The challenge was to double the contribution of food from last year. No problem.
Cynthia Hernandez, director of the Fort Irwin Commissary, and her staff collected 14,943 pounds of food and water that was donated to the Desert Manna food pantry in Barstow, Calif., the Barstow Veterans Home, and two senior citizen homes in the same city. Last year, the Commissary gathered 6,500 pounds.
The donated food was amassed during the annual Feds Feeds Families campaign this summer and delivered Aug. 30. Hernandez’s staff loaded onto a delivery truck and van: canned food, dried food items, watermelons, potatoes and bottled water.
Customers of the Commissary purchased 210 vouchers (each under $10), with every voucher representing a paper bag of groceries. Hernandez thanked the community and leadership of Fort Irwin for supporting the campaign.
“I have an amazing, supportive community,” Hernandez said. “Thank you … I know times are tough. We tried to keep the bags under $10, so it was affordable for those who wanted to contribute.”
Hernandez credited the Commissary’s industry food partners with donating the bulk of the food. She explained that Coast Produce participated this year by donating 3,000 pounds of potatoes and 1,400 pounds of watermelon. Approximately 10,943 pounds of the collection went to Desert Manna.
Desert Manna, opened in 1989, is a non-profit organization that operates a homeless shelter and food pantry. According to its Web site, the agency provides 55,000 services each year to homeless and low-income men, women, and children in the Barstow area. Its food pantry provides emergency food boxes on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
Jeannine Fikstad, Food Coordinator at Desert Manna, said the donated food would be used to augment the shelves at the pantry. She stated that because of a bad economy, other donations have slowed or stopped, making the delivery from Fort Irwin very significant. As she pointed to a can of chili and a package of pasta on the truck, she explained that those items would help feed a family.
“They can get a full meal with what’s here,” Fikstad said. “If this service was not here, there are a lot of families that would not be able to get [food].”
Brad Nottingham, on the board of directors for Desert Manna, expressed that Fort Irwin Soldiers and leadership has been very supportive of the organization for years. He said he’s had Soldiers offer to donate their time at the organization, and some have even brought their children to volunteer.
“They are so willing and able to help and to go the extra mile” Nottingham said. “We want to thank them very much for their service to our country and for service to the community. I’m proud of the service and I’m proud of the people in the service.”
Valerie Wilson, House Keeping Supervisor at the State of California Veterans Home in Barstow, praised Fort Irwin for the donation of three pallets of bottled water. She’s been serving at the facility for 18 years and described some of the ways this military installation has contributed at the home.
“Fort Irwin is magnificent,” Wilson said. “Fort Irwin has had marches to the home. Pinnacle sets up 21 trees every Christmas. We have one of the largest Veterans Day celebrations there, and Fort Irwin is a supporter.”
Hernandez explained that the Commissary helps the Veterans Home beyond the Feds Feed Families campaign. Throughout the year, the Commissary has made other donations and staff participates in activities for residents of the home.
“The Commissary is supporting a bingo night at the Veterans Home,” Hernandez said. “We’ll take care of the food and gifts, and all my management staff will run the bingo game.”
This is the second year that Commissary employees, under Hernandez’s leadership, have taken the Feds Feed Families challenge and ran with it. She expressed admiration for her staff.
“I can’t say enough about my staff,” Hernandez said. “My staff is amazing. Their hearts are huge. The ones who are retirees – this held a special place with them.”