By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
Calaveras County's hard-pressed food bank has found a welcome supporter in the area's newest coffee house, Starbucks.
The coffee brewer and retailer opened its doors in Angels Camp in December, and immediately began funneling money, coffee, pastries and volunteer help to the food bank, said Program Director Billie Westernoff.
"I feel like the food bank has been adopted by Starbucks," she said. "They came to me even before they opened the doors."
Westernoff said following its grand opening, the new Starbucks contributed more than $500 to the food bank.
"They've been donating their pastries. I stop by about three times a week and bring back unsold pastries here and put them in our food boxes," she said.
Westernoff said the new contributor is even more welcome now that cuts in federal and state funding for charities are looming. In addition to funding cuts, the numbers of hungry people seeking help from local food banks have increased dramatically.
She said Calaveras' food bank provided 199,886 meals to 15,493 individuals in 2002 a 42 percent increase from 2001.
"One day last week, we had 30 people come into our office in San Andreas asking for food," she said.
The food bank is one of several social service programs administered by the Human Resource Council.
All the HRC charitable programs and many other nonprofit groups in the county could receive even more from Starbucks, as the coffee company has launched its 2003 Grants for Giving Program.
The program will distribute $375,000 to 10 nonprofit organizations in Northern California that focus on youth and families, according to a corporate press release.
The money will be distributed among five geographical areas offering one grant of $50,000 and one of $25,000 within each area. Calaveras County is included in the greater Sacramento area. The other areas are North Bay, Peninsula-South Bay, East Bay and San Francisco.