Blog

Archive for September, 2011

Hunger Challenge: $23.60 for Five Days of Food

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge September 12 – 16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are trying to live for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants thus far.

Shopping

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator (second year taking the challenge): Shopping is about choices. Knowing I only had $23.60 makes it difficult to get everything you want and need. I enjoy milk and orange juice so those were selected first so there went $7. And I really wanted low-fat string cheese (there are 16 so I can have 3 a day – yes, I ate 3 in the car while driving and had a 4th late last night) but that was another $5. Now half of my money is gone. Since this is my second year (taking the Challenge), I decided to go more with fresh produce and eat what I like. So I was able to buy lettuce, coleslaw, tomatoes for my dinner. Tomatoes meant roma and not on the vine (cut the cost in half but also cut the taste in half).

Sharon Zeppegno, Manager of Volunteer Services: I am doing quite well with a few  great buys from Grocery Outlet and find the fact that the condiments do not count to be great too.

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: I spent a total of $4.48 and consumed by my own estimation 1810 calories. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of things. I had the groceries in the pantry so I simply prorated whatever portion that I ate. For example, 1/2 cup of uncooked old fashion oat meal cost 9 cents since I bought a 10 pounds box for $10 and it has 113 1/2 cups servings.

Caitlin Sly, Farm 2 Kids Coordinator (second year taking the challenge): Day one meant shopping and hunting for bargains.  I decided to try and go a bit healthier this year since last year I carbo-loaded so I wouldn’t be hungry and ended up feeling pretty crappy.  I have always thought of Trader Joe’s as a high-end expensive place, but I have now learned you just have to shop there strategically.  Their produce, cereal, milk, and eggs are very reasonable sometimes verging on cheap.  However their meat and prepared food products (very tempting) tend to be higher priced.  I was happy that I found bananas for 19 cents each and ears of corn for 39 cents each.  There will be some carbo-loading as 99 cents for a pound of pasta is too cheap to resist but I am going to try to find more vegetables this year.  Wish me luck!

Rachel Braver, Visual Communications: I plan and shop for most of the meals in our household of 2 people, which often involves finding fun recipes I’d like to try online and loading our cart with fresh veggies, some fruit and the impulse bottle of wine. As I planned for our week on the Hunger Challenge, my shopping habits took on a whole new attitude. “This recipe calls for x y and z ingredients…” turned into “How can I get the most protein and fiber out of each meal and snack without going over budget?” I am grateful to be able to pool our two allowances as I saw even the cheap stuff adding up on the shopping list (available online here). Variety in our meals this week has been reduced and I am thinking of different ways to flavor meals without the many ingredients a lot of recipes have. The fresh veggie budget was severely cut. Frozen veg took the place of some, and eating seasonally helps bulk up the produce, so we will be having zucchini this week. I also tried to find ingredients that could change forms. For example, lentils can be eaten alone, top a salad, or get mixed into the eggs for a frittata.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant*: I am fortunate that I live within a couple of miles of five grocery stores, plus a bread outlet and several ethnic markets. Saturday I made a big circle beginning with the Orowheat bread store, Grocery Outlet, Food Max, and ending at Raleys. Steve also made a trip to a local produce stand for a few things. I did have to make a major change in my choice of breakfast food for the week. I usually have Bob’s Red Mill 8 Grain Cereal or a high-fiber cold cereal most days. I also like a brand of yogurt called Cascade I can only find in Raleys’ natural food department. All of these were too expensive for the budget, so there will be toast and peanut butter or toast and butter with a hardboiled egg, along with fresh fruit. I was able to find yogurt at the Grocery Outlet – 3 cartons for $1 of a flavor of Yoplait Steve will eat, and for me, 3 cartons of plain Greek yogurt for $1. (I don’t eat the yogurt plain, however, but mix it with a little honey and vanilla) The yogurts are an option for breakfast or a snack.

What they ate the first day

Joan: Yogurt, a banana and cheese sticks for lunch and 2 slices of bread for breakfast plus my OJ.

Sharon: Yesterday I had peanut butter, and apple, and several other things I like quite well.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager (second year taking the challenge): Boy did I choose the wrong Monday to start a spin class! I think I ate my whole daily allowance ($4.72) just for dinner, ok not really but I could have. All I had for dinner was two scrambled eggs with mushrooms and one piece of (dry) toast. I was definitely hungry this morning, looking forward to my apple, PB and Tea.

In an effort not to waste the two tablespoons of cooked wheat berries I had left in the fridge, for lunch I decided to add them to my tuna fish sandwich, yum. The wheat berries gave the tuna an extra crunch; it reminded me of adding chips to my sandwich when I was a kid.

Lauren: Breakfast day one for me was a piece of whole wheat toast with 1 TB peanut butter and 1 cup of fruit salad (strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes); Steve took yogurt and strawberries.  Lunch will be an egg salad sandwich for both of us and I will also have a salad of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes – not sure if Steve took veggies or additional fruit, will have to check this evening.  It is 11am and I am already missing my usual mid-morning snack of almonds. Looking forward to lunch!

Plan for dinner  – roast chicken stuffed with fresh herbs from our garden; steamed cauliflower with lemon (ours); salad of romaine lettuce, black grapes, slivered onion & homemade raspberry vinaigrette; brown rice pilaf (has onion, celery, carrot and frozen peas sautéed in small amount of olive oil and tossed with it). The vinaigrette is made with olive oil and vinegar I already have on hand; rice cooked in chicken broth made from a chicken base already on hand and vegetables are sautéed in olive oil I also have on hand.  It is ultimately less expensive to buy olive oil (very cheap at the Grocery Outlet, Trader Joe’s and some ethnic markets) and vinegars, and make your own salad dressings, especially if you like variety and are making small amounts, but I did find a 16 oz. bottle of Kraft Light Balsamic dressing for $.99 at the Grocery Outlet which is an excellent buy.

How it went the first day

Joan: I did not eat on Monday until dinner time (of course I started eating in the car because I was hungry) because I did not have time this past weekend to go to the store. In real life it could have been that I was in between paychecks or hadn’t received my food stamp allotment.

Heidi Kleiner, AmeriCorps VISTA: I have discovered the importance of bringing enough food and snacks to work.  I’m accustomed to thinking of nearby restaurants and the vending machine as fallback options for when I don’t have time to cook.  But I’m making the time!  I won’t let the vending machine win!!

Lauren: So – Day #1 is under way and I’m a little hungry because I only had one piece of toast and it isn’t as filling as a serving of high-fiber cereal. I forgot to bring yogurt so I don’t have a snack because my almonds are off limits. Oh, well, lunch is coming up soon and maybe I’ll lose weight this week!

Comments and observations

Joan: I traded in the canned tuna (from last year’s challenge menu) for the OJ but I will be happier with these selections. I may not be full but I like what I chose. Choice is important and I learned to give up something (such as my favorite vine tomatoes to get something else  - roma tomatoes). And I love my cheese sticks.

Sharon: As my coworkers and some of our warehouse volunteers know I have a  wooden sign over my desk that says “I Drink Coffee For Your Protection”. Coffee however, especially that non fat latté that I would really like to get on the way to work,  is another thing.  When you think about what our neighbors in the community give up every day my coffee is really not significant. I will be reminding myself of that all week.

Aaron: 2.99 Ranch Market at Park and Shop in Concord is a great place to shop if you are on a budget and still want fresh and top quailty food and produce. Buyer beware that it is predominantly an Asian grocery store but they do carry things you find in Safeway. I found some “Salmon scraps” for $1.99 pound.  It certainly is not for everyone. It has bones, fins and skin and about 20% meat if you are lucky. I sauteed it with some garlic and it was tasty beyond expectations, not to mention the overabundance of omega 3 oil.  I had salmon bones sticking out of my mouth. It was quite a sight. Seriously, many cultures don’t consume fish in the form of filet. We are simply too pampered here.

I had the luxury of prorating what I had in the pantry. If I started out with nothing but $4.72, I am sure it would have been tougher. Also, we all have items such as cooking oil, spices and dressings etc. that are not part of the budget of $4.72.

I love food and doing this is not naturally high on my priorities. On the bright side, one can think of this as joining Jenny Craig at no cost for a week! What a deal!

Rachel: Planning our shopping took a lot of extra thought. I carefully pre-shopped in the weeks before the Challenge, writing down the costs of various items I would otherwise just toss in the cart. The excitement of a sale was heightened. While Nelda and I (my Mom and Challenge partner) shopped Saturday for a party, she grabbed a box of mission figs ($3.99). As she went to put it in the cart I said, “If you aren’t going to eat those all tomorrow, we can’t afford it this week.” Our Monday- Friday budget had been planned with little wiggle room. The look of disappointment on her face was mixed with the realization of how serious food insecurity can be to a family. I imagined the way it must feel for a parent to tell their child no, even to something healthy, and worry about where their food would come from if the money ran out mid week. I am hungry and distracted as I write this, but I know it is over when I wake up Saturday. Living with daily hunger challenges is something no one should have to go through.

Lauren: I prepared for this week like I prepare for any other week – checking grocery store ads, making a tentative menu and grocery list. I say tentative menu because I am always open to a surprise bargain. Usually I develop a menu for the week based in part on the advertised specials and partly on what I already have on hand. I’m a frugal shopper. I buy staples on sale as well as meat that can go in the freezer. We eat seasonally and take advantage of lower prices when produce is at its’ peak. We also have a vegetable garden, grow fresh herbs, and have quite a few dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees (lemon, oranges, grapefruit, peach, apples). Planning this week was a little different, however, since I am not relying on anything I have in stock other than condiments, although I am supplementing our menu with garden produce, specifically – zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes – the wax and green beans aren’t cooperating.

Heidi: I am admittedly going into this challenge with a little bit of guilt– this is something I should be doing all the time anyway.  I should be doing this anyway because I am an AmeriCorps VISTA and the way the VISTA program works is that instead of a salary, we get a living allowance (or stipend) which makes us eligible for CalFresh (food stamps) and other food assistance programs.  Since AmeriCorps VISTA is a program that focuses on issues of poverty, the idea is that VISTA members should gain perspective from having to deal with some of the same issues of balancing tight budgets that our clients and communities struggle with daily.

I have applied for CalFresh, I have used food assistance from The Food Bank, and I have spent a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about what I can afford to eat…but sometimes I stray due to some of the same issues I feel many people have with eating affordably and healthfully, whether they are low-income or not.

Being healthy on a budget requires me to do a LOT of planning and cooking.  Food often has to be purchased in bulk and meals have to be planned in advance since buying smaller amounts or prepared meals tend to be more expensive.  It’s often hard to find the time and energy to approach food in this manner.  It can be enticing to have that instant gratification of buying prepared food or going out to eat, which results in spending too much money, (even if it’s fast food!).   Sometimes, excessive frugality and planning can start to make feeding myself feel more like a chore and a burden than a fun activity.  The way I help fight this (and my approach to this week) is to not only plan meals in advance but also to make them in advance.  Nothing is worse for me than the times I wait until my stomach is growling before I begin cooking a meal.  Feeling impatient about how long the meal will take to cook, I turn to snacking and can end up eating more than I had originally intended by the time the meal is ready.

Although I’m tempted to buy Ramen, my goal is to use the spending restrictions this week as a way to also make me eat healthier, including organic and farmers’ market food when I can.  What I am doing today is preparing several meals at once and storing them in Tupperware containers.  This cuts down on some of the stress and unintended snacking and also helps me to ration out my food better so I don’t eat through it too quickly!

*Lauren’s husband Steve – also a Food Bank employee – is taking the challenge as well.

Hunger Challenge: Can you live on $4.72 per day?

Join Food Bank staff and volunteers as they take the Hunger Challenge to eat on $4.72 per day for five days – the average amount an individual receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits per day in California. It’s not too late to join! Try it for the rest of the week or event just a day! It’s an exercise in empathy to live in someone else’s shoes. By raising awareness of the barriers to access nutritious food on a CalFresh budget, we hope to mobilize the community to work with us to end hunger.

You can find the “rules” here: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html. Share your stories and challenges on our Hunger Challenge Facebook Group and encourage others to take part as well.

Lauren, a Food Bank staff member, is taking the challenge and has this to say about the first day: “I prepared for this week like I prepare for any other week – checking grocery store ads, making a tentative menu and grocery list. I say tentative menu because I am always open to a surprise bargain. Usually I develop a menu for the week based in part on the advertised specials and partly on what I already have on hand. I’m a frugal shopper. I buy staples on sale as well as meat that can go in the freezer. We eat seasonally and take advantage of lower prices when produce is at its’ peak…”

Lauren continues, “Day #1 is under way and I’m a little hungry because I only had one piece of toast and it isn’t as filling as a serving of high-fiber cereal. I forgot to bring yogurt so I don’t have a snack.”

Read more about Lauren’s experiences and the experiences of other staff and volunteers on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/foodbankcss.

The Day After 9/11 and Beyond

Ten years ago our lives changed. Some things like travel changed for the worse. We certainly look at our own safety differently. We care more about others and more people seem to show they care these days. Volunteers help the Food Bank on a daily basis and we could not operate without the help they give. Our volunteer program has grown over the years and with the need up significantly over 50,000 hours of time were donated last year. It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since September 11th. I remember people calling for days and weeks after to volunteer saying they “needed to do something good…. something to help others”. It was their way of dealing with the tragedy. Many found it to be a new way of giving and a better way to live.

While September 11th was a National Day of Remembrance let’s make September 12th and beyond about what people did and will continue to do. Just like those who responded and helped after 9/11 today people give back and help their neighbors in need. September is Hunger Action Month. Please look at the 30 Ways in 30 Days calendar for ways you can help.

The Hunger Challenge Begins Next Week!

Attention All you Hunger Challengers: Set your $23.60 aside and go shopping this weekend! It might help to pre-plan and write out your menu for the week using the Shopping Log that way you get an idea of how far your weekly allowance will last. Planning ahead will help you to focus on buying foods that you can see yourself eating for a five day challenge and that can also be pared together to make a balanced meal.

The biggest mistake that I made last year was thinking that I would eat carrots every day for a snack. I didn’t care how inexpensive and good for you they were; by the end of the second day I had no desire to eat them again every day for the rest of the week. In preparing my shopping list I can see that it’s going to be the same ol’ things day after day, not a whole lot of excitement for my menu unfortunately.

The Hunger Challenge will take place Monday, September 12th – Friday, September 16th and will give you a feel for how a person receiving CalFresh Benefits (formerly the Food Stamp Program) would deal with daily eating on a budget of about $4 a day. Share your stories and challenges on our Hunger Challenge Facebook Group.

It’s All About Orange!

Although we committed to wearing orange on Wednesday, some of us started a little early. Last Sunday, Winterhawk Winery invited us to spend the day sharing with their guests about our Food Bank while they enjoyed the wine and music. On this gorgeous day, we showed up wearing our orange, ready to talk. The winery was filled with people who came out to support us. The band (Coast to Coast) had the crowd off their feet and dancing to their favorite songs. The guests were able to visit a few vendors to check out plants and jewelry from local vendors such as Boucher Plants, Alptowne Accents and Pat’s Purple Geranium. Our raffle which included a signed Brian (Bearded) Wilson baseball was a huge success! All in all, everyone had an amazing time and the staff of Winterhawk Winery are the nicest people you will ever meet. This place is a must to stop at if you are ever in the area.

Staff and volunteers at Winterhawk Winery sharing about the Food Bank with guests.

While we are talking about orange and events, we have a few more coming up this month. Between golf, music or talk radio, there is something for everyone. We have an event for everyone to take action against hunger!

Starting with KGO Newstalk 810 which is joining forces with Bay Area Food Banks to fight hunger in 2011. KGO Fights Hunger Day is Friday, September 16 and will consist of a live radio event dedicated to raising awareness and much needed funds for local food banks in all nine Bay Area counties. They will actually be out at our Food Bank on Monday, September 12th interviewing our clients and agencies about the need in our community. Make sure you tune in all week!

Next Contra Costa Builders Exchange will be hosting their Annual Golf Tournament benefitting our Food Bank as their charity. The event will be held on Friday, September 23rd at Shadow Lakes Golf Club in Brentwood. Shotgun Start at noon. Dinner, Raffle and Awards at 6:00pm. We are still in need of sponsors and golfers, so give us a call!

Now if music is more your style, you don’t want to miss this on September 24th at the Willows Theater in Concord. Willows Theatre Company in conjunction with Esses Productions presents J’LaChic’s Tribute to MOTOWN…AND MORE!  It’s the second of the Sing for Your Supper Concert Series Benefiting the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Willows Mainstage, 1975 Diamond Blvd., Concord.  (In The Willows Shopping Center.)  One show only, Saturday September 24 at 8:00 pm. Esses Productions host these musicals each year and they are definitely a must see!

Last but not least, our local refineries (Tesoro, Shell, Valero and ConocoPhillips) as well as S&S are still holding their food drives until September 15th.

As you can see, many of your friends and mine are doing what they can to take action! Please help us by supporting our events.

GO ORANGE!!!

Donor Spotlight – Paul Curtis

Paul Curtis of Curtis Designs, located in Vacaville, has been a supporter of the Food Bank for many years. His support has taken many forms – financial, inkind and volunteer. Paul is one of our biggest advocates in Solano County. He has coordinated holiday food drives with the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce and the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce and helped get the word out about the Food Bank’s new Fairfield facility last year, which resulted in a great turnout for our ribbon cutting. He has also generously provided the signage every year for our annual fundraiser, “An Afternoon in the Admiral’s Garden” as well as for other Food Bank events.

In Paul’s words, “It ‘IS’ all about the people. I really believe in being involved in “community” and in giving as much as possible back to our community.”

Paul has won many awards for his designs as well as his philanthropic efforts, including taking home the coveted Golden Bear trophy for “Best of Show Counties Exhibit” at the California State Fair in Sacramento an unprecedented six times for his work on the Solano County exhibit. He has been named “Business of the Year” by the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce and received the “Business in the Arts” award presented by the Solano County Arts Council in recognition of his dedication to promoting the local arts as well as receiving the “Spirit of Solano” award.

Curtis Designs has been serving the community almost as long as the Food Bank. For 32 years Paul has supported Solano nonprofit organizations. Some days he may don a tuxedo for a holiday event and food drive while other days you will find him working in his coveralls. No matter what he’s up to you can count on the fact that Paul is helping others, and enjoying himself while he does. The Food Bank is fortunate to count Paul as one of its friends and supporters.

Feds Feed Families

During the summer, food banks around the country are facing severe shortages of non-perishable items and children are left without school nutrition programs. But, the federal employees nationwide  have stepped up to meet this challenge by gathering donations of food for families. Each year more federal departments in our two counties are joining the Feds Feed Families campaign. This year we are very fortunate to have the following departments:

Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Travis AFB
Social Security Administration in Antioch, Richmond and Walnut Creek
US Forest Service at Mare Island in Vallejo
USDA Service Center in Dixon

Each of these departments has stepped up their food gathering efforts from their employees to ensure that those in need in our community will have food. As fast as they call us to pick up the food, we are sorting/boxing the food to get it out to the respective communities.  Together they have collected over 12,000 pounds of food from their employees.

Of special note is the USDA Service Center in Dixon that procured 10,000 pounds of canario beans from a local grower. Of course when the USDA office called to ask if we would like these beans, the answer was YES. But then I had never heard of the bean and the staff at the USDA office said everyone in Dixon knows about the beans and once you try these you will never eat anything else. So why not give our clients a treat! Here is what I found out on the internet:

 A small, oval, ivory to pale yellow dried bean common in Latin American cooking and a basic part of northern Mexico’s cuisine. Peruanos have a light, buttery flavor and a soft, creamy texture. They’re also called azufrado beans, canaria beans, canario beans, maicoba beans, mayo coba beans, mayocoba beans, Mexican yellow beans Peruvian beans.

Thank you to all federal employees across the country! Together we are all working to end hunger.

CalFresh Outreach: One client and one application at a time

Guest post by Lindsay Johnson, Program Director at the Food Bank : Have you ever had to ask for help from the government?  For many people, the idea of telling an official that they are having trouble providing enough food for their family is an embarrassment.  They feel like a failure, forced into an uncomfortable position by circumstances beyond their control.  They don’t know where to go to ask for help or that assistance is available.

At the Food Bank, we have two staff members who promote CalFresh, formerly the Food Stamp Program.  They believe that participating in this nutritional benefit program (it is not welfare) is one of the ways that families can put a variety of healthy, fresh food on their tables.  Barbara Stanley and Juan Orozco approach people at food distributions and health fairs to see if they might be eligible for CalFresh.  When they find a person who is not already receiving CalFresh, they engage them in a long conversation to explain program eligibility and the benefits.  If the person is interested and appears to be eligible, they may help them complete an application.

Barbara and Juan don’t stop there!  They also explain the application process and help the person understand what kinds of questions they will be asked and why.  You need to submit certain documents to verify your living situation.  Barbara and Juan make sure that the client is clear about what documentation is acceptable.  They explain the types of interviews (phone, face-to-face, group).  They direct clients to the county office that serves the area of the county where the client lives.  Barbara and Juan want to provide the client with as much information as they can to help the client on their way to a positive encounter and a successful CalFresh application.

Barbara and Juan continue to dialogue with the clients as they go through the application process.  If the client has questions or concerns, or it seems to the Food Bank that something is happening at the county office that is unusual, they will follow up on behalf of the client with a phone call.  Not everything goes smoothly with bureaucracy.

CalFresh Outreach activities provide support and encouragement for people who encounter barriers.

CalFresh brings federal dollars into local communities by giving people money to spend on food at the grocery store.  The Food Bank is committed to supporting local economies, and this is one way we do it.

Learn more on our CalFresh page.

California One Step Closer to Eliminating Fingerprint Imaging

Guest post by David Lee, Director of Government Relations & Advocacy for Feeding America: After a lot of legislative activity over the last two weeks, August 31 the California Senate passed an amended version of AB 6, the bill that would remove the fingerprint imaging requirement for CalFresh (the state name for SNAP) applicants and also move the state from a quarterly reporting to semi-annual reporting.

Due to opposition from the County of Los Angeles, the bill was amended to eliminate fingerprint imaging for CalFresh only applicants, but keep the requirement for CalWorks (TANF) and for those who receive both CalFresh and CalWorks.  Since of the entire California nutrition caseload, 78% received CalFresh only and 22% received both CalFresh and CalWorks, this is still a major win in the battle to fully eliminate fingerprint imaging in CalFresh.  More importantly, the bill eliminates federal funding for the state to maintain the system.

After achieving concurrence in the Assembly, the bill will head to the Governor’s desk for his signature.  If signed, California will follow Texas in eliminating fingerprint imaging, leaving only Arizona and New York as the last two states in the union to use it.

To learn more about the Food Bank’s advocacy efforts visit www.foodbankccs.org/advocate.

Veggies for Everyone

We often look for other agencies to partner with in our produce distribution program while school is out, and this summer we provided food to children of migrant farm workers.

When I did my regular site visit, the program staff told me how the produce really helped out the families each week since all the families are low-income and have difficulty putting food on the table.  It made me feel really good about what we do as I saw parents returning from a long day working in the fields to pick up their children and the food we were able to provide.  I also thought of the irony that we were providing fresh fruits and vegetables to the very people who did the back breaking work to grow and pick them.  All the children in this distribution have working parents, but those parents do not earn enough to afford the very product they are producing.

We know we are doing the right thing in providing food to the people we serve, but we also know it is important for our advocacy program to focus on protecting the social service safety net.  The community needs to understand what we can do to make life better for low-income people in our neighborhood.

Children from Meadow Homes Elementary with their Farm 2 Kids produce

Visit www.foodbankccs.org to sign up for our e-newsletter and find out how you can help fight hunger.