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Desert Manna feeds 10 percent of Barstow

Food pantry need increased 400 percent since 2008

STAFF WRITER

BARSTOW • One in 10 Barstow residents or approximately 2,000 people a month receive food assistance from Desert Manna, a nonprofit social services provider.

The food pantry has seen a 400 percent increase in households needing assistance since 2008, according to Executive Director Sheri Randolph.

Besides being full to capacity as a 32-bed homeless shelter, Desert Manna provides monthly food baskets of nonperishable items and emergency food boxes every 60 days to qualified individuals and families. And that’s on top of offering a free lunch meal to the public Monday to Friday, and a dinner meal Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday.

“We currently provide over 55,000 services each year — making us one of the largest social service providers in San Bernardino County,” Randolph said in an email.

Since 1988 the shelter has provided emergency shelter and food assistance, and within the last decade has expanded with the need for all of its programs growing increasingly, according to Randolph.

Nnamaka Ugezene, one recipient from the monthly USDA surplus food commodities program, said he moved to Barstow two months ago from San Bernardino with his wife and son. He volunteers a number of hours each week at Desert Manna helping distribute food commodities as part of a requirement of being a Cash Aid and Food Stamp recipient.

Darrin Fikstad, board president of Desert Manna, said volunteer work and shelter duty assignments — such as cooking, front desk and clerical tasks — teach valuable job skills.

“They’re held accountable,” he said. “It’s like having a job. They have to show up on time, be professional and we provide the training for them so that hopefully they can get a good recommendation and get hired.”

Garry Geissler, 58, a recipient of the food commodities program, said he either hitchhikes or gets a ride to Desert Manna from his trailer home by Calico. A retired security guard of 35 years, he lives without running water and also comes to the shelter to shower.

“It saves me because I usually don’t buy enough food,” he said about the pantry.

Fikstad said 95 percent of services provided go to local residents and 5 percent to a transient population, those needing emergency temporary assistance like a three-night stay or even a bus ticket to their destination.

According to FeedingAmerica.org, one in six Americans face hunger and Randolph said Desert Manna helps 600 to 650 households a month through their food commodities program — so much that they are currently exploring becoming a food bank, according to Fikstad.

“Our philosophy is that if we can’t help you, we will find someone who can,” Randolph said. “We work very closely with the county agencies and other nonprofits in Barstow and San Bernardino County.”

Formed in 1988 by a community task force led by 14 of the local churches, the vision for Desert Manna was to be a “one stop shop” for social services in Barstow so that organizations, churches, businesses, etc. knew where to send people who needed assistance.

For more information about Desert Manna, or to volunteer, contribute food, clothing or money to their Annual Matching Funds Campaign, call (760) 256-7797 or visit the Desert Manna Office at 201 N. 1st Avenue, Suite B, Barstow, CA 92311.


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