Anza Electric Cooperative employees, area volunteers and Food In Need of Distribution Inc. food bank personnel dispersed free, fresh, nutritious food to Anza residents at the mobile pantry program at the cooperative Saturday, Dec. 14.

Rapidly dropping temperatures and fog did not deter attendance to the event.

“We had about 220 families served this month, with around 15,000 pounds of food distributed,” AEC general manager Kevin Short said.

The program, organized by FIND and the AEC, enlisted the volunteer help of several local organizations, as well as their own employees.

The food provided consisted of apples, pears, oranges, potatoes, onions and zucchini. Canned goods, pies, breads, beverages and a 14-pound turkey were also provided to each participant at no cost.

From Oct. 21 to Dec. 10, the AEC and the Anza Thimble Club joined forces to collect 211 coats, sweaters, vests and jackets, Betsy Hansen, AEC member services representative, said.

“These were made available for distribution at the Dec. 14 FIND Food Pantry event,” she said. “This number did not include the multiple hats, gloves, mittens and scarves also being given away. The overwhelming response from our community to help our members in need is heartwarming and necessary. The success of this adventure would not have been possible without the help of so many. To them we are all grateful.”

Of those 211 coats and jackets, only 40 were left unclaimed and later donated to From the Heart Christian Women’s Ministries.

Anza Borrego Health Center representatives were on hand to provide educational materials and offering free flu vaccinations, while chatting with attendees about their health needs.

The cooperative sponsored a child identification kit, offering the fingerprinting of young children so parents can have the kit on file to better identify their youngsters in case of an emergency or natural disaster. Cards with the tiny prints were supplied to participating mothers and fathers.

“I’m grateful for the generosity of spirit that our community displays every month at the FIND food event. We routinely have 50 or 60 volunteers helping out, making sure that everyone that needs help gets it. Thank you to FIND and their incredible team for providing the highest possible quality of food available for our community,” Short said.

Wheelchair-user Jerry Eggering was interviewed by KESQ Channel 3 anchor Caitlin Thropay, telling her how grateful he was for the opportunity provided by the cooperative and FIND.

Hamilton High School students and other volunteers assisted people to take the heavy bags to their cars.

Earlier this year the AEC board of directors approved a donation for the Mobile Pantry and that donation was matched by one of the cooperative’s lenders, CoBank’s Sharing Success matching grant program. The remaining funds were donated by the High Country Conservancy. All this effort made it possible for the Mobile Pantry to distribute food to economically challenged Anza residents.

FIND food bank is the only regional food bank serving eastern Riverside and southern San Bernardino counties.

They distribute over 10 million pounds of food assistance annually to an average of 85,000 individuals each month, doing so through a network of 100-plus community-based partners whose programs include food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school and summer care, senior centers, faith-based organizations and homeless shelters.

FIND is a member of Feeding America and the California Association of Food Banks.

The Mobile Pantry is planned for the second Saturday of every month.

“This would never have happened if it wasn’t for Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz putting FIND in touch with us during the Cranston Fire,” Jennifer Williams, AEC government relations liaison, said at the September event. Ruiz said he saw the need in Anza and brought the various organizations together.

For more information about FIND, visit them at www.findfoodbank.org.

To learn more about the monthly food giveaway event at the cooperative, call (951) 763-4333 or visit www.anzaelectric.org.

To contact Ruiz, visit his website at www.ruiz.house.gov.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.