Christmas Cheer teams up with local nonprofit | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Christmas Cheer teams up with local nonprofit

Roseann Keegan
rkeegan@tahoedailytribune.com

Roseann Keegan / Tahoe Daily TribuneMary Beth Welliver, left, and Connie Foff prepare boxes of food Wednesday afternoon at the new home of Christmas Cheer All Year and Love Your Neighbor Community Outreach.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The young girl runs to her mother, who is collecting a box of food for her family from the Christmas Cheer emergency food pantry.

“Mama, they have free clothes back there,” she whispers, tugging at her mother’s arm.

The mother and her two children leave a half-hour later, toting a box of food, a pack of toilet paper and clothing.

“These are not just people on welfare,” said Virginia Buffington, who heads up the Love Your Neighbor Community Outreach. “These are people throughout the town, people who have lost their jobs, people with less hours.”

Last month, Christmas Cheer and Love Your Neighbor Community Outreach teamed up and moved to a new location near Barton Hospital. The 1120 Third St. location, across from Tahoe Senior Plaza, houses the emergency food pantry, a free clothing section and several shelves filled with toiletries, paper goods and cleaning supplies.

Once a month, community members referred by local churches and social service agencies can visit the food bank for a modest box of food. The boxes are labeled according to the number of people in each household and contain rice, beans, condiments, peanut butter, instant potatoes, coffee and other items that have a longer shelf life. Some days, there’s donated meat from Overland Meat Company. One volunteer sits by the check-out area, doling out tomatoes.

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Joanne Shope, longtime office manager for Christmas Cheer, said the staff of the 30-year-old charity decided it was time to get some help.

“Were not getting any younger,” Shope said.

Christmas Cheer joined forces with Love Your Neighbor Community Outreach at the Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship, eventually moving into the new location. Each group has retained its individual identity.

“This is, like, so much room,” Shope said, gesturing around the building. “Look at us. The improvement is just wonderful.”

The groups are funded solely through donations. Food is purchased from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Grocery Outlet, Raley’s Food for Families program and other local stores. Food donations are always welcome, and arrive occasionally from local grocery stores. Every year, the El Dorado County Employees Association donates a butchered pig.

“That’s so neat,” Shope said. “Meat is really hard to come by.”

Some clients are referred by El Dorado County Department of Mental Health.

“You don’t know how much it helps them,” said Jeff Evans, a county mental health assistant. “They don’t have anything.”

Two years ago, Shope said the demand for services doubled and has since leveled off. In June, 1,157 people were visited served at the food bank. Of that number, 736 were Caucasian and 379 were Hispanic.

The biggest change Shope has noticed is that households are larger. She doesn’t attribute that to a spike in births, but said families are moving in together to survive the tough economy.

The volunteers don’t ask many questions and visitors are gently guided through the check out line. Volunteers are respectful of the embarrassment that sometimes comes with asking for help.

“I had a woman who stood in front of her (food) bag and broke down and wept,” said volunteer Connie Foff. “It was the first time she had to get help.”

“It can happen to anyone, at anytime,” Foff added.

The Christmas Cheer Emergency Food Pantry and Love Your Neighbor Community Outreach is at 1120 Third St., across from Tahoe Senior Plaza. Hours are 2-4 p.m. Sundays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Donations of food, clothing and small household items are accepted. Backpacks for children and adults are especially needed.

For information, call (530) 542-4934.