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Community Comes Through For C.A.R.E. Center
If it wasn't for the large number of groups contributing to the Escalon C.A.R.E. Center on a regular basis, chances are the local food cupboard would be routinely running out of food.

Use of the emergency food bank has seen a sharp increase in the last several months and director Chris Larson said he feels it is a direct reflection of the economy. Typically, demand on food banks increases during the summer when children don't have access to free and reduced school lunches but Larson said he believes it is more just the overall state of the economy that has prompted the rise locally.

"My feeling is it's just people without jobs," he said, noting that many residents are finding themselves in need of some help for the first time. "We're seeing a lot more people who never thought they would walk through the doors."

The C.A.R.E., Community Action Resources of Escalon, Center was founded by the Escalon Ministerial Association, which remains as its governing body. The Center on Second Street hosts the senior Brown Bag program, the government commodity program and is open every Wednesday but one during the month for the emergency food needs.

"We're not doing bad," Larson admitted. "We do have more programs contributing food now and we're between 115 and 120 people every time we're open. It's a good 25 more, at least, than usual.

"We have not run out of food ... we have come close, but have never run out."

Escalon Ministerial Association President, Pastor Troy Onsager of Escalon Presbyterian Church, said churches throughout the community have cooperated to help meet the local needs.

"We're dividing it up, we have six churches and three will do one item, three will do another," he explained, noting that they try to make sure the food bank has enough of the 'staple' items to help get people through.

"We also did a project there where we added more shelves, got it cleaned up a little, the American Legion owns the building so we try to be a good tenant," Onsager said.

Donations came in from various Vacation Bible School programs this summer, in addition to the food collected on the designated Sundays at area churches. Monetary donations are also welcome. The local Rainbow Girls are collecting food as well, setting up recently outside a local market and donating their items to C.A.R.E.

"The chief place we get food is the Stockton Emergency Food Bank," said Saron Lutheran Church pastor Victor Berg-Haglund, who helps oversee C.A.R.E. "We've also purchased items through Second Harvest."

Berg-Haglund said the program wouldn't be effective without the help of volunteers, who drive to pick up the food, as well as those that staff the food bank on a regular basis. A luncheon to honors those volunteers was put on a couple of weeks ago.

He also pointed to the annual postal carriers food drive 'Stamp Out Hunger' in May as bringing in much needed food and said youngsters got into the spirit of giving through the VBS programs this summer.

"That will teach our young people more about compassion and generosity," he said.

Designated items were brought in each day of the various VBS programs, from cereal to soup, canned meats to canned vegetables.

"The kids did great," Onsager agreed.

For those that want to help, checks can be sent to Escalon Ministerial Association, P.O. Box 1, Escalon, CA 95320 and designated for C.A.R.E.

"There's a lot of need in our area," said Berg-Haglund.

Government surplus food is distributed on the third Thursday of each month, the 'commodity' giveaway running from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

The Senior Brown Bag program, open to seniors age 60 and over, runs the second and fourth Tuesday of the month after the first Monday.

General food distribution is each Wednesday of the month, except one Wednesday, typically the day before the commodity program is offered. The center is open from 9:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for the Wednesday giveaway.

Larson said some residents worried about whether they fall into the income guidelines can rest assured they will find help if they unexpectedly lose their job.

"We'll give you food if you don't have it right now," he said, explaining that even if residents anticipate resuming work soon, if they are without food, C.A.R.E. is there to help.

"We're seeing a lot of people who have never been to a food bank," Larson added. "I've heard that at least a dozen times this summer."