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Volunteers handed out family food boxes Monday morning at Gustine Elementary School.

GUSTINE - A grass-roots group in Gustine is handing out free food, masks and more each week.

Zachery Ramos and community volunteers are distributing items each Monday at the Gustine Elementary School.

That effort started in early April, said Ramos, when the group started distributing water and produce donated by Ledezma Farms.

More recently, he explained, the group got approval to begin distributing family food boxes provided by the USDA and has also started handing out tomato plants acquired from Merced College as well as facial masks.

Ramos said he applied for the USDA program through the Gustine Traveling Library which he founded, and was accepted.

Through the first weeks of the distribution, he told Mattos Newspapers, between 400 and 500 food boxes of produce have been handed out each Monday. When the USDA boxes are all distributed, he said, fruit and vegetables from the local grower are presented to those showing up in need of food.

“That way there is no issue with people thinking that the (local produce) is part of the USDA food boxes,” Ramos explained.

Ramos, who has declared himself a candidate for the Gustine school board, said he and members of his campaign had been working to try to establish a Friday food pantry through the school system earlier this year.

But that effort shifted when the pandemic struck - and the need for food only grew as many in the community suffered job loss, Ramos explained.

“We have given out close to 3,000 boxes and bags of food since we started, and almost 1,000 masks,” he told Mattos Newspapers last week. “It is eye-opening to see how much of a need there is in our community and Santa Nella as well.”

Ramos said the program is open to all West Side residents.

The distribution begins at 9 a.m. each Monday and continues until all available food has been picked up, he reported.

“Show up, pick it up, no questions asked,” Ramos said, noting that no identification or paperwork is required.

Volunteers will also deliver upon request to shut-ins or those who simply don’t feel comfortable venturing out, he added.

Ramos said he envisions the food distribution continuing as long as the need is there.

For more information about the program, contact Ramos at 585-8233.