About 350 families and seniors on the Westside had an improved Thanksgiving feast thanks to a Los Banos-based nonprofit.
Christina Flores founded U.S. Freedom Alliance in 2001 after she suffered a two-week coma and six-month hospital stay. She began passing out food boxes years before then, and life began to wear on her, she said.
"I was really discouraged, I didn't want to do it anymore," Flores, a private-patient nurse, said. "I'm not only a mother, I'm a student, I work.
"This year, I didn't have the gumption to do it."
Flores said her daughters stepped in and gave her a push. "They said, 'The need is out there, Mom. Think about those that are depending on this.' "
Families are referred to Alliance by agencies like Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, Merced County Mental Health and the California Highway Patrol. They come from Santa Nella, Los Banos, Dos Palos and Gustine.
Lilly Sanchez of Santa Nella said she's counted on a box for the last six years. She said Santa Nella doesn't have an agency like Alliance.
"It's a nice thing that we do get that help," the 27-year-old said.
The box will go to feed her family of eight -- her mom, siblings and niece, she said.
Sanchez, who is unemployed, volunteers with Alliance's food and coat drives as well as distributions. She said she's seen more and more families looking for boxes.
"Every year, it grows bigger," she said. "The word gets out."
Flores buys the ham, chickens and Thanksgiving trimmings with money from raffles, private donations and cash from St. John's Lutheran.
The Rev. Dean Nelson said he collects a monthly donation for food distributions like Alliance and Project Cherish, a program for the elderly. He said he appreciates that the volunteers at Saturday's distribution, are or were at one time box recipients.
"I think it helps to promote the sense of community," Nelson said.
Also head of Toys for Tots for the Westside, Flores will pass out food boxes and toys for needy families on Dec. 15. To get on the list, call Flores at (831) 905-7966 by Dec. 5.
To donate, drop unwrapped toys in the Toys for Tots barrels at Pacheco Boulevard's Walmart, Walgreens or Kmart, or at Alliance's thrift store, 541 I St.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos