wonderful philanthropy

Jocelyn Garcia, an employee at the “La Cocina” restaurant at the Wonderful Pistachio plant in the southern Central Valley, shows some of the food and other goods the company provides its workers. In addition to providing free meals and family baskets, The Wonderful Co. said it has also been providing employees access to essential staples like diapers, toilet paper, eggs, beans and brown rice for purchase at cost. Recently the company set up a $1 million fund to support local charitable causes during the pandemic.

One of the Central Valley's largest agricultural companies has responded to the many needs that have arisen during the pandemic by again focusing its considerable largesse on the communities where its employees live and work.

The Wonderful Co. was planning today to unveil a $1 million relief fund it hopes will prompt nonprofits to propose various initiatives to help local farmworkers, health-care providers and others who continue to labor through the COVID-19 crisis.

It said grants will range in size from $1,000 to $100,000. Applications must be received by Aug. 31 to be considered for priority funding. The website to visit for more information is https://www.wonderfulcommunitygrants.com. Awards will be announced by Sept. 14.

The program is the Los Angeles-based company's largest single grant in the Central Valley, where it's spent many millions of dollars helping farmworker communities.

"We felt like making the program focused on COVID-related (needs) was the right thing to do and it's something that Wonderful Co. had the immediate resources to put behind the program that nonprofits could seek funds outside federal and state dollars," said Andy Anzaldo, chief operating officer of philanthropy at Wonderful.

The company has a history of charitable giving in Southern California and the Central Valley. Besides establishing charter schools in Delano and Lost Hills and setting up health programs and a state-of-the-art community center, Wonderful has spent $11 million on coronavirus relief measures such as grab-and-go meals for its employees and weekly food baskets.

Four years ago it set up a community grant program that has given out 90 grants valued at more than $2 million. That program was the model for the new $1 million fund, which the company said will prioritize local services and resources impacted by COVID-19 in Avenal, Del Rey, Delano, Firebaugh, Mendota, Sanger, Shafter and Wasco.

The program is designed to be competitive, meaning successful applications will demonstrate the greatest potential for reacting quickly to the pandemic and helping limit its devastation.

"It's about getting dollars in to hands of those with the greatest needs but also those organizations that have demonstrated or can prove that this money will demonstrate impact," Anzaldo said. "We would like these organizations to come to us and tell us what they need instead of us trying to tell them what we think they need."

One likely applicant will be Community Action Partnership of Kern, whose CEO, Jeremy Tobias, said food insecurity — local residents not knowing where their future meals will come from — has worsened during the pandemic.

The Bakersfield-based nonprofit, a past recipient of Wonderful community grants, has seen demand for its food bank nearly double since March to 2.5 million pounds per month, Tobias said. He added the organization is considering doubling the size of its food bank to 40,000 square feet.

Other needs that might deserve investment include homeless services and child-care programs serving farmworker communities, Tobias said.

"The need's huge," he said, "but I think $1 million toward (people impacted by the crisis) is going to provide a tremendous amount of relief."

Editor's note: The list of areas being prioritized for new services and resources has been updated in the story to include Mendota.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf