Ruffalo: Auburn’s need is great; could we all do just a bit more?

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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The City of Auburn and its environs take a back seat to nobody when it comes time for gifts from the heart. Our little village is rightly well known for its charity, volunteerism has become a cottage industry here, and simple folk extend a simple helping hand more often than not. Unfortunately, even that large dose of community support doesn’t seem to be enough. Not a day goes by that another piece of bad economic news doesn’t pummel us, and more and more, it seems that there’s always too much month left at the end of the paycheck, for those lucky enough to still see that piece of paper on a continual basis. Those states of affairs were brought starkly into focus the other day when I ran into Vince Anaclerio at the market. It’s been seven years since he retired as superintendent of the Auburn Elementary School District, but he still keeps close ties with this corner of the world. One of his efforts is volunteer work at the Auburn Interfaith Food Closet over at DeWitt. “One of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had was working at a grocery store at Lake Tahoe,” he said, adding that when he saw he could help “expedite” things over at the Food Closet, he jumped at the chance. But lately, there has been less and less to expedite at the Closet. Conversely, there have been more and more people who many times desperately need that donation of food. “We ran out twice in one week,” Anaclerio said, pointing out that while people are allowed to come back when the Closet has been restocked, transportation can often be as scarce as a full meal. Don’t get me wrong. Good folks are still donating, many local markets and such remain most helpful, and close to two dozen local churches have programs to aid the Food Closet. Joe Nicosia is a self-described “gatherer” for the Food Closet, putting untold miles on his pickup hauling donations from sites such as Grocery Outlet, St. Joseph’s and St. Teresa’s. However, as is the case with his paisan Anaclerio, he also notices the uptick in people needing help to get a full meal onto local dinner tables. “We not only see more people applying for help, but the size of those families also is larger than we usually got in the past,” Nicosia said. “There are always some people who need help, but right now, a lot of people need help, especially in this economy,” he adds. Of course, there are people helping, such as Virgil Traynor and the gang at that North Auburn garden, or the anonymous soul who puts together the “Birthday Bags” which get distributed at the Closet, or the former client — who also wants identity withheld — who inked a $10,000 Christmas check to the group. Also among the helpful is the Salvation Army which — God bless it — continues to do the Lord’s work without seeing the need to erect colorful banners announcing its arrival prior to handing out some help. Auburn CPA Ken Tokutomi, who’s been helping the Army as long as I can remember, points out it also runs a food closet at 286 Sutter St., and as is the case with his comforting contemporaries, he also sees more people needing more help. “Donations are down, but that’s usually the case every summer, but the need is definitely up, a lot more than usual,” he said. Tokutomi says the Army gets other assistance besides the donations, including operations such as Feed the Hungry of Auburn. He explained that group gets donations — $22,000 so far this year — and buys livestock at the Gold Country Fair auction. Those animals are then butchered with the meat going into the giveaway program. Now, I’ve always supported the Salvation Army, but even more so once Tokutomi told me that 84 percent of the donation money stays in Auburn. “Ten percent goes to the district and just 6 percent goes for overhead,” he said, failing to mention that overhead expense is one of the lowest of any charity. So far, I’ve pointed out those who are helping, and assuredly that’s nowhere near a complete list of those who do. On the other hand, the current list not only needs to be larger, but the amount of donations — money and goods — also needs to rise. These also are times that try our souls, but to my way of thinking, our hearts would be fuller if all the local tummies were, too. As usual, the scholar Anaclerio put it better than I ever could, saying “It doesn’t take very much to help out and we all could certainly do a bit more.” Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at