Strait On: Community Pantry does more than feed the community

Photo courtesy of Rusty Strait
Rusty Strait.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

As a country kid growing up in West Virginia, pantry meant a small (sometimes large) room off the kitchen where grandma stored mountains of mason jars chock full of vegetables and fruits she canned during the summer, and which we devoured with great relish during the bare winter months. Dill pickles and sauerkraut were stored in kegs in an outside cellar.
That was then. Now is now. Community Pantry is located on the northwest corner of San Jacinto Street and Oakland Avenue, and it truly serves our expansive valley, including Lakeview, Winchester, Homeland, Nuevo, Hemet, San Jacinto, Idyllwild, Mountain Center, Anza, Aguanga and Sage. Jim Lineberger, head honcho at the Pantry, was quick to explain how proud he is of the Pantry’s services to the community.
“The pantry has been here for many years, and I’ve been with them for six years,” says Lineberger. “Our primary purpose is emergency food assistance. Over the past few years we’ve increased our services from just food to include rental assistance, utility assistance and assistance to the homeless with blankets, socks, gloves and beanies as well as other necessities. About two years ago we began a delivery service for seniors.”
The Seniors Delivery Service includes furnishing non-perishable food to seniors who are disabled, can’t drive or for some other reason are unable to leave their home.
How does Community Pantry pay the bills, I asked. Does he receive grants?
“Glad you asked that question,” he said. “Some grants come from the county through HUD. One is the CDBG grant which comes through the city of Hemet, and the FEMA ESP grant. These are federal grants, of course. However there is a hang-up with the FEMA grant. We have to first spend the money in order to qualify to be later reimbursed by the Federal Government. So far we haven’t been reimbursed for three years.”
FEMA grants are for 12 months and then the grantee is supposed to wait six months thereafter to be paid. However, it simply doesn’t always work that way.
“This creates a real problem for us,” said Lineberger, “because we can’t receive more government grants while that is pending. It creates a serious cashflow problem.”
President Trump’s budget director recently announced that some of these grants will no longer be doled out.
“I heard about that,” said Lineberger, “and if they get rid of the CDBG grants, that will hurt us seriously. Not only us, but millions of agencies receive CDBG grants. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. But let us go back five years when we used to receive a lot of monetary donations from the private community – businesses and churches and of course, and citizens at large.”

Photos by Rusty Strait
From the outside, Community Pantry doesn’t look that much different than other storefronts. It’s what happens inside that makes the difference.

What happened?
“We’re down to maybe $3,000 a month. The primary reason for that is our senior citizen population – either passing away or moving away. Some of that may be coming back. I notice that younger folks – high school and below – are starting to understand giving. Seniors from 60 years and up get it. The ones who don’t seem to understand are from 25 to 60 – the working class.”

Jim says it is difficult to blame them, however.

“When you look at the economy and all the other issues they have, they are the ones who are struggling, so they don’t have that internal voice that says, ‘even though I am struggling, I still need to give.’ Giving brings blessings. Some say the economy is getting better, but I don’t see it here in the valley.”

The Community Pantry registers about 130 families every month for assistance.

“A family,” he says, “can be one or 10. Maybe it is getting better, but not for these people.”

I wondered if some who need it don’t apply for assistance. He had an answer for that.

“I want to share something with you,” he said. “We have [some clients who receive] entitlements, not a big percentage, mind you, because most of those receiving entitlements aren’t as hurting. I don’t know why.”

Between 4,000 and 5,000 active families are registered with Community Pantry.”



What about the homeless?

“They come twice a year. They have more pride than you can imagine. We rarely see them,” he admits. “They are not the ones out there demanding and are not bleeding the Pantry. They are grateful for what they get.”

I was shocked to learn that there are 10,100 families registered at the Pantry – starting from 2011.

“There are probably four or five thousand that we would consider active.”

At the current time the Pantry only provides six services a year. Jim hopes it will grow to 12 a month. Only the Senior Delivery Program offers that many a year.

“A service provides food for a family, no matter the size: three meals a day for three days,” said Lineberger.

Where does it come from today?

“We have been blessed lately. When I first took over here we were getting about $60,000 (equivalent to 60,000 pounds of food). Last year we received 389,000 pounds of food,” said Lineberger. “Sprouts, Target, Wal-Mart and Frito-Lay regularly donate food stuffs. A company in Redlands recently donated 40,000 boxes of cereal. Stater Bros. donates money.”

A typical food distribution service used to include three to four bags. Donations have been flowing in, says Lineberger, so that a service includes six to 10 bags of food, depending on the size of the family. Volunteers are vital to the operation.

“Without our 80 or 90 volunteers, this place wouldn’t exist,’ he said. “I just oversee everything. They do most of the work around here.”

Jim Lineberger does more than feed the needy in our community…he also helps seniors with rent and utilities and clothing.

He had other, somewhat shocking details to share about his clientele.

“Most of them are single mothers with kids. Another thing your readers might not know, the valley’s homeless senior population is growing,” Lineberger shared. “Many never heard of us or didn’t think they were qualified. They’re starting to receive food stamps. They didn’t qualify before if they received SSI. I’m starting to see eight or 10 at a time showing up that are either already homeless or on the verge of homelessness. The spouse or partner dies and they lose their source of income, or their kids abandon them to fend for themselves. It is sad and it is increasing.”

The Pantry got a break this year with a CDBG grant of $10,000 and $10,000 from the Soboba Indians – all slated for senior citizen assistance.

If you’ve got a few bucks you’d enjoy donating – this is a great cause – and it’ll make you feel good to have done it. They can be reached at (951) 929-9901. Just sayin’.

Incidentally, I welcome ideas and if you see wrongdoing somewhere contact me – in the interest of public honesty. I’ll investigate.

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