjunction with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, a federal/state partnership that supports nutrition education for those who qualify for food stamps.
Those who receive staples from an emergency food closet at Patterson Family Resource Center must take nutrition classes if they receive food more than once, explained Laura Elkinton, program coordinator for the Center for Human Services. Classes cover topics including healthy eating, exercise and family budgeting, she said.
“We really want to help people become self-sufficient, so that they don’t have to ask for food the next month,” Elkinton said.
She said the coalition prevents groups from duplicating efforts and allows them to work together as a team to help serve the community.
Smith expressed similar sentiments.
“It really has helped us share food and needs,” she said.
Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com. HOW TO HELP
Holiday Adopt a Family program
•Local residents can adopt a family and provide food and gifts during the holiday season by contacting Center for Human Services. The agency also could use donations of food to stock its shelves.
•For information: Center for Human Services, 892-6688
Westside Food Pantry
•The food pantry could use monetary donations or food donations such as peanut butter and canned goods such as tuna fish and soup. The pantry, in the parking lot of the Federated Methodist-Presbyterian Church, 45 S. El Circulo, is open 1 to 3:30 p.m. Thursdays
•For information: Olga Holcombe, 892-8455
Teen Thanksgiving dinner
•Local teenagers will be served a Thanksgiving meal from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Hammon Senior Center, 1033 W. Las Palmas Ave. Volunteers are needed starting at 3 p.m. to carve turkey and cutting ham, serve food and clean up.
•For information: Center for Human Services, 892-6688