This month saw an increase in food and services available to Redding's needy from the People of Progress, one long-time Redding non-profit organization.
From her tiny office on downtown Center Street, Melinda Brown, the executive director of People of Progress, said the expansion is in response to an increase in demand she and her lead case worker have seen during recent daily operations.
"We're going to change from once a quarter to every other month," said Brown Wednesday. "That will be an increase of 30 percent in food we give away."
She said this was possible because of a federal grant and and a steady supply of donations, both through food drives and from grocery stores. "We've got a daily pick-up from Food Maxx that's pretty reliable," she said as an example. "And we pick up weekly from Orchard Nutrition Center."
POP sometimes provides produce, too, fresh from its community garden, from any of the more than 70 plots near the river at Benton.
"The city allows us to use the land. We pay insurance and the water bill in our name," Brown said. "People donate a bag or two a year per plot."
She also said the POP thrift store, the operations of which are run by Goodwill, was another good source of income for POP, with more than $200,000 expected this year. With all of its resources the non-profit gives to 9,600 people food for 150,000 meals, 7,000 referrals, 1,500 bus tickets, as well as clothing and blankets.
Brown explained that POP's food-distribution limit of once every 60 days applies only to patrons who show up regularly. The front door to the waiting area stands open three hours a day, from 9 a.m. to noon daily Monday through Friday, and Brown said staff provides walk-ins a wide variety of services to in addition to bags of groceries.
"We meet a special demand for circumstances more than every other month," said Brown. "Most of the people we see are in temporary need. It could be they need help with medical expenses, or need to fill the gap while waiting for unemployment. Could be someone needs a roommate and needs assistance while looking for another one."
Brown said that People of Progress - often referred to as "POP" -- doesn't hand out money directly.
"But we give them food that they won't have to spend their money on, so that money can go to pay for other expenses," Brown said. She added they also refer walk-ins to other local support services.
POP's lead case worker, who goes by just Lyn, said every day they meet different needs. "You never know what's going to happen," she said, minutes before the door was to open for a recent day's business.
There's a process in place for those who wish to receive POP services. Before taking a seat in the seven-chair waiting room, both walk-ins and regulars are asked to fill out a form. Applicants provide the office with enough information for staff to determine their history, if any, with POP, their living situation and income. Staff interviews each person to assess his or her specific needs.
A retired woman who said her name was Sue has been one POP's regulars for about two years. "I had job and I worked, but my joints went out. My income went down," she said. "I own my home. I pay taxes, upkeep. So a couple of bags of groceries helps out."
A young lady named Skye said she just got out of jail, and discovered that while she was away everything she owned had been stolen. "It was the beginning of this year I first heard about it," she said of POP. "It's always good to have resources. I'm just getting clothes today. I don't need food right now."
Brandon Johnson, 31, was also recently released from jail. "I've been locked up on and off since I was 18. Drugs, auto theft, you name it," he said. But he claimed he is done with this life, because his 10-year-old son. "Someone telling you they'll put you in for life and you'll never see him again -- that'll make you change," he said.
Back in the office Johnson told Lyn he was on food stamps, but they were cancelled, so food was his primary current need. Lyn told him he qualified for general assistance. "That's $338 you can add to the family situation," she said, referring to Johnson and his girlfriend, who is currently working. Lyn also referred him to a temporary job-placement agency.
"Awesome!" Johnson said.
At one point in the day, Lyn told an applicant he needed to prove he had a place to store food, and access to cooking facilities. "If he didn't, we'd give him a day's worth of ready-to-eat food," she explained, and cited fire safety concerns. "We're not encouraging campfires or outdoor stove use."
Brown said about 25 percent of the people POP serves are homeless.
"The majority of our people are local, living here, with temporary situations," she said.
Both Brown and Lyn started with POP as volunteers with the non-profit, which received its 501(c)(3) status in 1973. Brown began in 1990 and Lyn in 1992. "I feel like this has been my purpose," Brown said.
People of Progress is located at 1242 Center St. in Redding. For more information about POP's history, services, thrift store and more, call 243-3811 or visit its website at peopleofprogress.org.