The Jewel of Food Share.
The origin story of Food Share begins in the 1970s, when a remarkable group of friends came together to help feed seniors struggling with poverty, and the increasing number of homeless veterans returning from the Vietnam War. Jewel Pedi, Food Share’s indomitable, 93-year-old founder, spoke to us from her home in Arizona about those early days and her legacy of fighting hunger in Ventura County.
How did Food Share come into existence?
In the start there was no food bank. It was my husband, John Pedi, Jr., Virgil and Lynn Nelson, and Dan Wakelee and myself. They used to get together in the morning and go out and pick an orchard. And then my husband’s friends next door, and people down the street and across the street, and, you know, just about everybody wanted to get out and glean fields. I have a beautiful picture of all the gleaners out in the field hanging on my wall, because it reminds me of everybody that I loved so much. That first year we gleaned 34,000lbs of produce.
We had the food in our garage for all the veterans from Vietnam we used to see, not having anything to really enjoy as far as a meal. It grew quite quickly from there. We called it F.O.O.D Share at the beginning – Food on our Doorsteps. It was Virgil Nelson who applied for help from the federal government to help us feed more people. He was a visionary and is still in ministry. And then the fire department gave us a disused fire station in Saticoy to run things from. It was right across from the golf course and we had a lot of golf balls come over at us. You never knew whether you’d get hit! My desk was the fire chief’s old desk. Suddenly we had a lot more space for food.
What’s your strongest memory of that time?
Probably the strength of people. They had nothing. They had no home, they had nothing to go to, you know? A lot were veterans. There were many seniors in need. It never stopped. Every day that I was there, there was somebody that needed help. I really enjoyed doing my job. It wasn’t a job. To me it was a blessing. It made me feel good, it made the people feel good. And I’ve had people in my family that have needed help. Things are not easy for people. You want to extend your hand with love and say – can I help you? I feel like that the food bank is such a blessing to people in Ventura County.
Food Share moved into its current location in Oxnard in 1984. What was that like?
Oh my, I was walking on air. It was so wonderful to think, here’s a big place where I can have people bring food, and I can have people come and pick it up. But my first thought was I have to get somebody to give me some racks, because all I had was the huge, empty building!
Food Share expanded rapidly from there. Can you talk about that?
We really worked hard. Lots of long hours, you know, but it didn’t matter, because we got so many people involved. I finally got connected with the Ventura County Fair, which was huge, because then we were able to get fresh meat. The food banking system started to build across the country too, and so we joined what’s now known as Feeding America, and that was wonderful. We visited with other food banks, which gave great ideas on how we could do more.
Virgil Nelson was very involved with the community in Ventura, and with the people involved in local churches and government. And then I went to Washington, DC so that I could get with people in power and talk about what we needed to help support people in Ventura County. It was after talking to the Congressmen, Bob Lagomarsino, that I got a million-dollar grant. That enabled us to pay off the mortgage on the building and have a mortgage-burning party!
You’re leaving an enduring legacy in Ventura County. What are your thoughts on that?
God always showed me, especially in my ministry work, that you absolutely have to do for others in order for yourself to be happy. The food bank? It was like a baby to me. It was something that needed care, love and attention. And, most importantly, prayer. It wasn’t me. It was Him. He put me right where I should have been.