In a less than desirable economy, with an end to the downtown still yet to be seen, one might find themselves faced with questions they’d once never even considered.
How far would you walk for food if your pantry was empty? How long would you stand in line for a bag of free groceries?
While these are not questions formally written anywhere, they could very easily be the thoughts of an unemployed father looking to feed his family of four.
Fortunately, persons in need throughout the city of Oakdale do not have to walk too far or wait too long to receive that gift of nourishment.
Each week for going on 53 years the volunteers of Oakdale’s Community Sharing Christian Center have opened their doors and offered food to those in need. The volunteer driven center is located at 579 Center St. on the southeast side of town. Every Tuesday, the group, led by President Bill Dyer promptly opens its door at 8 a.m. and begins the process of providing for those in need.
“They start lining up at 6:15 a.m.,” Dyer stated.
He went on to add that while the early arrival may have him puzzled, there is no harm in people coming early to wait their turn.
Like the manager of a well-run business, Dyer arrives early to get things ready for the day. As he goes about his morning routine, the crew of volunteers begin to trickle in to take their post.
“There are some days that I may only have three people at 7:30 a.m.,” Dyer said of his volunteers. “But inevitably they always show up and everyone is taken care of.”
Dyer, an active community member and retired educator, began donating his time at the center over 10 years ago. Looking back he recalls the center servicing 80 families.
“I can remember going home and thinking, when we hit 200 I don’t know what we are going to do,” the volunteer recalled.
In late November, with a record-breaking distribution of food to 230 families, Dyer learned what they would do — give them the food they had come for. On that Tuesday before Thanksgiving those 230 bags of food fed 486 family members. According to reports, in 2009 Oakdale Community Sharing distributed over 7,000 bags of groceries feeding over 15,000 people.
While the numbers may be eye opening, it is the organization of this group of volunteers that leaves the largest impression.
Now in its 53rd year, the center runs like a well-oiled machine.
Each week as families arrive their first stop is with an interviewer. Depending on the week, the time the recipient spends at the desk may be as short as a few minutes or longer.
“They get interviewed every week,” Dyer said of the recipients. “It may be as simple as the interviewer just checking in to see how they are doing. Monthly they are asked to provide documentation.”
The ‘documentation’ is what the group uses as its check system to ensure the recipients still qualify for assistance.
During the process recipients are also given a grocery list and asked to mark what they need or cross out anything they may not want.
“We streamlined it a bit,” Dyer said of the food selection process. “In the past there was not a list of choices.
“This way no one goes home with an item they don’t want or in some cases may not need.”
As a sort of double check system, a box has been placed by the entrance/exit for recipients to place items they wish not to have.
Keeping the center stocked and ready to serve is just one of the many ‘behind the scenes’ tasks that must be maintained each week.
Every Tuesday as people line up and wait for groceries, Dale Harper, Treasurer/Bookkeeper is in Manteca at Second Harvest shopping for the next week. Second Harvest is a supplier of food to emergency food cupboards and community pantries in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
“It’s a large warehouse,” Harper said, “and we’re able to shop on one side and pick through what they have.”
Harper also shared the difference in Second Harvest pricing compared to that in a conventional grocery store, noting that at Second Harvest the group is charged for cases of product by the pound.
“You never know what’s going to be there,” he added.
“He may get there and see something,” Dyer said of Harper, “and he’ll call in and say, they have ‘x’ amount of cases of Jell-o, should I buy it?”
In addition to the Second Harvest pick up, volunteer drivers are on the road every day but Sunday picking up food at local markets and other resources that donate goods.
According to Dyer, the group of volunteers supporting the center not only work well together but have a specific area they each seem to gravitate to.
“We’d like for people to have another life,” he said of the volunteers and the efficient use of their time, making sure they don’t use all their extra time at the center.
Dyer also acknowledged that without the volunteer base and tremendous community support, doing what they do each week would be next to impossible.
“This community really helps us out,” Dyer said, adding that in spite of economic conditions, their donations are consistent.
“I think they’ve gone up,” he said.
“Really its unbelievable,” Harper added.
The two men agreed that between the area food drives staged throughout the year as well as financial donations, the majority of the center runs on the community support.
“We really don’t go out and ask for money,” Dyer said. “But people still seem to find us and give.”
“We have one individual that sends checks three times a month,” Harper stated. “We receive a lot of community financial support.”
“We operate on one federal grant,” Dyer said. “The bulk of our budget is local contributions.”
As for the individual volunteers and why they chose Community Sharing as their cause to support, those reasons can range from joining a friend at the site to doing busy work.
“It’s really nice that I work well under pressure,” Dyer said. “I think it’s the challenge. Always looking for how we can make it better.”
For more information on Community Sharing Christian Center, call 847-3401. Financial donations may be sent to P.O. Box 1160, Oakdale, CA 95361.