A nonprofit group is making sure that no one goes hungry in the Aromas area.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors has been offering free fruit, vegetables and other food at Aromas Grange No. 361 for three years. The distributions are made twice monthly on the first and third Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
A.R. Pointer and her husband Fred Pointer started the free service in 2015 and it continues to grow. Last year Neighbors Helping Neighbors distributed 34,000 pounds of food to more than 4,500 family members, A.R. Pointer said.
Between 55 and 60 people show up at each distribution, she said. No proof of neediness is required, put people are asked to sign in. Anyone who has children, is ill, elderly, or who is in need of fresh food is welcome.
“Most of our people are working poor,” Pointer said. “We get a lot of people that are just needing help.”
The food comes from the Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville. Some items are purchased with money from fundraisers and donations, such as fresh eggs, rice, beans, macaroni and cheese and chicken.
The Pointers are 20-year Aromas residents. A.R. is retired from real estate, while Fred is a retired railroad employee. Having volunteered for 12 years at Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville, A.R. Pointer knew there was a need for a food program in Aromas.
Getting it started wasn’t easy. She sought advice from a friend who worked for the Food Bank for San Benito County. The friend suggested that food be distributed in the evening after people got off work.
Aromas Grange was not a 501c3 nonprofit, so Pointer went to her church minister and explained her proposal.
“She (the minister) said, ‘If you want to do this, do it with my blessing," Pointer recalled.
Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville gave its OK, and the grange allowed Neighbors Helping Neighbors to use the grange hall, at the corner of Rose and Bardue streets.
About 35 people showed up for that first food distribution, Pointer said.
The first year, she said, about 60 people showed up to help out. “For the size of Aromas, I think that’s pretty good,” she said.
Volunteers who signup must be ready and willing to work, Pointer pointed out. “I don’t want people standing around just sort of chit-chatting,” she said.
Volunteers show up at 10 a.m. to unload the food. In the afternoon, they monitor the process and replenish the food table.
“We put almost everything in boxes,” she said. “One person picks up the leftover food and takes it back to the food bank.”
The leftover food is used for compost or to feed farm animals.
People who have benefited from the food distribution have returned to volunteer with the distribution, Pointer said. “That part of it, to me, is probably the most gratifying. … People’s notion that there’s people out there just on the take, that’s just not true.”
Food available at the distribution varies by season. In the summer there are berries, pears, oranges and apples. There are usually onions, potatoes, lettuce and broccoli. The program also gets mushrooms, eggplant, snap peas and green beans.
To add more protein to the mix, the program began buying fresh eggs from Second Harvest Food Bank. The eggs come in boxes, 15 dozen to a box. So volunteers must transfer them to 12-egg cartons.
“I asked people that come to distribute to be sure to save your egg cartons and bring them to the grange,” Pointer said. “I’m buried in egg cartons, and it’s great.”
After six months of operation, Neighbors Helping Neighbors applied for and was granted 501c3 tax-exempt status.
Food distribution is just part of its mission. It is involved a number of other community activities. There is a free senior luncheon once a month at the Grange.
“We get together and we laugh and tell stories,” Pointer said. “It’s just for friendship and a chance to connect with one another.” There also are luncheons for people in need and shut-ins.
Last year Neighbors Helping Neighbors provided more than 45 coats for needy children. During the holidays, 11 needy families with a total of 33 children were assisted. Each child received a jacket, a hat, socks and toys. The families received turkeys, ham, a 50-pound sack of food and food gift cards.
“We’re very proud of that,” Pointer said.
“It (Neighbors Helping Neighbors) really kind of pulls the community together, as well as the Grange does,” she said. “It provides a wonderful place for people to meet.”
The program also offers seminars on Social Security and Medicare and is hoping to offer programs on wills, probate and identify theft. Pointer said the program is considering offering recipes for such things as eggplant and Brussels sprouts.
“We’re very happy and … people are just eager to volunteer,” she said. “We’re happy to be doing this and we have a great board of directors for Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”
As for herself, she said, the program “is more gratifying than you can even imagine. We’re so happy we’re able to do this. We’ve made so many friends.”
For more information on Neighbors Helping Neighbors or to volunteer, call A.R. Pointer at 831-726-2602 or email her at [email protected]