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Turlock native receives presidential recognition for Haitian relief efforts
Rachel Rodriguez Grant, center, worked as a Food for Peace officer in Afghanistan before being assigned to Haiti. - photo by Photo courtesy of USAID
Growing up on the westside of Turlock, Rachel Rodriguez Grant had dreams of going to college and doing something big with her life. But she never thought in a million years she would end up overseeing the distribution of food for millions of people all over the world — or be shaking hands with the president of the United States of America.
Earlier this week Grant was one of a few disaster relief specialists who were recognized for their efforts by President Barack Obama and Haitian President Rene Preval. Grant is the lead policy analyst for Food for Peace, a program of USAID that provides food for people suffering overseas. She was in charge of Haiti earthquake relief efforts for her organization. Grant said she was surprised to receive an invitation to the Wednesday morning presidential press conference held in the Rose Garden at the White House.
“It was definitely an honor and quite a surprise for me,” Grant said. “While I had met (Preval) while I was in Haiti, I was quite impressed for him to be with our president and to receive recognition.”
Grant began working on food assistance for earthquake victims in Haiti hours after news of the disaster broke in the U.S. Days later, she was on the ground in Haiti trying to figure out what exactly was needed from Food for Peace to help the people affected by the earthquake. Since the January disaster, Grant has been responsible for getting $68 million in food assistance — 55,000 metric tons of food — to the people of Haiti.
“The earthquake didn’t discriminate,” Grant said. “It affected the rich and poor. We had to deal with people not used to receiving assistance, but needed to because their access (to food) had been cut off.”
While the regular access and distribution of food has begun to return to Port-au-Prince, ending the need for immediate food relief from international organizations, Grant said Food for Peace continues to work with the United Nations World Food Program to feed those still at risk.
Traveling overseas to a country in crisis and working to bring basic food items to people who are suffering is nothing new to Grant. The Turlock High School graduate has been working in international development for 15 years. She began her career at World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world. After 10 years at World Vision, Grant moved on to Food for Peace. As a Food for Peace officer, Grant has worked in the southeast African country of Malawi and in Afghanistan.
Grant’s compassion for the people of the world and her leadership abilities are no surprise to Turlock’s Westside Ministries founder and director JoLynn DiGrazia.
“She has always been someone who has worked very hard at whatever she’s done,” said DiGrazia, who first got to know Grant when she was in junior high school. “She’s always cared for people. She was a leader in our program.”
DiGrazia and the entire Westside Ministries community have been following Grant’s career, and especially her work in Haiti. They frequently pray for her during church services and were excited to see her on a Jan. 15 CNN segment which showed Grant working at the USAID Haiti Relief headquarters.
“We’re super proud of her,” DiGrazia said.
Grant remembers her years at Westside Ministries fondly and wanted to encourage the youth of Turlock’s westside.
“They should continue to be diligent in their studies,” said Grant.
“I never dreamed I’d be where I am now.”
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.