Tehachapi Humanitarian Relief Group
Rotary Club of Tehachapi
December 4, 2021
The Rotary Club of Tehachapi celebrated the formal induction of two new members at their November 18 lunch meeting: Adriana Garthwaite, new owner of the Tehachapi Christian Store with her husband, Peter, and George Green, new owner of the Radio Shack. Jennifer Palakiko of Edward Jones has gone through the final vetting process and should be inducted into the Club soon. The Club is delighted to add new and younger members to their ranks.
The featured speaker, Justina Engen of the Tehachapi Humanitarian Relief Group (THRG) and owner of The Village Tehachapi, gave an insight into the creation and journey over the last 20 months of the Tehachapi Humanitarian Relief Group. THRG was the brainchild of one of Justina's friends, Cassandra Wilsted. Cassandra was inspired by a meme on Facebook showing an elderly woman traveling from grocery store to grocery store just to purchase basic necessities and the entire scenario seemed very wrong to her. So, when Justina had to shut her "non-essential" fledgling business, The Village Tehachapi, when the COVID shutdown hit in March 2020, THRG was able to use that building in Old Town as headquarters. Justina explained that what many of us in Tehachapi do not realize is that our area is hit harder for basic necessities than metropolitan cities. The majority of the relief programs are county based and are located in Bakersfield or Palmdale. The people servicing Tehachapi through these programs are also stretched very thin as they are typically based in Bakersfield and serve not only Tehachapi, but Mojave, East Kern and Ridgecrest. Kern County is a huge geographical area but surprisingly it is home to almost one million people.
The Rotary Club of Tehachapi has been of great help to THRG which is a very small organization dependent upon larger organizations like Rotary. THRG was officially recognized as a charitable organization as of March 2020. In operation now for about 20 months, THRG is now a 100% donation based, non-sectarian organization. Their sole purpose and mission is to provide local families with food and household goods. They serve about 60 to 70 families every month, usually 20 families per week. The organizers and volunteers have gotten quite an education about the true need for food and necessities for those living in rural Tehachapi. They have found that most of the people THRG is now serving have been struggling long before the COVID shutdown and supply chain issues.
Countless businesses have donated food, money and gift certificates to THRG. Among others, THRG has partnered with Rotary, Salvation Army, many churches, American Legion and benefited for several months from the U.S. Farm to Family Program. That federal program delivered food to food banks in Bakersfield and Palmdale, which was also meant to service our population but realistically and logistically getting the food to Tehachapi did not work. THRG found volunteer drivers who were willing to regularly go to the food banks to pick up the boxes which had milk, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables that most of these serviced families do not get on a regular basis. Those programs have now ended and the food banks in those areas are completely overwhelmed which leaves THRG again 100% dependent upon donations.
Among those who have assisted THRG includes Bear Valley Bakers, who have made baked goods and frozen meals, and the Kern County Queens who have helped with food distribution and as secret shoppers for the Angel Tree program.
Cheers to Charity recently donated $10,000 to THRG, which Justina says was beyond their wildest dreams. With these funds they are able to buy a permanent weather-proof utility shed with larger square footage and better security from rodents and other pests. They hope to add a refrigerator and freezer to the premises to accommodate growers who may contribute fresh foods.
THRG moved to a new location several months ago, a small house at 101 East H Street. The Village Tehachapi, Justina's business, is in the front and THRG is in the back. (Interestingly, many decades ago, the house used to belong to a woman who ran the hotel where everyone stayed when they disembarked from the train. Her granddaughter came into The Village one day and told Justina the whole story.)
THRG is currently hosting the second annual Angel Tree program and the tree is now up at Red House BBQ, 426 East Tehachapi Blvd., Tehachapi. Stop by Red House to pick a tag from the tree to sponsor a local family. Justina encourages people to contact her if you are a family in need or know of a family that needs sponsorship. Families can be of many types, including elders or those who are alone. You can contact Justina at firstname.lastname@example.org, (661) 771-7202 or text (661) 750-7799. All of THRG's events are also posted on their Facebook page.
The Rotary Club of Tehachapi is a volunteer service organization with the motto, "Service Above Self." The Club meets on Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. For more information about Rotary Club, you can visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RotaryClubofTehachapi/ or contact club President Paul Kaminski, (661) 699-5851.