Sometimes it’s easy to assume false truths when removed from the actual situation, such as assuming Community Sharing only feeds the homeless bums who are too lazy to get a job.
But then again, there is that saying about when we assume…
The truth of the matter is that the Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center feeds more families than bums, most of whom are single mothers with small children.
Some of the people accepting food have lost jobs and have no means to feed their children; only a handful are the homeless that people see lounging in the parks and perpetuating the stereotype.
And that’s why Community Sharing continues with its faithful stable of volunteers who dedicate a large portion of their time to ensure that the food and clothing bank continues to operate, rain or shine, thick or thin.
In the simplest terms: people need to eat to survive.
Community Sharing opened in 1957, thanks to community pioneer and school teacher, Gladys Lemmons. She saw how many young children were coming to school hungry and it spurred her to action.
Today, the spirit of Lemmons is alive and well in the operation of Community Sharing as her original vision of feeding children is still in effect.
More than 700 families are served every month with distribution on Tuesday mornings. As of March, there were 152 single parents feeding their children with the help of Community Sharing.
“And it’s increased since March,” Ken Narita, President of Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center said. “We’re seeing 200 families each week. Seventy percent of our recipients are single parents. We do serve the homeless, but we serve low-income people.”
The organization is run completely by volunteer steam — and most of the volunteers qualify for an AARP discount but they run a tight ship with strict deadlines and responsibilities.
Considering no one in the organization pulls a paycheck, yet they view their individual tasks with the same level of professionalism as paid staff, it’s a testament to the volunteers themselves that Community Sharing continues to thrive.
“That’s why people choose to volunteer. They see the need. Also the spirit of Oakdale is very giving to the community,” Narita said. “They choose to do this because they know there’s a need. And it’s not just about giving food.”
Narita shared a letter written by a young, single mother, thanking the volunteers for their courtesy and their smiles. She shared that it wasn’t often she was treated so nicely.
“All of our customers are treated with respect,” Narita said.
Volunteer Bill Schwartz said, “There is that saying, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I,’ and it’s true. We never know if we’re going to be on the other side. Everyone needs to be treated with respect and kindness.” He continued, saying, “I enjoy giving back to a community that’s been very good to me and my wife. It makes me feel good to help people in need.”
Dale Harper, Treasurer for Oakdale Community Sharing Christian Center, is another volunteer who has been with the charitable nonprofit for quite some time and he enjoys giving back to the community, but he also likes feeling useful.
“Most retired people don’t like to just sit around and that’s how I feel. I don’t like to sit. I need something to do,” Harper said.
Donations, both monetary and material, are crucial to the success of Community Sharing.
And the volunteers are continually amazed and grateful at the outpouring of support that comes from all places in the community from schools to fundraisers, to personal checkbooks and service clubs.
“If there was no Community Sharing where would they go? People would go hungry,” Harper said.
No one is more aware that times are hard than the volunteers at Community Sharing. They see the grateful expressions for the food and the clothes but they also see the smaller donations.
But Narita has a different philosophy when it comes to donations.
Every donation is a spoke in a wheel that will continue to turn.
Recently, the Boy Scout troops embarked on a canned food drive to benefit Community Sharing. They netted 1,300 pounds of canned goods.
“And they were disappointed because last year they had 2,000 pounds but it’s all right,” Narita explained. “Because the Post Office also donated, as well as the schools. So we make up the difference. Maybe there are smaller donations from one place, but more places are donating so it evens out.”
Upcoming is the big CanTree breakfast on Dec. 15 at the community center, an annual fundraiser hosted by the Central Valley Association of Realtors where the proceeds from the event go directly to the local food bank. That donation is a big help to the organization and one that is deeply appreciated.
“We couldn’t exist without contributions from the community, both monetarily and commodities,” Narita said.
“What really amazes me is the number of seniors who are just trying to make whatever they have stretch,” Schwartz said. “A lot of people out there need help. The bulk of people are just down on their luck.”
Inflation continues to eat away at Community Sharing’s resources, from higher utility bills to needed improvements to the building, but the volunteers cheerfully believe the community will provide.
And for the past 54 years, it has, because as Narita and the core volunteers and donors of Community Sharing believe, “No one should go hungry in Oakdale.”
For more information on how to donate to Community Sharing, call 209-847-3401.
This is the first in a three-part series dealing with assistance to those in need in the community. Look for a feature on how local schools do their part in the Nov. 30 issue of The Leader.