“We don’t want it to be viewed as a handout. These are our friends... They feed us during the year. Now that they have hit hard times, we want to feed them.”

Jim Franklin, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church in Fresno, Calif., offered that quote to a Fresno Bee reporter when asked why his church -- with the support of other churches and organizations in the San Joaquin Valley -- were handing out food to some 6,000 people on a Saturday a few weeks ago.

The food distribution took place in Orange Cove, a town of 10,000 in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt, where packinghouses are quiet for now. An estimated 12,000 workers have lost their jobs in the wake of the devastating mid-January freeze that destroyed at least $800 million of the state $1.2 billion California citrus crop.

Of course there is unemployment insurance and the state and federal government promises to provide additional aid to workers left jobless by the freeze.

However, organizations like the big downtown church in Fresno and others are not waiting for the people to get aid from the government. They are stepping up now. It took truckloads of food to meet the needs of 6,000 people. No show and tell there.

Growers are just as concerned about the workers as everyone else. It is interesting to hear citrus growers talk about the freeze and what it means to have insurance. Invariably, they point out that insurance money will help them keep their permanent workers on the payroll until the next crop. No layoffs.

What is interesting about Franklin’s comment is that it ties the needs of the farm and packinghouse workers to America’s food supply. Unfortunately, too many do not make that connection. People in agriculture understand it, but I am not sure the public gets the connection.

Franklin’s comments also rightfully identify the workers as friends and neighbors. These are not the illegals the media likes to portray as abused and underpaid. The people in line at Orange Cove on that Saturday were second and third generation residents of small communities like Orange Cove, Lindsay, Exeter, Dinuba, Sanger and Porterville. They choose to live in their communities and take pride in them.

Fresno is a big, economically diverse city with the resources to help smaller communities in need. What the freeze has done to Orange Cove and the other small towns is not likely to occur in Fresno. However, no city is disaster proof. I suspect if a tornado or some other natural disaster were to hit Fresno, you would see people, packinghouse trucks and resources from Orange Cove rolling to Fresno to help. That’s the way it should be.

The ’07 citrus freeze has been devastating, however; like any tragedy or disaster, when bad things happen, friends and neighbors respond. Like Franklin said, these are friends. However, just as important they are our neighbors who work hard to put food on everyone’s table, never to be taken for granted.

email: hcline@farmpress.com