Feed the children

For charity programs and the people who rely on them, January can be one of the cruelest months.

Event helps Sacramento-area families in need as holiday donations dry up.
By Matt Kawahara

For charity programs and the people who rely on them, January can be one of the cruelest months.

The donations that flowed into programs during the holiday season have tapered off. And families who were already struggling with finances are trying to get back on track after the holidays.

Volunteers load donations into a recipient's car. (Photo by Sydney Fong)

“We just went through Christmas and Thanksgiving, and it pretty much wiped us out,” Diane Romano, 62, of North Highlands said from her car in a Cal Expo parking lot.

But piled up in Romano’s back seat were a box of hygiene products, a box of Avon products and one 25-pound box of food, enough to support a family for one week.

On Jan. 18, The Salvation Army, the national nonprofit Feed the Children and the Sacramento Kings joined forces to distribute food and care products to 1,600 local families in need.

Feed the Children obtained funding in December to provide goods for needy families in 35 cities nationwide in January, said project coordinator Aaron Wynn.

Through its Americans Feeding Americans program, Feed the Children selected the cities based on poverty level and changes in their unemployment rate, Wynn said. Sacramento qualified.

Romano said she is on disability and her husband is on Social Security.

The aid they received “means food on the table,” she said.

Many of the families at Cal Expo were among the 4,500 families that also received food from The Salvation Army for Christmas, said Sacramento County coordinator David Bentley.

“This keeps families going, which is absolutely vital,” Bentley said.

Families were given canned goods, bags of rice or pasta, peanut butter and cereal. They were given cleaning supplies, shampoo, soap, garbage bags—and Avon beauty products, which come in handy for job interviews, Wynn said.

“It’s very helpful,” said Janet Velasquez, 22, of Sacramento. “Usually you have to wait to buy things like toilet paper and shampoo.”

Velasquez and her boyfriend Joseph Gasbarro, 25, said they’ve been trying to get by mainly on Velasquez’s unemployment funding. They’re also supporting daughter Makayla, who turns 1 year old in a week, Velasquez said.

“I buy her diapers first,” Velasquez said.

Several hundred of the families were selected by the Sacramento Kings organization. Players nominated families they knew through churches or other organizations they work with, said Fat Lever, the Kings’ director of player development.

Just back from a six-game road trip, a few players also turned out to distribute boxes.

Rookie DeMarcus Cousins was the first to arrive, his 6-foot-11 frame drawing some surprised looks from the people in their cars.

“You’ve got a big responsibility with being a basketball player,” Cousins said. “You’ve got to give back to your community and show that you care about them the same way they care about you.”

Sheila Hardin, a Salvation Army volunteer, felt a responsibility as well. Donating her day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., she loaded boxes and sent each car off with a cheery, “God bless you!”

“It’s good to smile at them, to be friendly, because there but for the grace of God go I,” said Hardin, 56, of Sacramento. “I could be needing a box.”

Used with permission of The Sacramento Bee

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