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Tribe, ranch donate 1,800-plus turkeys for families in need


Courtesy photo / Chicken Ranch Rancheria (From left) Heidi Diestel, of Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora, Monica Fox, tribal administrator for Chicken Ranch Rancheria, and Deni Avery, director of the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank in Jamestown are all smiles after the tribe and Diestel Turkey Ranch donated a combined 1,800 turkeys for ATCAA's first annual Turkey Drive held on Saturday at the Save Mart on Mono Way in Sonora.

Thousands of Tuolumne County families will be able to prepare a holiday meal that includes a turkey and all of the fixins thanks in large part to donations by the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California and Diestel Turkey Ranch.

The tribe’s donation of $18,000 to purchase 900 turkeys for the first annual Turkey Drive organized by the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank in Jamestown was matched turkey for turkey by the family-run farm located in Sonora.

“Diestel kicked us off with 100 turkeys and then promised to match every turkey given to us from 11 (a.m.) to noon, then Chicken Ranch (Rancheria) came in and donated 900,” said Deni Avery, director of ATCAA’s Food Bank in Jamestown. “I almost cried.”

More than 2,000 turkeys were collected over the course of the daylong drive held Saturday at the Save Mart on Mono Way in Sonora.

The turkeys will be included in food baskets that are given out by ATCAA to registered low-income families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The baskets also include produce, bread and other items for making a “traditional holiday meal,” according to Avery.

“This year’s baskets will definitely be better than in the past with the addition of those turkeys,” Avery said. “We’re just so excited it was such a success.”

Registration ends today. Avery said more than 700 had signed up as of Wednesday afternoon. The baskets for Thanksgiving will be given out Nov. 17 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Hillsdale Drive in East Sonora and Nov. 18 at the food bank on Victoria Way in Jamestown.

“We’re a turkey company, and a lot of folks celebrate around our product every year and this is just a way we love to give back,” said Heidi Diestel, of Diestel Turkey Ranch.

The food bank has seen its staffing slashed in half from six full-time and two part-time employees to three full-time and one part-time as a result of reduced funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

Bruce Giudici, fiscal officer for ATCAA, said the food bank previously received about $17,000 a month from a $700,000 grant that ran from December 2013 through April of this year.

However, the funding was cut by 47 percent to $8,051 a month through September 2019 as a result of a decision by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors in October 2015 that dedicated more money from the federal program to infrastructure projects.

“It’s a two-year period we’re told not to anticipate additional funding (from the CDBG program), so it’s put the food bank in a world of hurt,” Giudici said.

Meanwhile, the number of people served by the food bank has increased.

The bank and 13 pantries it serves throughout the county typically serve about 5,000 people per month each year, but they’re on track to serve about 5,800 people per month this year. That’s more than 10 percent of the county’s population.

Medical care and cost of living increases caused more need in the community, Avery said.

“There’s this horrible misconception that these people are just lazy and don’t want to get a job, but more than 40 percent of our clients are senior citizens, 20 percent are working families, and then we have the children,” she said. “The need is not because of people not wanting to get a job, the need is because people are struggling.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

Those in need of a holiday food basket with a turkey must register between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. today by calling the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank in Jamestown at (209) 984-3960 ext. 101.