Archive for January, 2012

Trevor and the Giant Pear Bin

Guest post by Trevor’s mommy, Cindy: As a child, my family was very active volunteering in our local community.  We visited with convalescent patients, joined clean-up events, participated in walk-a-thons, assisted with weekly bingo games at the VA hospital, and much more.  But my favorite of all was sorting food donations and filling baskets to give to those in need.  Now that I am a mother, it is important to me that my son Trevor learn the value of volunteering in our community.  I want him to know the joy that comes from helping others and making a difference.

Trevor by a crate of pears When Trevor was 2, I started researching volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  I learned that they hold Family Volunteer Day events several times a year… but children must be 5 years old to participate.  For three years, I have repeatedly checked the website to make sure the minimum age was still 5.  The week my son turned 5, I contacted Lauren Strouse and asked to be notified when the next Family Volunteer Day was scheduled.  Finally, after waiting for years, we attended our first Family Volunteer Day.

I was very impressed with how well the event was run.  After a brief orientation, we were split into four groups and rotated through the different activities.  We started with a tour of the warehouse, where we learned all about the Food Bank, who they serve, and how they have grown and changed over the years.  We were amazed to hear how many millions of pounds of food the Food Bank distributes each year.

Trevor’s favorite part of the tour was looking in the giant refrigerator that holds the perishable food.

Our next station was art.  We learned about the “Have a Heart” budget advocacy campaign.  Then we each made valentines to send members of the Assembly and Senate.  These will be hand-delivered to Sacramento.

Next, we donned gloves and approached giant container of pears.  Our job was to count out 12 pears and bag them for easy distribution to the recipients.  This was Trevor’s favorite part of the day.  (Mine too!)  It was very satisfying to watch our stack of bagged pears growing and growing as we worked.  The pears looked delicious- I was very happy to know that they would be going to people who might otherwise not have access to the fresh produce that some people take for granted.

At our final station, the children worked together to create an imaginary family.  (Ours had a mom, dad, son, daughter and cat.)  The kids took turns spinning the “Wheel of Life” to see what would happen to our fictional family and what financial implications each event might have.  The first spin landed on ”Refrigerator breaks.”  This really hit home, as our refrigerator stopped working right after my husband was laid off and we found ourselves living on unemployment that covered our mortgage and nothing more.  Fortunately for us, we had savings and were still able to afford food, but I could truly understand how devastating a broken appliance could be to a family that was barely surviving financially.  The next spin was “Christmas.”

Our fictional family could not afford gifts or a nice meal.  Thank goodness for the Food Bank and other organizations that help those in need.

Family Volunteer Day is an outstanding event.  We all learned so much and had a great time.  On the drive home, Trevor asked when we could return to bag more produce.  Very soon, I hope!

If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day, please let us know.

Big Wins in the Holiday Food Fight

Once again, Solano and Contra Costa Country employees stepped forward to help their neighbors in need during the holidays. Not easily discouraged by the poor economy, layoffs and furlough days, county employees raised a grand total of $116,133.90 to benefit the Food Bank!

In the employee to employee competition, Contra Costa County retains the big apple trophy by raising $9.91 per employee compared to Solano County’s $8.11 per employee.

The Food Fight competition began in 2004, when Contra Costa County employees raised $57,012.70 and Solano County employees raised $15,091.  In the eight years of the competition, Contra Costa County has won the Big Apple trophy five times and Solano County has won three times.  In the eight year Food Fight history, county employees have raised a very grand total of $927,643.73 for the Food Bank!

Although each county fights to win possession of the trophy each year, all employees understand that the real winners in this competition are the thousands of residents their hard earned donations dollars will feed.

“Foodie Frog” (aka Kate Sibley) joined Food Bank Executive Director Larry Sly and Dan Hoffman from the Contra Costa County Sherriff’s Office to kick off Holiday Food Fight 2011. Foodie’s mission was to motivate CC County Food Fight team leaders with a “ribbetting” presentation!


Schools See Increased Need

We all know that the economy continues to flounder and despite reports of economic recovery, there are still many families that are struggling to put food on the table.  We see this first-hand when more people come to our distributions and sign up for CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps).  Another indicator of this disheartening trend is the increasing number of school children who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.  This number is of particular interest to me as I coordinate the Farm 2 Kids program, a program that provides free produce to children in low-income after school programs.  As I keep a close eye on these statistics I am noticing that sadly more schools are becoming eligible for Farm 2 Kids and of those that are eligible, their percentages are getting higher and higher.  This has been a glaring signal that the economy is hitting our children harder than anyone else.

Today, 1 in 4 American children are at risk of hunger.  It is because of this trend that the Food Bank is now expanding service at the very neediest schools to provide produce for all children, not just those in the after school program.   Hungry children cannot focus and be successful in school, much less grow to be healthy adults. For that reason the Food Bank hopes to continue expanding its service to schools to combat this issue.  For more information regarding free-reduced lunch percentages here is an article with details.  Visit our website to find out more about the Farm 2 Kids program.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Governor Proposes Harmful Cuts that Will Leave More Californians Hungry

In his 2012-13 budget proposal released yesterday, Governor Brown included $2.5 billion in cuts to safety net programs that serve low-income households at risk of hunger. These proposals come on top of difficult cuts in last year’s budget that contributed to a sobering $15 billion in cumulative cuts to health and human services made since 2008. If approved, the Governor’s cuts will increase hardship for low-income seniors and families, leading more to experience hunger and seek out already overburdened food banks for assistance. Initial analyses indicate the Governor is proposing cutting $946 million from CalWORKs, $842 million from Medi-Cal, $164 million from In-Home Supportive Services, $447 million from child care, and $87 million from various other health and human services. These cuts would mean significant reductions in vital services to the same vulnerable Californians who have been hit year after year by harsh cuts to safety net supports.

The overwhelming burden of the budget deficit cannot be carried by California’s most vulnerable, who are already suffering due to previous budget cuts. In a time of such great hardship we should not be weakening our social safety net even further. We should be pursuing more revenue solutions to balance our budget and restore essential services that will aid California’s economic recovery.


The Governor could hardly have proposed these cuts at a worse time. California food banks experienced a jump in demand for services of 30-50 percent with the onset of the recession, and demand has continued to climb ever since. Recent reports from the Food Research & Action Center based on extensive Gallup polling show that 20.5 percent of California residents (7.5 million), and a staggering 26.7 percent of California households with children, are struggling with food hardship as the recession lingers. Given these sobering numbers, there is little doubt that the Governor’s budget will drive demand even higher.


Send a letter to your state representatives. To locate your State representatives, visit Tell them you are calling on the legislature to reject the Governor’s proposed cuts to essential health and human services and to move forward with a plan that restores our social safety net and protects California’s most vulnerable from worsening hardship. You can use the information above in your letter as well.

Please let me know if you send a letter and to which reps you send it to. If you have any questions, please contact me at


Doggie Donor Sniff Out Funds

Every year Contra Costa and Solano county employees come up with creative ways to raise funds for the Food Bank in hopes of winning the Counties Care Food Fight. Here is a story from the Agriculture Department and their dog Bella.

The Agriculture Department Canine Detector Dog, Bella, has donated $300 of her hard-sniffed earnings to the Food Bank. Her human handler, Cecilie Siegel, knows Bella is generous with her affection and her money, but even she expressed surprise at Bella’s dogged determination to give so much.

Bella also donates to Canine Companions for Independence (where she locked her jaws on a mid-life career change to become an Agriculture Detector Dog) and other worthwhile charities. When not using her nose to earn both treats and a small salary, Bella resides with Cecilie and her husband Mark. Bella’s “salary” is to offset the expense and hours of care and maintenance Bella requires when she is relaxing at home. Cecilie gives Bella her head to freely spend this money on good causes, and once again the Food Bank won by a nose. Bella purchased raffle tickets, each of which she marked with her paw (although very smart, Bella still can’t write her own name). She is expected to be a big hit at the live auction, when she will undoubtedly be barking her bids out in an effort to confuse the auctioneers.

Bella may be the only four-legged county employee donating, but she challenges any other similarly enabled employees to go paw-to-paw and match or exceed Bella’s generosity!

A Local Company’s Continued Support

People support the work of the Food Bank because they believe in what we do.  They evaluate our audits and look at our annual report, but many times people support us because they are asked to help by someone they respect.

The Calpine Corporation does business in East Contra Costa County and they want to be part of a strong community.  In order to make this happen, they work with Supervisor Federal Glover to help meet the needs in his district.  Because of this strong relationship, Calpine made another $10,000 donation to the Food Bank as part of the County Cares food drive competition this year.

I had a chance to meet with Chris German the General Manager of Calpine’s East County facilities at Supervisor Glover’s office at the end of December and he provided us with a $10,000 check to help those in need in our community.  The business support that Supervisor Glover helps bring to the Food Bank will allow us to provide food assistance to those who need help, another excellent example of people helping people.

Supervisor Glover with Food Bank Executive Director Larry Sly and Calpine General Plant Manger, Chris German


Benicia High School Holiday Food Drive 2011

Guest post by Vincent Lee: I’m Vincent Lee, a senior at Benicia High School, and got approval to organize and coordinate the Holiday Food Drive at our school.  I was thrilled to be able to make a difference in my community and help collect over 2,000 pounds for the Food Bank.

Food drives should run for at least 2 weeks, with enough time to advertise at the beginning of the drive as well as time at the end to collect the cans and make prepare for the scheduled pick up.  Be sure to have a committee to help you find empty boxes and have them delivered to each classroom and you’ll need their help to pick up the canned food items throughout the food drive.  Don’t wait till the last minute to collect all the cans.  I created a spreadsheet for us to keep track of the cans we collected from each of the classrooms.

Here are some suggestions to advertise your food drive at school: display the barrels at a place where students will notice them, find funding (possibly the PTA or PTSA) for a pizza party for the class that collects the most cans and announce this incentive at the beginning of the food drive, have the food drive announced each day on the PA system, write a blurb in the school newsletter that goes out to parents and students, have a teacher or administrator e-mail all the teachers about the food drive and the incentive.  If your school has the automatic telephone announcement service to parents – use it to announce the food drive.  I think involving parents is important.

The Food Bank people are friendly, great to work with and try so hard to help our community.  Hopefully, students out there like me will join in and make a difference in our community as well.  I’m proud of our school and the spirit our teachers and students have in making this Holiday Food Drive a success!  Congratulations to Coach Tuiolosega’s 4th period class who won the pizza party by collecting over 400 cans! Special thanks to Mrs. Aragon’s classes who brought in over 760 cans, Mr. Alverez’s class who brought in 225 cans, my Link Crew teacher Mr. Nelson, and my awesome Link Crew committee: Michaela, Colby, Sierra, Matt, and Kailee!!

Happy Holidays and hope 2012 will be an even brighter year for you!

From Hunger to Health

While a movement toward healthy eating has been building for some time, with the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, the trend is gaining national attention.  Because diabetes and obesity are on the rise, more and more Americans are beginning to educate themselves on making healthier food choices.   As families struggle to put healthy food on the table we began asking ourselves, what is the role of the Food Bank?  We know our goal in serving over 132,000 people each month is not simply to fill bellies but must also provide good nutrition.

The Food Bank now evaluates the nutritional value of each item we purchase, looking in detail at sugar and salt content, as well as the vitamins and minerals it contains.  Our Senior Food Program serves low-income people over the age of 55, so we buy low-sodium or no sodium canned vegetables.  For the Food for Children program that serves kids ages 4-5, we opt for canned fruit in 100% juice, not syrup.  We also avoid overly processed foods. Instead, we choose whole food items like beans, rice, and lentils.  We also provide the same options to our pantries and soup kitchens giving them more whole grain choices like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat pasta.

Our focus has shifted toward more fresh fruits and vegetables that provide our clients the nutritional balance they need.  In that vein, we have rapidly expanded the Farm 2 Kids program that provides fresh produce to low income school children.  Distributing fresh produce has increased so significantly over the last few years that 1/3 of the food now distributed by the Food Bank is fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sharing a Bountiful Year

I was sitting at my desk on the last business day of the year – December 30. Our hard working staff was happy to go home early. I had plenty to keep myself busy for a while longer, some neglected thank you letters, a few holiday cards to complete, and I, too, would be headed home.

Suddenly there was a knock on the Food Bank door. “Are we too late? Will you take our donation?” they asked. “Of course”, I said. “Please drive around back and I will meet you at the door.” figuring a few more bags of donated food is always a good thing.  What I saw when I unlocked the back door was staggering – two vehicles stuffed with food! I quickly got two carts to help unload the bounty. Confused, I asked, “Was this a group collection?” “Oh, no,” said Mike Bailey, “this is just from our family. We had a good year and wanted to give back.”

It took all five family members and myself to unload cases of canned vegetables and fruits, whole grain cereal boxes, and practically everything we at the Food Bank wish for. “We went to your website and printed off your most wanted food items so we were sure to get what is needed,” said Laura Bailey. All I could say is, “You sure did!” Their donation weighed in at 1,214 pounds of food, the equivalent of 971 meals!

Thank you to the Bailey family of Vacaville. Thank you to everyone who has donated a can of food, a dollar, or an hour of your time to the Food Bank in 2011. We are serving 132,000 neighbors in need every month and distributing almost 14 million pounds of food a year and WE COULD NOT DO ANY OF IT WITHOUT YOU. Best wishes for a wonderful 2012 and our sincere gratitude for your partnership in the battle against hunger.