RIVERBANK — The hungry and lonely should come to mind when putting a face on Riverbank Cares.
This core group of a half-dozen individuals works tirelessly with churches, service clubs and others to coordinate aid to Riverbanks neediest. Carla Strong, a founder of Riverbank Cares and manager at Westamerica Bank, is not above dressing as a turkey on the hunt for another type of turkey a frozen one for Christmas food boxes. She did just that the Saturday before Thanksgiving for the groups annual drive-by turkey drive.
A shorter period between Thanksgiving and Christmas brings greater urgency for Strong and her group to help those struggling to make ends meet.
When you stand there and offer a turkey to a family, they look at you and ask for a canned ham because theyre homeless and have no way to cook the turkey, then somewhere deep down the energy just seems to come, said Strong on providing holiday food to families.
Or when a senior sits waiting for Santa to give them a bag and theyre just sure they wont get anything, the smile that comes across their face when Santa walks up to them; you cant begin to give up even when youre exhausted.
Hers is the energy behind Riverbank Cares.
What is Riverbank Cares?
Riverbank Cares is a group of concerned citizens and businesspeople, all volunteer, that are trying to make a positive difference in the Riverbank community.
What led to its formation?
There are many organizations committed to the betterment of the Riverbank community. What we found was we were all focused on the same goal but not working together. This would lead to some families getting more than they could use and some being left out completely. The focus needed to be how to make the best use of the resources, both financial and physical, that we had to ensure that as many families as possible were benefiting.
One of your projects now is a turkey drive. How close are you to meeting goals?
Our estimate of the need for this year is approximately 300 families. At this point, we believe we are a little over halfway to our goal. There is always a last-minute push because we count on donations of fruit, vegetables, milk and bread from local stores, and youre never quite sure how much you will have. However, if the community donates the nonperishables, then we know people will have food. Cash donations go toward filling in the gaps for what is not donated. It is important to know that even if we get too much of any one thing, food closets feed needy families 52 weeks a year. All our donations for our efforts stay in the Riverbank community.
Your other project is Adopt a Grandparent. Whats involved in that?
Works like this: Visit OBriens Market or the Westamerica Bank branch in the Crossroads shopping center and you will find ornaments on the Christmas tree giving you information for a senior resident of the Riverbank Care Facility; their needs or wants are also included. Once you select the senior you want to adopt this holiday season, it is important to record your choice with the staff of the market or the bank. This will allow for tracking so no one is left out. As you go about your holiday shopping, purchase the gifts and return them to the market or the bank, unwrapped, in a gift bag. Gifts should be returned no later than Tuesday.It is important that the ornament be returned also, since Santa has an official check-off list. The gifts will be sorted and readied for delivery, when the seniors will enjoy a holiday party. Cash donations are accepted and the organizers will do the shopping for you.
What are other Riverbank Cares programs?
Since we are a totally volunteer organization, with a core group of five to seven people, we are careful to limit what we do so we do it well. In 2014, we will expand our efforts to a food drive in the spring, around Eastertime. This will be focused on accumulating food for the weekly distributions of Riverbank Christian Food Sharing and St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry. Government funding and grants for food closets are almost nonexistent, so they need help all year.
We lost a major part of our toy project in 2013 with the death of Riverbank businessman Scott Pettit. We were faced with the dilemma of time and energy and how do we do it all. The group was faced with the decision to see that people had food or that children had toys. As hard as it was, we chose to do the food drive/distribution. While we have been forced to drop the toy drive and distribution this year, we are desperately looking for someone to fill that need for next year.
Bee staff writer Sharon K. Ghag can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2340.