Home Donors, Volunteers Organizations The power of volunteering: Local nonprofits provide food to families ahead of holidays – The Union of Grass Valley

The power of volunteering: Local nonprofits provide food to families ahead of holidays – The Union of Grass Valley

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Interfaith Food Ministry volunteer Steve Castleberry is happy to lend a hand at the charity food center located at 440 Henderson Street in Grass Valley Wednesday, where a special food distribution was held in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. Castleberry spent much of the morning moving hundreds of turkeys and chickens going out to the hundreds of families arriving for the holiday food baskets.
Photo: Elias Funez

Local nonprofits Interfaith Food Ministry and Food Bank of Nevada County have each provided food to hundreds of households in the time leading up to this Thanksgiving, each with the help of dedicated volunteers.

Interfaith Food Ministry Executive Director Phil Alonso said Tuesday that the organization had, within the last two weeks, held six distribution events, reaching a total of approximately 920 families. He estimated that another 150 families would be served by its final pre-Thanksgiving distribution event, which was held Wednesday.

According to Alonso, Interfaith Food Ministry has approximately 160 regular volunteers who facilitate the organization’s efforts in a variety of ways, whether it is driving, packing and sorting, distribution tasks, or working behind the scenes.

Volunteers work to stock the trunk of a vehicle during Wednesday’s Thanksgiving food distribution held at Interfaith Food Ministry off of Henderson Street in Grass Valley. Volunteers make a difference in the community during a time of year that can be very tough for others mentally and financially.
Photo: Elias Funez

Alonso shared some of the reasons people had given for their decision to volunteer.

One volunteer, Frank Bordieri, stated that, after experiencing poverty in his childhood during the Great Depression, he believes “it is important that we all remember where we came from and give back to our communities to help the future generations.” Another volunteer, Nickie Wilkinson, had said she and her husband began volunteering weekly after liking what they saw when they visited Interfaith Food Ministry to donate their stimulus check.

“We’re definitely a very good example of what’s possible to accomplish under 99% volunteer power,” said Alonso.

Volunteers work like a well-oiled machine fulfilling food orders for individual families during Wednesday’s drive-thru distribution at Interfaith Food Ministry in Grass Valley.
Photo: Elias Funez


Food Bank of Nevada County Executive Director Nicole McNeely said Wednesday that the organization held its Thanksgiving distribution event last week, during which they provided food to almost 800 households.

In years past, said McNeely, the organization had distributed food to around 400 households, meaning its clients have approximately doubled going into the upcoming holiday season.

Next month, according to McNeely, in addition to providing food to an expected 800 households during its pre-Christmas distribution event, Food Bank of Nevada County will be partnering with Interfaith Food Ministry to contribute side items to the Nevada County Toy Run, and with multiple other organizations to provide meals for the Toys for Tots program. Each of these collaborative events is expected to add between 300 and 400 households served, she said.

“So, we’re going to be well over 1,000 families that we’re trying to help, through December,” she said.

Volunteers pause for a photo in between loading cars with food during Wednesday’s holiday food distribution at Interfaith Food Ministry. Some volunteers at IFM have been helping for decades, while others just a few weeks.
Photo: Elias Funez

On volunteers at Food Bank of Nevada County, McNeely said she views the group, which includes people of all ages, as representing a family. Some are longtime volunteers, while others are new, and they do a variety of jobs, she said, but they have all come together with the common purpose — and have a direct hand in getting food to the people who need it.

“It really has just created a connection between volunteering and the food, and the families that receive it,” said McNeely.

Of donors, McNeely said that, when someone donates a turkey, for instance, she likes to remind them of the family who will be able to sit down to a meal because of the contribution. “That’s the connection that makes this job so incredible, and that’s why we’re all drawn to it,” she said.

Turkey, chicken, eggs, stuffing and all the rest of the sides traditionally associated with a Thanksgiving dinner were included in holiday food baskets distributed Wednesday at Interfaith Food Ministry. Countless hours of volunteerism from members of the community came together to make the drive-thru distribution a success.
Photo: Elias Funez


Both Alonso and McNeely said they had observed an increased need for food assistance in the community.

According to Alonso, the number of people expected to come through to get food assistance is similar to last year, although both years have been elevated relative to pre-pandemic times.

The biggest hit to Interfaith Food Ministry’s operations during the pandemic has been the cancellation or modification of fundraising events they would normally have held — a factor which has become even more relevant in recent times, according to Alonso, as the organization works through rising food costs and supply shortages. Its cost for turkeys this year, for example, was approximately double last year’s, he said.

As the organization has adjusted to the new scale of need, transitioning to a more efficient and less labor-intensive drive-thru format early in the pandemic, Alonso says Interfaith Food Ministry has done well in filling its volunteer ranks — although it is always looking for additional volunteers.

“That’s where, even though I’m cautiously optimistic about our donors and our fundraising efforts and all of that, we still need to push hard, because we do need every dollar, still,” said Alonso.

McNeely stated that there has been a short turnaround between people making contributions to Food Bank of Nevada County — whether it is food, or monetary donations so the organization can purchase food — and it giving the food away.

“I’ve never seen processes of food come and go so quickly,” said McNeely.

This year’s level of need for food assistance, according to McNeely, shows a slight decrease from this season last year, although need is “still very, very high.”

On donations the organization is looking for in particular, McNeely highlighted green beans as well as pop-top canned foods which don’t require cooking, as the former is a useful ingredient for holiday distributions and the latter is useful for the organization’s emergency food access.

McNeely said, however, that any donation helps.

“Anybody that wants to donate, we’re so appreciative of all of it, and just as quickly as they get it to us, we give it away,” she said.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com

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