By Dave Christensen
“Tis the season to be jolly,” and in Desert Hot Springs, jolly “spiritual giants” lead the way on roads of compassion and community service. Twin brothers David and Dana Johnson of Food Now, some say, have hearts of gold.
“We’re not just a food bank, we are a community assistance program,” said David Johnson, director of Food Now, a part of Family Services of the Desert located behind the UPS Store in the Von’s Shopping Center. Food Now distributes 45,000 pounds of food each month to needy citizens in the community. Services began to expand about a year ago when they received a telephone call from Lisa Houston of Future Physicians of America (FPA).
Sponsored by Dr Raul Ruis, (recently Congressmen-elect Ruis), FPA sent six young pre-med students to test for early signs of diabetes and obesity among Food Now clients. The physicians also brought with them onsite testing, information, counseling services concerning prevention and awareness of diabetes and problematic obesity, all paid for by Dr. Ruis himself. FPA continues to serve the community on a monthly basis as part of services offered by the Food Now assistance program.
Food Now also hosts to its beneficiary’s primary health care through Urban Community Assistance Program, (U-Cap). Through U-Cap, citizens receive primary health care to meet the medical needs of the community. U-Cap staffs one primary care physician and two registered nurses to care for those in medical need.
“Our clients do not have conventional health insurance, nor the means to obtain it,” Johnson added. “We also have a pharmacy assistance program that saves up to 85 percent of prescription costs, saving those who have regular pharmaceutical needs hundreds of dollars per month.”
How does a food bank offer such services amongst budget cuts and a lagging economy? According to Dana Johnson, about five years ago Food Now was mostly dependant on government assistance grants. In 2007, when the budget ax went down, the cuts were deep and grants were drastically reduced or cut off altogether.
“That is when we started looking at grants from private community foundations,” Johnson said.
The Weingart Foundation; The Community Foundation; Desert Classic Charities; and Stater Brothers Charitable Foundation; among others. Since then, private donations have increased 50 percent. “Community donations have contributed to the stability of this organization”. Johnson said.
Food Now operates on an annual budget of approximately $160,000.00 per year, with an estimated one-third coming from foundations and grants, a third from private donations, and a third from fundraisers, events such as golf tournaments, chili cook off, a Christmas Tree farm that offers major discounts for Christmas Trees, and events such as the pancake breakfast and 5K walk at Skybourne half-marathon this Saturday Dec. 8.
Both the twins have said that the devotion of their volunteers makes this program work, contributing more than $200,000 in labor costs and administrative services annually.
“Most of our volunteers are regulars, contributing a three day work week every week,” Johnson said. “This is not easy work that they do; besides distributing food, they unload trucks, fill orders, stock shelves, and clean the facility three days a week. It is hard work, and without them this program does not exist.”
For more information about Food Now go to www.foodnowinc.org. The Desert Star Weekly salutes these two “Jolly Spiritual Giants,” and their selfless volunteers for their contributions to this community.”