Kern County's largest grower, long noted for its philanthropy in the southern Central Valley, recently spent millions of dollars expanding the direct support the company gives its workers and their families in the Delano and Lost Hills areas.

At no cost to recipients during the coronavirus crisis, the Los Angeles-based Wonderful Co. has given out hundreds of thousands of grab-and-go meals and tens of thousands of weekly deliveries of food and other quarantine essentials, in addition to offering free health care services such as telemedicine.

More recently the company installed miniature Wi-Fi towers in Lost Hills so students who previously had no internet service in their homes can do their homework online.

"It’s something that the company’s very proud of and we look forward to seeing others throughout the Central Valley and the state to find creative and innovative ways” to help level the playing field for disadvantaged students, said Andy Anzaldo, Wonderful's chief operating officer of philanthropy.

The donations build on the nut and citrus producer's history of helping the communities where its workers live in the southern Central Valley. In addition to its two charter schools in Delano and Lost Hills, it has put up state-of-the-art community centers and health facilities offering exercise classes and counseling.

Anzaldo said Wonderful feels obligated to support a workforce performing essential services and otherwise continuing work as normal during the pandemic.

Besides helping its own people, though, the company's Halos division recently distributed more than 1.6 million of the easy-peel citrus to local food banks, schools and hospitals.

The company projects that by the end of June it will have handed out more than half a million meals and 72,000 "family baskets" full of food and items such as toilet paper and cleaning products.

Near the beginning of the quarantine it sourced hand sanitizer from a manufacturer in Wisconsin and converted one of its own facilities to bottle the product for distribution locally. Wonderful said it has since given out 10,000 bottles of its own label of hand sanitizer.

The Wi-Fi towers were seen as a way of delivering the internet to a community that has largely gone without it.

Extending the service it already pipes in on a fiber-optic network to one of its local plants, Wonderful put up seven small Wi-Fi towers around Lost Hills. Now students can sign in from one of the laptop computers provided by the company's local charter academy.

Ninth-grader Lessly Tapia, whose father works as a farmworker for Wonderful in Lost Hills, said she and her third-grade brother used to have to take turns downloading assignments using a cellphone-based internet "hotspot."

The connection was slow and she sometimes missed videoconferences with her class.

"It was just really stressful,” she said.

She added that now she and her brother get be online at the same time while she attends videoconferences.

Anzaldo said the health care services the company has been offering lately to employees and their families go beyond the clinics that continue to operate at its workplaces in the area.

He said Wonderful has focused on new ways to look after families using telemedicine, a videoconferencing technology that puts medical professionals in direct virtual contact.

Through the pandemic, he said, patients have been able to receive mental health and nutrition counseling, as well as appointments with health coaches.

"The heart of our work is focusing our philanthropic efforts on the community where our employees live and work, and especially supporting the communities that have been forgotten, like the community of Lost Hills," he said.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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