Stanislaus County's largest charitable food wholesaler closed its warehouse seven weeks ago, when its Riverbank landlord nearly doubled the rent.
To keep feeding Stanislaus County's hungry poor, more than 50 Second Harvest Food Bank customers, mostly churches with food pantries, have been driving to its Manteca headquarters.
Many are praying that Second Harvest can find another location closer to home.
"With fuel prices, it's hard" driving to San Joaquin County, said Bruce Shuttera of Ninevah Outreach, Calvary Temple Worship Center's food ministry, which distributes about 1,200 food bags each week at the church and in three parks. Second Harvest is the church's main food source.
Second Harvest is the nation's largest charitable hunger-relief organization. Its San Joaquin-Stanislaus facility feeds 130,000 people, distributing about 1.5 million pounds of food yearly in Stanislaus County alone.
Losing the Riverbank warehouse also means losing a monthly check from the United Way of Stanislaus. Its partner-agency policy requires that funding recipients be located in the county.
United Way board members discussed the rules at monthly meetings in February and March and expect to again in April, United Way President Tom Ciccarelli said in an e-mail. His office is holding Second Harvest's February and March checks, he said.
They amount to about $1,100 each, said Paul Rengh, chief executive officer of Second Harvest. The organization relies on support from private companies and federal grants administered by cities for its $1.3 million annual budget.
"In the nonprofit world, every dollar is important," Rengh said. Ciccarelli said United Way is "committed to assist them in any way we can to locate a new site in Stanislaus County."
Rent nearly doubled
A kindhearted Riverbank property owner provided a 10,000-square-foot warehouse for two years without charging rent when Stanislaus County Food Bank got its start under Jerry and Susan Quillen in 1994. Manteca-based Second Harvest acquired the food bank five years later.
The current landlord notified Rengh in December that the rent would increase from $32,000 to $60,000 per year, he said.
"He's free to charge whatever he thinks the market will bear," Rengh said. "There is no ill will on our part. But I don't know any business that could absorb that."
The Manteca headquarters absorbed the inventory. Stanislaus County customers drove the extra miles to pick up 78,659 pounds of food in February. That's a few thousand pounds short of what the Riverbank warehouse would unload, Rengh said, but still a substantial amount.
"The food is still getting there," Rengh said. "We certainly remain committed to those most at risk in Stanislaus County; that will never change."
Jerry Quillen, pastor at Victory Life Center, still relies on the food bank he started 14 years ago to supply his Modesto Love Center food ministry on the border of Modesto and Ceres. His trucks picked up 5,300 pounds of food in February.
"I would love to see (Second Harvest) back here," he said. "That's why we started the food bank in Stanislaus County in the first place -- we didn't have one here and felt there was a need."
Second Harvest seeks below-market rent for a warehouse of about 10,000 square feet with a sealed floor, sound walls and adequate space for tractor-trailer parking.
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Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.