IFM feeds and connects our community |

IFM feeds and connects our community

Jim Hemig

"Thank you. Now I can eat tonight."

Those words stopped us in our tracks and made all the effort crystal clear.

The entire purpose of the Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) stood right before us as the groceries were loaded into his car.

The IFM, in its new location just outside downtown Grass Valley since April, is on track to provide food to about 4,000 registered families, roughly 8,500 people, in Nevada County in 2014.

“Thank you. Now I can eat tonight.”
Those words stopped us in our tracks and made all the effort crystal clear.

Serving 8,500 people is quite an undertaking. I've been meeting folks all over this county who are connected to this effort. Enough times that I wanted to find out more, so I asked around.

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What I found out was nothing short of spectacular — an absolute machine of volunteers, efficient processes and a community support system unlike anything I've ever seen before.

I asked the IFM's Executive Director, Sue Van Son, if I could see this process firsthand. We hatched a scheme to get many of the people responsible for the new site and food distribution together for a volunteer day last Friday. When I met Sue, I was very impressed with her charming smile and true leadership qualities. Everyone working that Friday followed her lead without question or concern. It was obvious we were one team with a single mission.

I was matched up with IFM board member Jim Schroeder, who quickly showed me the ropes of a distributor. Jim explained the complex, yet completely straightforward, process of reading a family's food list and assembling the bags so the pusher could roll the cart out to the family's car. I jumped at the chance to be a distributor so I could meet more of the volunteers.

Sue and I had invited a couple of the local contractors responsible for the remodel of this new location. Both showed up willingly. Keoni Allen and Carl Van Son both wore the neon yellow vests and, both towering at least 6-feet-5-inches, became the tallest pushers the IFM has ever seen. Keoni donated his time as the general contractor on the remodel project and Carl, Sue's husband, volunteered as the project supervisor.

Not to be left out of the experience, Nevada County Contractor Association's Executive Director Barbara Bashall, who also had a hand in the remodel effort, pushed these two giants out of the way and helped push carts, too. All three told me that the experience was very emotional and made them glad they contributed to helping people get fed through the ministry.

Adding to the volunteer list that day, the "Garden Gals" came by for the tour, as well. This group of seven women have been donating their time this year to grow food on land donated for the sole purpose of providing vegetables for the IFM. Their first harvest is expected next week, and they, too, were excited to see their hard work helping local people in need.

The Contractors' Association and Garden Gals are only a small part of this effort. Fifteen area churches and the local community have contributed more than 450 volunteers to work at the Food Ministry. Not everyone works the Monday, Wednesday and Friday pick-up days. Some work one day a week, some one day a month. And some work on the other days, sorting and preparing for the pick-up days.

I was completely in awe of the effort of the 40 drivers who volunteered their time and their cars to pick up donated food from the area supermarkets. The drivers pick up items that are about to expire, which isn't a problem because the IFM food model is small, frequent pickups of fresh produce and staples. It appears that just about all of our supermarkets donate. I also heard many examples of local businesses helping with either labor or money donations, and I heard what sounded like an almost legendary effort from Scott Davidson and the staff of Economy Pest Control for their food pick-up efforts.

The line outside IFM got long and the pace picked up. This is when the efficiency of this operation was apparent. With smiles and hellos, the volunteers at the computer check-in directed people to the interviewers. The interviewers checked dietary needs and handed the list to the distributors. Distributors collected the food and finally, the pushers did their thing. This last step is when we had the most contact with the people who come to IFM for food support.

It's estimated that about 13,000 Nevada County residents need some level of food support. That means around 65 percent of the county's needs are met through the Interfaith Food Ministry. We heard many stories of people in need, people forced to support additional family members without the resources to do so, people working full-time jobs who aren't get paid enough to feed their families, and people who lost their jobs and need help until they can gain employment again. Lots of emotional stories. Fortunately, we have a caring community and many people willing to donate their time to help.

Serving that many people was not easy, but what I saw that day was astounding. Smiles, hustling and teamwork abound. If you'd like to help, you will find it an incredibly rewarding experience. And you'd be part of one massive, connected community of support for our fellow citizens down on their luck.

Even though we worked hard and were only just learning, the group of contractors I volunteered with all said they'd like to do this again. Want to join us some time and donate time or money to this cause? Visit the website at or email

Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at or at 530-477-4299.

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