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Local food closet pursues extra boost in national challenge

Donations through April 30 count toward Auburn’s share of $1 million
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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AUBURN INTERFAITH FOOD CLOSET
426,000: 2012 budget, in dollars, including all donations and expenses
6,000: dollars awarded to the food closet by the Feinstein Foundation in 2012
942: households per month served in 2012
85: percent of monetary donations that go directly to people, not rent or utilities
5: days a week the closet is open, plus the last Saturday of the month
3: average size of client families
 
Donation drop off: between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 2985 Richardson Dr. in Auburn, Monday through Friday.
Donate by mail: Auburn Interfaith Food Closet at P.O. Box 132, Auburn, CA 95604.

 

At the Auburn Interfaith Food Closet, charity is the gift that keeps on giving.

 
For the fourth year in a row, the food closet is participating in a nationwide two-month fundraising campaign that rewards organizations for collecting the most donations. Sponsored by a philanthropic agency called the Feinstein Foundation, the annual “$1 million challenge” asks participating food pantries across the country to add all their donated dollars and items from March 1 to April 30, then submit the total to the foundation by May 31. In August, the foundation will distribute $1 million among the participating organizations proportionate to how much each of them raised.
 
Volunteer Trish Jensen said the Auburn Interfaith Food Closet netted more than $6,000 from the Feinstein Foundation last year, only its third time participating, and every year the pot grows bigger.
 
“When we started out, I think we got $400, so the community has really been building its support for us to do this,” she said. “It really is a great way, if we can get the message out, because it doesn’t cost us any money. It just increases ours, and it really brings in a little bit more from another part of the country.”
 
And the food closet could use all the donations it can get.
 
Board member Joe Irvin said it served an average of 942 needy households per month in 2012, each of which could include one person or eight, with an average family size of three. He said the number of households per month seemed to have peaked at 1,017 in 2011, rising steadily from 789 in 2008.
Jensen estimated the food closet staffs about 150 volunteers, none of them paid and most of them from one of 18 member churches in the area. Eight to 10 volunteers staff the food closet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Volunteer Bill Meran said demand has persuaded the food closet to staff one Saturday a month as well.
 
“There’s a big need to fill. Times are tough right now for a lot of people,” he said. “Usually it’s packed in here.”
 
Jensen said the food closet scrapes by thanks to a lot of generous people in the community, but no donations ever go to waste. Eighty-five percent of monetary donations go directly to people (the other 15 percent for rent and utilities), and on the rare occasions when the staff counts an excess of food, they either freeze it or share it with another food bank.
 
In addition to regular donations from individuals, farms, churches, civic organizations, professional offices, schools, scout troops and other sources, the food closet hosts a few collection events. For instance, Jensen said the “stuff-a-bus” drives in November and June asked grocery shoppers to buy something on a list. She said the food closet tries to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, and their most-needed items tend to be canned fruit and dry cereal. But especially during the Feinstein Foundation challenge, Jensen said, every little bit counts.
 
“New York City’s food bank generated maybe $12 million and we generated $18,000, so percentage-wise, we’re only going to get a little bit and they’re going to get most of it, but for us it’s a big amount,” she said. “I think the most important thing is, it’s a tremendous source of funding for us. The community can feel that, for what they give, we get a lot more. It’s a wonderful matching program.”
 
And in Barb Ford’s experience, volunteering with members of St. Teresa of Avila Parish on Monday, the food closet’s clients think so, too.
 
“I see a need in the community, and I feel that this is reaching the people that need it the most,” she said. “When people come here, they’re so thankful to us, and the people who donate. It’s a ministry for our church.”
 
Diane Meran, a volunteer at the food closet with St. Teresa of Avila Parish since 2008, said she has seen a distinct increase in the number of clients since she started, but their appreciation is a heartening sign that the food closet makes a difference.
 
“We see them on the streets, we see them around town. It’s just really an important thing, a good feeling,” she said. “What’s really heartwarming is to see families who have been here when they were growing up. Now they come and donate. They were the children that didn’t get the food.”