Pictured: Local groups and businesses build can trees as part of the annual holiday food drive with FoodShare. 

by David Goldstein

If you are enjoying holiday season meals with family, you may want to express gratitude by avoiding waste and sharing with those less fortunate. Unfortunately, sharing prepared food is not easy. 

Food Share of Ventura County, a nonprofit regional food bank, feeds approximately 140,000 people per month, but is unable to accept or direct prepared food to their partners over the Thanksgiving weekend. Monica White, Food Share’s President and CEO, explains, “Food safety is our number one concern, and finding a local food pantry with the staff, refrigeration and other capabilities needed to handle prepared food may be difficult.” 

Instead of prepared food, Food Share specializes in shelf-stable packaged food and produce. The staple of shelf-stable food is canned food, and Food Share will host its tenth annual CAN-tree Drive Dec. 9-12 at Figueroa Plaza in Downtown Ventura. See the Food Share website, or www.foodshare.com/cantree, for registration options, tree building instructions and awards information, or email event organizer Jennifer Caldwell at jcaldwell@foodshare.com

Rather than trying to share leftovers from your table, you are more likely to avoid waste by packing leftovers and storing in your own refrigerator or sending food home with guests. “Just beware of time and temperatures,” warns Graciela Garcia, who manages food inspections for the Ventura County Environmental Health Division. United States Department of Agriculture guidelines, for example, say turkey should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours, or just one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Garcia. 

Simply donating money to a hunger relief organization is often more practical. In addition to Food Share, major local food-based charities include Food Forward, Spirit of Santa Paula and Ventura County Rescue Mission.

Another important way to express gratitude through sharing is to donate new or used warm clothing to people in need. Ventura County Supervisors Matt LaVere and Carmen Ramirez recently organized a drive to collect warm clothing from employees at the Ventura County Government Center. Donations brought by county employees through Dec. 17 will be donated to the county’s one-stop homeless assistance center, which holds events in West County cities, providing services such as food stamp application assistance, free testing for diseases, and a medical clinic. To coordinate with the one-stop center for a donation drive at your workplace, contact Program Administrator Yolanda Huerta or Program Assistant James Boyd at 805-652-6694. 

The Ventura Rotary’s Coats for Kids program offers drop-off sites countywide to share new or used warm clothing. The program is organized by the Rotary Club of Ventura, and the Rotary Club of Ventura South assists. The Crowne Plaza in Ventura cleans the donations, thanks to Rotarian Danny Quintana, the hotel manager. 

Collected jackets, sweaters, and heavy sweatshirts are distributed by the Boys & Girls Clubs, Project Understanding, Casa Pacifica, the Union Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, The Hope Center Project, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, local police departments and local churches.

“Coats for Kids” is neither just for coats nor just for kids. All sizes are accepted, and “sometimes, entire families that would otherwise be cold in the winter receive warm clothing” from the program, according to Kristin Taylor, a travel agent and a member of the Ventura Downtown Rotary, who coordinates the program. 

Donations from children are among the most important, however, because, according to Taylor, “when kids donate, even just something they have outgrown, it helps them realize the importance of giving.” Kids learn, “there are people in our community who don’t have as much as you . . . They could have been cold without your donation. Donations . . . improve our community by giving others a better chance in life.”

To see the list of over 50 “Coats for Kids” drop-off sites, go to https://bit.ly/COATS2021, or https://portal.clubrunner.ca/2868/Stories/coats-for-kids-program-has-over-50-drop-off-locations. Some locations are available only Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, but other sites are available year-round. The three most popular drop-off sites are the two Trader Joe’s in Ventura and Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura.

David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org