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Volunteers note improvements at local food banks but Oakhurst’s branch remains closed

Central California Food Bank volunteer Russell Mesta stacks boxes of food on Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019. The food bank is preparing for possible cuts to the nation’s hunger programs should the federal government shutdown continue into March.
Central California Food Bank volunteer Russell Mesta stacks boxes of food on Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019. The food bank is preparing for possible cuts to the nation’s hunger programs should the federal government shutdown continue into March. jwalker@fresnobee.com

Central California Food Bank’s revamped procedures for its eastern Madera County food distribution sites has resulted in an improvement in food quality, two months after food distribution coordinators went public with concerns of excessive amounts of spoiled food.

Dawn Terrell, coordinator of the Raymond distribution site, and David Fisher, coordinator of the Grace Community Church distribution site in North Fork, both reported improvements in their February and March shipments. Terrell’s site distributes food on the first Tuesday of each month, while Fisher’s distributes every fourth Tuesday.

“Everything we’ve got in the last two shipments has just been very good, so I really think this has been straightened out,” Fisher said.

In February, Andy Souza promised a bevy of changes to help make ensure the food being sent up to the mountain community was up to par. Souza promised tighter food inspection procedures, as well as improved communication between the coordinators and the CCFB, and the coordinators are reporting those improvements were delivered.

“It has always been and it will continue to be our goal to get the best product available to us to the families that are in need throughout the service area,” Souza said. “We’re glad that we have been able to restore better communications and we’re just all continuing to move this process forward.”

Terrell said the new paperwork takes food quality into account and has improved the distribution process.

Souza said the CCFB decided these changes were necessary after reading a January Sierra Star article in which Mary Bowman, former coordinator of the Oakhurst and Coarsegold distribution sites, and Fisher expressed their grievances.

Bowman was the first to come forward with allegations of inedible food. She stepped down as coordinator of both food banks in December in protest of the food quality, closing the sites down indefinitely.

Both sites are now in the process of reopening, with Coarsegold slated to reopen in two weeks.

Terrell worked with Bowman and the CCFB to reopen the Coarsegold site with Terrell as coordinator. The Coarsegold site is scheduled to reopen April 16 at the Coarsegold Historic Village and will continue to distribute food every third Thursday of the month.

Bowman decided to help get the Coarsegold site open again after witnessing the drastic improvement first-hand at the Raymond site. She said the delivery included nine separate food items, and the amount of spoiled food was so small that it could fit in a “bucket.”

“We got rid of the bad, we got the good coming back in, now let’s get it back where it belongs,” Bowman said.

Souza said Oakhurst should be reopening soon, as well. The CEO could not provide many details on the reopening but said an agreement was near and the site would be reopened as soon as possible.

“I know our staff are in contact with two different groups, but it’s a little bit early to make any sort of formal announcement,” Souza said. He added that it’s just a matter of “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” and hoped to have the site open by May.

Bowman hopes to see the Oakhurst site reopened soon, as well, although she does not plan to return as a coordinator, citing severed ties with the CCFB as the reason.

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