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God's Bread Box breaks the mold

LEMOORE — According to the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce, the importance of God’s Bread Box to the community is, well, bigger than a breadbox.

The Chamber has named the community outreach program its 2018 Organization of the Year and will be honoring it at the 60th annual Installation and Awards Banquet Friday, Jan. 19.   

“We were very surprised to be named. Especially since we’re such a young organization,” said CEO Nancy Stebbins.

The organization, which was founded in 2011, seeks to alleviate hunger in Lemoore by holding monthly food distribution events.

The organization relies on community donations and occasional grants to feed families that show up regularly – around 200 each month.

Most of those food-insecure families, who receive one box of canned goods, bread, meat and non-perishables per household, are regulars. Though, Stebbins says she usually sees at least a few new faces at each event.

In the last six years, over 1,300 families have registered for the free boxes of food, which only requires an ID and a utility bill that proves residence in Lemoore or Statford.

God’s Bread Box operates on a monthly budget of $3,000 and most of its food comes from the Fresno Community Food Bank.

A group of around 20 volunteers, including the nine individuals on the board of directors, hand out the food from 8:30-11 a.m. every fourth Saturday of the month. They also meet to organize that food the Friday afternoon beforehand.

“Sometimes we have more volunteers than we need and sometimes we’re shorthanded,” Stebbins said. “It just depends.”

Stebbins says that the families who receive help via God's Bread Box leave as full of gratitude as their stomachs will be with dinner. 

Stebbins expressed gratitude of her own to the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce for recognizing the work of the organization and said that only more good will come from it.

“This award will bring more awareness to the organization, which hopefully means more people and more funds,” Stebbins said. “I think this is a great thing for us.”

The God’s Bread Box events are held in the parking lot of the Christ Church Anglican Mission, 740 N. 19th Ave. in Lemoore.

For more information, call 997-6360 or visit www.godsbreadbox.org.


Death toll hits 15 in California mudslides; 24 missing

MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones Wednesday as rescue crews searched for two dozen people missing after mudslides in Southern California destroyed an estimated 100 houses, swept away cars and left at least 15 victims dead.

"It's just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven't heard from them — we have to find them," said Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents' home was wrecked by the torrent of mud, trees and boulders that flowed down a fire-scarred mountain and slammed into this coastal town in Santa Barbara County early Tuesday.

The drenching storm that triggered the disaster had cleared out, giving way to sunny skies, as searchers worked carefully in a landscape strewn with hazards.

"We've gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud," said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. "The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It's crusty on top but soft underneath, so we're having to be very careful."

Fifteen people were confirmed dead and two dozen people remained missing, said Amber Anderson, a Santa Barbara County spokeswoman.

"We have no idea where they're at. We think somewhere in the debris field," she said.

Buzzerio led a team of 14 firefighters and six dogs in the debris field, which was spread over 30 square miles. They used long-handled tools to search the muck. By lunchtime, they hadn't found anybody, dead or alive.

Twenty people remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.

The deluge destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 others, Santa Barbara County authorities said. Eight commercial properties were destroyed and 20 damaged.

Weimer's parents, Jim and Alice Mitchell, didn't heed a voluntary evacuation warning and had decided to stay home Monday to celebrate her father's 89th birthday. She hoped to find them in a shelter or hospital.

"They're an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house. That's their forever home," Weimer said.

People in Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres, had counted itself lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town. But it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.

"We totally thought we were out of the woods," said Jennifer Markham, whose home escaped damage in both disasters. "I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, 'This is a million times worse than that fire ever was.'"

Another storm-related death was reported in Northern California, where a man was killed when his car was apparently struck by falling rocks in a landslide Tuesday evening in Napa County.


Sentinel file photo 

Recipiants line up to receive their box of food during the God's Bread Box event at the Christ Church in Lemoore on a previous Saturday morning.


John Lindt 


Provided 

Hanford native Raymond Tostado in character as "El Guey."


Business
Kings County business
Another ag co will relocate to make room for HSR

Fumigant supplier Trical Inc. is in the process of replacing its main shop building on Hanford Armona Road on its 13-acre parcel in order to make room for high speed rail.

Trical’s move, replacing a 9,000-square-foot building, will lead to the construction of a new building on the other side of its parcel. That is less complicated than its neighbor, Baker Commodities, which is relocating to a new parcel because the planned rail alignment will go right through its current rendering facility.

The cost for the new Trical building is around $900,000 according to county permits. The project was approved late last year.

Telstar wins Hanford auction of industrial land

Telstar Instruments was the successful bidder for a surplus city-owned lot, on the east side of Irwin Street between Fourth and Fifth streets in Hanford, on Nov. 28. The land may be more familiar as the home of the two large rusting water tanks that are landmarks in the community.

Company owner John Gardiner is listed as the buyer paying $6,000 for the lot with the provision he would have to pay for the demolition of the old structures on the land, expected to cost about $262,000.

The company has corporate offices in Concord and a Hanford office at 202 S. Douty St.  Gardiner declined to comment but sources say Telstar plans to build offices on the lot. The company provides instrumentation for all types of industry including waste-water treatment plants, food producers and pharmaceutical companies.

Pomegranate returns not so wonderful but largest grower says otherwise

A few years ago Central Valley pomegranate growers appeared to be riding a rising tide of popularity for pomegranates spurring optimism about the crop's future. Growers, including those in Kings County, enjoyed prices of over $1,700 a ton as recently as 2011.

After a significant planting of new trees, by 2015 pomegranate tonnage was fetching just $450 a ton in Fresno County and falling to $362 a ton in Tulare County according to its 2016 crop report.

That is better than a five-fold decrease in per-ton income.

There was a dramatic decline in gross sales of pomegranates in Kern County, the largest player, declining from $191 million in 2015 to $102 million in 2016 according to its annual crop report.

So what's going on?

UC Farm Adviser Kevin Day says it’s simple economics. “We are seeing both overproduction and lack of demand for pomegranates despite expectations to the contrary."

The trees were first cultivated in Tulare County with statewide plantings climbing from 1,875 acres in 1975 to 3,475 in 1985 to over 12,000 acres by 2006, says Day.

But then California acreage just kept expanding to over 30,000 acres by 2012 according to Day. Over the past few years, thousands of acres have been pulled - replaced with nut trees typically.

”I would not be surprised if statewide acreage is down to 10 to 15,000 acres now," Day stated. 

Kern is arguably the home of the largest block of pomegranates, owned by the Wonderful Company, based in LA, that accounts for as high as 79 percent of all pomegranate production.

Growers in recent years have also faced higher water costs and lack of water supply cutting into profitability and translating into fewer trees.

“With all the trees that have been removed - it may stabilize the industry,” predicts UC adviser Day.

Pom Wonderful may be doubling down, in any case, with the recent announcement of the acquisition of Firebaugh-based Ruby Fresh. The company says it has nearly 2 million pomegranate trees.

Despite lower crop prices, Pom Wonderful appears more than upbeat about its business prospects saying last year sales of airls (seed pods inside pomegranates) were "on fire.”

“The company’s juice business is also undergoing significant growth with sales of leading product POM Wonderful 100 percent Pomegranate Juice up 25 percent year-on-year.”

This year’s crop supply may be limited by the weather according to a company statement to the press this week that also gives a clue on acreage.

"Due to unseasonably hot weather and short spouts of rainfall in California’s San Joaquin Valley, this year’s fresh pomegranate harvest was unfortunately cut short,” says Adam Cooper of The Wonderful Company. “Due to rain, we had similar pomegranate supply in 2016 and 2017.”

If they are around 80 percent of statewide acreage - that would put California acreage at about 11,000 acres, down two-thirds from its high.


Washington
AP
Lawmakers see boost for immigration deal after Trump remarks

WASHINGTON — Backed by the White House, Democratic and Republican lawmakers dug into a politically fraught search for compromise on immigration Wednesday, seeking to take advantage of a window of opportunity opened by President Donald Trump. They're under pressure to find a breakthrough before a deadline next week that could lead to a government shutdown neither side wants.

Democrats want urgent action to stave off deportation of some 800,000 immigrants currently protected by an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Trump still wants his border wall, though he's toned down what that means. Conservatives are watching with a wary eye, fearing he will strike a soft compromise that could infuriate their — and his — political base heading into this year's elections.

The No. 2 lawmakers of each of Capitol Hill's quadrants of power — Republicans and Democrats in both House and Senate — touched gloves Wednesday afternoon, deputized for action at what appears to be a moment of genuine opportunity to break Washington gridlock.

"Everybody wants to find a deal there, myself included," said Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the stoutly conservative House Freedom Caucus. "It better be good, because that particular issue is really one of the issues that got this president elected. He can't afford to make a mistake."

The Democrats talk most about DACA, the program protecting immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and are now here illegally. Many have only known America as their home and are viewed sympathetically in opinion polls and among most lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Republicans are heartened by an agreement to discuss other issues, such as border security and Trump's long-promised wall, as well as limiting a preferential "chain migration" system that gives advantages to the relatives of legal immigrants.

Trump no longer talks about the "big, beautiful wall" spanning the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, as he did in the election campaign, but he is demanding some elements of it as part of any agreement.

"We need the wall for security, we need the wall for safety, we need the wall for stopping the drugs from pouring in," Trump said Wednesday. "Any solution has to include the wall because without the wall, it all doesn't work."

Inside the Capitol among the GOP rank and file, most seem to be either supportive of the negotiations or taking a wait and see approach. Everyone has long known that bipartisan talks on both immigration and increasing the crunching spending limits on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies were inevitable. It's no secret that the results of the bipartisan, leadership-driven negotiations are likely to produce results that anger the hard right, but less strident Republicans seem to be comfortable, at least so far.

"I think most like where it's going," said freshman Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska. who represents a competitive district anchored by Omaha and is sympathetic to DACA immigrants. "There's some exceptions but there's a general consensus that that is what we need to be doing. And I think that this is an area that's tailor-made for a bipartisan solution. We both want some things here."

Immigration is just one side of the equation. Also at stake is a deal on spending that would uncork tens of billions of dollars in higher Pentagon spending this year alone, along with money sought by Democrats for domestic programs. Democratic votes are needed to advance such legislation, but top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York won't agree to a budget deal unless DACA is dealt with first.

Meanwhile, a group of House Republicans, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, unveiled their own immigration bill Wednesday, a measure that embraces conservative goals but would seem to have little chance of ultimate passage. It would reduce legal immigration levels by 25 percent, block federal grants to "sanctuary cities" that don't cooperate with federal authorities on immigration issues and restrict the number of relatives that immigrants already in the U.S. can bring here.

In a related matter, immigration agents descended on about 100 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and the District of Columbia on Wednesday, a rolling operation that officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Trump's presidency.

The employment audits and interviews with store workers could lead to criminal charges or fines. And they appeared to open a new front in Trump's expansion of immigration enforcement, which has already brought a 40 percent increase in deportation arrests and pledges to spend billions of dollars on a border wall with Mexico.

Derek Benner, acting head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, said the audits were "the first of many" and "a harbinger of what's to come" for employers.

After the inspections, officials plan to look at whether the cases warrant administrative action or criminal investigations, Benner told The Associated Press.

7-Eleven Stores Inc., based in Irving, Texas, said in a statement that the owners of its franchises are responsible for hiring and verifying work eligibility.