The Rice Plus Project feeds thousands every month with an all-volunteer crew.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Dozens of rain-gear clad volunteers stood outside in the storm and passed wet, slippery bags of rice off to the next pair of hands in the human chain they formed, from the street, down a pathway and into Kolar’s cozy living room in Carmel.
They do this the first Sunday of every month: unload 3,000 pounds of rice, hundreds of pounds of beans and canned foods (along with blankets and clothes), pass the items person to person into the house before repacking it to distribute to the hungry.
But Dec. 2 was windier and rainier than most “rice packing parties” as Rice Plus Project founder Sandhya Kolar calls them. Volunteer Laura Lewis says she called Kolar that morning. “I said, ‘It’s really raining. You’re under a bunch of pine trees. Maybe postpone it.’”
Kolar replied: “I don’t think I can. People are hungry and counting on it.”
People are hungry. According to a UCLA Center for Health Policy and Research study published this summer, more than 43 percent of low-income families in Monterey County experience food insecurity.
And the some 1,500 people who receive food every month from the all-volunteer Rice Plus Project typically don’t get help anywhere else, Kolar says. Some come to the monthly events because they need food themselves, and often become “leaders,” distributing the goods in their own neighborhoods.
All ages – from an 80-year-old couple to a 3-month-old infant – attend the monthly events, and there’s a job for everyone: opening bags, filling them with four cups of rice each and loading them back into volunteers’ trucks. “This is seat-of-your-pants, grassroots stuff,” she says.
One volunteer, Rudolfo “Roco” Gonzalez, takes time off from his job working in the fields to help out at the monthly packing parties. Kolar says among the families he’s helped is one he found living in an unheated garage.
Gonzalez says he has 80 families on his list; he tries to stretch the food donations so everyone receives something.
“Especially in this time, when the economy is hard, the people are so happy to receive the food,” he says. “And on Christmas day, to have a turkey and presents – you should see the faces, especially the children.”
About 25 years ago, while getting a haircut, a woman in the chair next to Kolar started talking about a family who didn’t have anything to eat.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Kolar says. “So I bought a 50-pound bag of rice, packed it into smaller bags and gave it to the family. Then I started thinking: ‘What about next month?’”
Then the holidays came along and the nonprofit wrapped 50 gifts for kids. This year the gift-wrapping party happens Dec. 16, and Kolar hopes to wrap and donate at least 900, last year’s number.
“Its my belief that the most spiritual thing that we can do is help other people,” she says. “And that’s really my motivation, loving all these people.”
Donate online now until midnight, Dec. 31, 2012
• View snapshots of 96 local nonprofits
• Link to each organization’s website
• All donations receive a pro-rated match until $100,000 fund is exhausted