For the past two years, Tiny Hill has been distributing food to more than 250 less-fortunate people under her namesake charity, the Hill Foundation, from the carport of her home at 11075 Larch Road.
Once a restaurant owner with her husband, Hill, 64, said she has several contacts with food distributors that sell her produce at discounted rates.
She operates the stand every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with help from her two daughters, who are in their 30s, and a member of her church who began helping after making several trips to the stand for her family.
“It started with 10 people that would make an appointment and come to meet with me,” she said. “Then it started to grow. I saw just how many people needed this. … It helped the people that come here supplement their food bill.”
Baskets of fresh onions, mushrooms, lettuce, carrots, peppers, apples and cantaloupes were piled in crates Wednesday along Larch Road as a slow, steady line of people filled their baskets, plastic bags, strollers, boxes and carts.
Each crate had a number, which represents how many of that item people were permitted to take. A $5 donation was requested, because Hill’s organization doesn’t receive grant money like many other charities and must purchase the food.
“Not everybody gives $5, because they don’t have all the money, but we don’t turn anybody away,” Hill said. “We need the $5 so we can re-buy. Some people get upset because we ask for it, but how can we give you this quality of food?”
But Hill’s operation is in danger of having to shut down after she received notice the week of Thanksgiving from the Department of Environmental Health that her home wasn’t zoned for food sales.
“They sent us a letter to cease and desist, and so now we’re out here (on the street),” she said.
The real danger is if rain is forecast on a distribution day. Hill said that without the shelter the carport provided, she has no option but to close.
She hopes to find warehouse or office space in Tracy that would allow her to store the crates and provide shelter from the weather to pass out food.
“There are so many empty buildings; we just need one of these property owners to come forward and say that they will help us,” she said.
If the foundation can’t distribute food, Hill said, hundreds of people who rely on her services will suffer.
What makes her food stand so accessible is that patrons do not have to meet financial requirements, like they do at other food pantries.
Velda Johnson, who volunteers at the stand, said her family and friends travel to get food from Patterson and Sacramento.
“It’s all good-quality produce,” she said. “You can’t get food like this at other food pantries, so when I told them about it, they wanted to come and get some for themselves.”
Johnson began attending Hill’s church after she moved to Tracy from Sacramento in May. While searching for work as a hair stylist, Johnson, who is the mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, frequented the food stand as she tried to establish her business.
“All the money I was getting each month was barely paying my utilities and my rent, and I didn’t have any money for my food,” she said. “I came in and I didn’t have anything. I got so much food, and it was all so good, that I cried when I left. After that, I just started helping.”
Each week, Johnson said, “We come up with somebody that has never been here before,” stressing the importance of the food stand remaining open.
Hill said that business will continue as usual, and she will “pray that the good Lord helps us find a way.”
“God blessed us to have this, and I want to share it with everybody,” she said. “I believe that the Lord just manifest in me and gave me this idea. I’m not smart enough for this, but he gave me the idea and the strength to do it, so I’ll keep going.”