By Mr. Gustavo Bahena (Irwin)September 6, 2012
"This food drive has come in very handy for us, because we were just finishing emptying our shelves," said Darrin Fikstad, president of the board directors for Desert Manna in Barstow, Calif.
Fikstad was referring to the 6,500 pounds of food items that were donated to Desert Manna, Barstow's primary social services agency, Sept. 4. Desert Manna operates the largest food pantry in the High Desert city and feeds about 10 percent of the city's 25,000 population each month, according to Sheri Randolph, executive director for the non-profit.
The donated food was purchased by customers of the DeCA Commissary at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin under the 2012 Feds Feed Families campaign. This was the fourth year in which the United States Office of Personnel Management requested the Department of Defense to participate in Feds Feed Families. The campaign ran from June 1 to August 31.
At the NTC and Fort Irwin, grocery bags holding 18.25 pounds of food and earmarked for the donation, were sold for $9.63. Customers included servicemembers, retirees, Families and civilians. The commissary sold 254 bags, surpassing the 6,000-pound goal for the installation, said Cynthia Hernandez, director of the Commissary. She added that food industry companies Nestle, Pepsi and Tyson Chicken also contributed to the tally.
Hernandez said she was motivated by Col. Kurt Pinkerton, commander for United States Army Garrison at Fort Irwin, to increase the Commissary's goal.
"I couldn't have done it without the community," Hernandez said. "I couldn't have done it without the support of the Garrison. I'm fortunate, because I don't know of many commissaries out there that have the kind of support that I have from the command."
Hernandez praised her staff for making the bags, selling them, and helping to get them on the delivery truck.
"I'm so proud of my staff," Hernandez said. "They've done an amazing job."
The palletized food items were placed on a flat-bed truck that drove to Desert Manna with Soldiers and a command sergeant major following. Soldiers from the installation's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program volunteered to strap down the pallets and then unload the food in Barstow.
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Dale Perez helped with the unloading at Desert Manna, but he also provided encouragement during the early part of the campaign. He challenged brigade-level command teams on post to match his purchase of 10 bags and he provided 100 coupons for bowling games to customers who purchased a bag of food. He said the contribution by Fort Irwin sent the message that Soldiers not only go outside the U.S. to help other communities, but that they also help out their fellow citizens.
"It shows that even when we're experiencing tough times, people will realize that they're doing 'ok' and they're willing to help those who are not," Perez said. "I acknowledge and understand that a lot of people out there are struggling, just trying to make it month to month. I think, in general, a lot of servicemembers acknowledge the same thing. And not just servicemembers, a lot of the civilians [as well]."
The food will stock Desert Manna's pantry and eventually fill emergency food baskets that are distributed to community members, said Fikstad. The pantry distributes to people, who qualify, in the greater Barstow area, including Yermo, Hinkley, Fort Irwin and Daggett. The donation from the NTC and Fort Irwin will help feed 200 to 300 people per month, through Dec. 1.
"There's no waste here, there's no hoarding here," Fikstad said about his food pantry program. "We get it distributed. We have cabinets full of files of qualified people."
Desert Manna provides many services to different demographics, including veterans. It operates a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, and a summer lunch program for children; the agency also provides utilities assistance, stranded travelers assistance, and weatherization for low-income homes. Each year the agency provides 55,000 services, said Filkstad.
Filkstad added that Soldiers from the installation should feel very proud of their contribution.
"It's really needed and the timing couldn't be better," said Flikstad
Robert C. Knauss said he is blessed to have Desert Manna provide shelter and food for his family, who are homeless. His wife and two children have been living at Desert Manna for a month. He said it was great that Fort Irwin donated food, which he helped unload at Desert Manna.
"A lot of people in this town would be out of many things if it wasn't for this place," Knauss said.