Community: “Feed The Community” Event Brings Needed Help To South LA Families

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Los Angeles – When Erica Stuart needed food to help provide for her two kids after her illness forced her to stop working, Helen Arellanes from The Salvation Army was there.

When Mayra Fructuoso needed help filling out the FAFSA application so her son could go to college, Helen was there.

And when Helen and the Salvation Army could use an extra hand in providing that help, the L.A. Clippers Foundation is there.

The L.A. Clippers Foundation partnered with Feed the Children for the ninth annual “Feed The Community” event Oct. 15 at the Salvation Army Siemon Family Youth & Community Center in South Los Angeles, providing 800 families in need with boxes of food and personal care items.

“I know what it is not to have,” Helen said. “And I know the food package that we give them, I know how much it’s going to help each family.”

Helen knows from experience. Long before she helped give back for The Salvation Army, she was the one receiving help.

Twenty years before joining the Salvation Army as a case worker, she was participating in the Salvation Army food pantries. When tragedy struck close to home, and the Salvation Army was there for her once again, she knew she needed to return.

“In 2012, after my daughter got hit by a drunk driver, the Salvation Army reached out,” Helen explained. “How they found out, I don’t know. I just know they found out and reached out to me, and they were with me every step of the way…That’s when I knew it was time for me to come home.”

Helen quit her job when the accident happened, remaining by her daughter’s side in the hospital for months, while running to food banks to take food back to her mom’s house so her other two daughters could eat it.

“My daughter made it,” Helen said. “My daughter survived.”

As for her own survival, Helen credits The Salvation Army’s help.

And because of Helen and the help of the Salvation Army, other families are benefitting.

“I want to thank Mrs. Helen, because she’s the case worker and coordinator for all these events,” Erica said. “She opens up her arms and her doors. Even if you just need a hug or a prayer, she’s just there.”

This year was the second time Erica participated in the L.A. Clippers Foundation’s “Feed The Community” event. She suffers from pseudotumor cerebri, a disease that presents all the symptoms of a tumor. Three weeks ago, she said she went through her 82nd spinal tap since dealing with the disease, which started when she was 16 years old.

Now 27, it’s forced her out of work, and her boyfriend has had to cut back on his hours. That makes it tough to feed her two young boys, 5-year-old Joshua and 1-year-old Nathan.

For Erica and others in similar situations, the “Feed The Community” event provides immediate and necessary relief.

“We come here because some nights we don’t have food to even feed the kids,” Erica said. “We go hungry at night just to make sure the kids eat.

“The best thing that can help my family right now is this,” said Erica’s boyfriend, Francisco Ortiz. “This helps.”

In addition to canned and dried foods, the families in attendance received personal care items such as toiletries and an Avon box of goodies that varied from perfume and cologne and lotions, to even new shoes.

Mortimer Jones, the executive director of the Salvation Army, tried to do a budget presentation to put a value on what “Feed The Community” can bring for families. But it’s tough to put a dollar value on what the event can mean to a family, because it goes beyond the palpable.

It shows people care about them.

“We’re in a rough neighborhood in terms of crime, but the truth is the majority of the community are just trying to make ends meet on a daily basis,” Jones said. “We are blessed to work with amazing individuals at the Clipper organization that just pour their heart into it.”

Erica said the simplest things are hard to buy, so any assistance helps. And this past weekend provided plenty.

“I’m not going to lie, sometimes I cry at night because it’s difficult as a mother and as a parent when you can’t provide something your kids need,” she said. “You want to do anything for your child to better them.”

Erica wants to eventually become like Helen, volunteering instead of receiving at events such as this one.

She doesn’t want to feel like she’s less than anyone else, and the Salvation Army doesn’t treat her that way.

“I really appreciate that,” Erica said. “For the Clippers, I don’t follow sports or anything, but I want to thank them so much, too.”

The Clippers’ efforts in giving back went further than the items they helped deliver.

Clippers players DeAndre Jordan, Raymond Felton, Wesley Johnson, Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Alan Anderson and Diamond Stone all volunteered along with season ticketholders, staff members and military personnel as part of the NBA’s Hoops for Troops program to help distribute the packages themselves.

“A lot of families in this area may not be able to get to the games,” Helen said. “But to see a player up close, it means a lot.”

It means plenty to them, too.

“Just for us to be able to see them in person is a great feeling, especially with the kids,” Jordan said. “It really means a lot. I had something like this growing up as a kid, but I never had these elite athletes and an organization like the Clippers come through and do something like this every year. I’m really humbled to be part of it.”

The help goes a long way for families such as the Fructuosos.

Like Erica, Mayra Fructoso had two kids she needed to help provide for and an illness that forced her to stop working. Mayra’s household also includes her two parents, as the family that emigrated from Mexico works to get by.

“We are a big family, and we’re trying to make sure that the kids eat,” Mayra said.

When she first went to the Salvation Army, Helen helped her fill out an application to get food every month.

It was the next application Helen helped with that might’ve made Mayra the proudest.

No one in the Fructuoso family had gone to college before, but Mayra’s oldest son, Nestor, wanted to make it happen. When his family couldn’t help him fill out the FAFSA application, he went to Helen.

She helped with every step.

“I can give out food every day and call it a day 9 to 5,” Helen said. “But, I believe you have to have a passion for this and you have to go the extra mile.”

With that extra mile, Nestor is now a freshman at Cal State Los Angeles, majoring in kinesiology. He wants to become an occupational therapist.

“I could tell my mom was really proud,” Nestor said. “As soon as I graduated from high school, she was the first one tearing up.”

And it may not have been possible without the Salvation Army’s help.

“I’m in college, so I have to pay for food, I have to pay for books, for tuition, for transportation,” Nestor said. “Having spent all that, food is the hardest thing to come by. With Salvation Army, they give us the food I need to at least have enough to take to school.”

In particular, Nestor said events such as “Feed The Community” provide some of the most crucial help. What Mayra is most appreciative of is knowing that many of those lending a hand or providing the resources don’t have to do it.

They choose to help, because they can.

“Thank you the Clippers, thank you the Salvation Army and thank you to all the people that work here and make this possible,” Mayra said.

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