A feeling of expectancy hung in the cool morning air Sunday at P-R Farms. An event that took months of preparation was about to begin and brighten the holidays for all it touched.
Volunteers were the backbone of this effort, and they came from many groups: the Clovis Rotary Club, Clovis Unified students from the Rotary-sponsored Interact Club, Clovis Police Department, Boy Scout Troop 514 and The Salvation Army. Along with donations from several local businesses, volunteers worked together the weekend of Dec. 16 and 17 to provide food for those in need.
Over 30 years ago, Jesse Ruelas became aware of families that were short of food and needed a little extra help during the holidays. He wanted to do something and started what became a tradition of providing food to those who needed it. Beginning with 20 food baskets, the event has expanded to 500 large boxes of food for valley families.
Food donations in the form of non-perishable items and canned goods were collected by local schools and students. Donations were stored in bins at the schools, and then transferred to the spacious P-R Farms packing location at Willow and Shepherd.
“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Pat Ricchiuti, President of P-R Farms. “It’s a wonderful experience. The schools and kids deserve all of the credit.”
By 8 a.m. Saturday morning, volunteers, Rotarians and Interact Club students arrived to sort and organize the vast variety of canned goods, dry food items and other non-perishable groceries. Each bin contained a specific item, and forklifts placed the bins alongside a conveyor belt.
“Kids give up their whole weekend to help these families,” said Bob Althoff, who has been one of the Rotary organizers for over a decade. “It’s so rewarding to work with these young kids. Our motto is ‘Service Above Self,’ and these kids practice that.”
Perishable items, such as milk, butter, eggs, oranges, frozen chickens and frozen turkeys were delivered shortly before distribution and positioned by the conveyor belt.
By 8 a.m. Sunday morning, the distribution was underway. Eligible recipients were directed to the distribution area by the Boy Scouts and traffic cones. They drove up and exchanged their voucher for a food box.
“This is really the fun part,” said Kathy, an Interact volunteer. “You get to see all the hard work come together, people get things they need. It gives a special meaning to the holiday.”
Empty boxes were placed on the moving conveyor belt. As the boxes passed the bins, each volunteer added an item that was in their particular bin. By the time boxes reached the end of the conveyor belt, they were full.
“It’s quick,” said Althoff, “just pop the trunk, we’ll put the box in and you’re on your way.”
If a recipient does not have transportation to P-R Farms, their box can be delivered to them.
However, not all of the donations were food related. Clovis Police gave out refurbished bicycles and Petsmart donated boxes of stuffed toys.
“We have so many come out to help and celebrate the season with our community, this is really a great event,” said Becky Moser, President of the Clovis Rotary Club. “So many different factors come together to make this happen. It’s one of the highlights of the holiday.”