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Archive for July, 2012

How was your day?

Guest post by Ambassador Laura Collins: “How was your day?”  Do you ever get asked that question?  Typically we answer with a simple “fine” or “great”, believing that it is just a courtesy question anyway.

Well on June 5 when asked that question, I did say “great”, but I also felt it was important to follow up with why it was great.  I spent my lunch time at the Concord warehouse of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano with a roomful of dedicated hunger fighters!  As part of the Food Bank’s ambassador program, each of the people there have represented the Food Bank at  community events, helped coordinate food drives, volunteered at distribution sites, done outreach to the community for Calfresh (SNAP, formerly Food Stamp Program), helped with fundraisers, and networked at Chamber of Commerce events.  Our goal is to educate our community on hunger issues, promote awareness and to also dispel myths concerning those receiving food assistance.  By the way, did you know that 1 in 4 emergency food recipients are children?  And over 35% of our clients had to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage?  (Once an ambassador you can’t pass up any opportunity to slip in a few quick facts!)

Along with the ambassadors, Food Bank staff was on hand also, to cheer us on and inspire us to continue our outreach.  As we introduced ourselves many ambassadors, like myself, credited outreach coordinator Patty McDowell with spearheading our efforts to get us out there in the public eye.  Coordinating with the community and other staff members Patty leads the ambassador program and is always on the lookout for more recruits!  (Hint, Hint)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive Director Larry Sly was there to speak about the future of the Food Bank, and I have to say, he was on fire!  After 36 years with the Food Bank he is still passionate about the mission, if not more.  His goal is to make nutritious food more accessible to the people who need it.  He was very excited to tell us about the new Community Produce Program.  Thanks to generous support from donors in our community, the Food Bank is able to purchase a beverage-style truck complete with canopies and side doors that open up, for the purpose of delivering fresh produce to communities in need.  It’s simple and effective and families go home with fresh produce such as pears, oranges, apples, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots.  Fresh, nutritious food that they may not have been able to put on their family’s table otherwise.  Larry wants the Food Bank to work as smart and as efficient as possible, and he thanked us for getting our communities involved through volunteering, donating and advocating.

As I looked around the room, I saw vital, busy people, several working full time, that still find time to care about their community and try to make a difference.  Just like them, I came to the Food Bank hoping to lend my skills to help in a meaningful way, and along the way I found that our community is clearly excited and eager to see us succeed.

So, how was your day?

Farm Bill Update: SNAP Cuts Pass House Ag Commitee

From the St. Anthony Foundation blog written by Colleen Rivecca, Advocacy Coordinator: Thanks to everyone who joined in on the national call-in day to support SNAP in the Farm Bill.  Here’s an update on the Farm Bill action from July 11.

On Wednesday, July 11, the House Agriculture Committee voted to accept $16 billion in cuts over 10 years to SNAP (the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”, also known as “food stamps” or “CalFresh” here in California).  A group of Representatives (Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Joe Baca of California, Peter Welch of Vermont, Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Terri Sewell of Alabama) attempted to reinstate $16 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, but their amendment failed on a 15 to 31 vote.

What would the $16 billion in cuts to SNAP mean for California?

  • Put restrictions on the use of “Categorical Eligibility”.  In California, AB 433 of 2008 (one of our Hunger Action Day bills) implemented modified Categorical Eligibility in California, extending CalFresh to individuals whose income is low enough for them to qualify but who have assets (savings, retirement funds) that would make them ineligible.  Restricting the use of Categorical Eligibility in California  would make approximately 177,000 low-income households ineligible for CalFresh.
  • Put restrictions on the use of the “Heat and Eat” option.  In California, AB 6 of 2011 (another one of our Hunger Action Day bills) will, starting January 1, 2013, increase CalFresh benefits by $43/month for about 200,000 California households by allowing them to automatically qualify for a deduction for utility payments.  The Farm Bill amendment to restrict the use of Heat and Eat will limit states’ abilities to automatically allow for a utility deduction.

What happened and why?

SNAP enrollment has risen from 19 million in 2002 to 46 million in 2012.  Those who favor cutting SNAP see SNAP spending as a drain on the economy and are trying to cut costs by identifying what they call “loopholes” used by states to ease SNAP enrollment.  Two of the “loopholes” they’re trying to close are Categorical Eligibility and Heat and Eat. As House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas stated, “SNAP’s resources have been stretched because this administration has encouraged states to take liberties in how the program is administered”.

Anti-Hunger advocates who support SNAP see the program as an important economic stimulus and point out that SNAP enrollment is supposed to rise during times of economic difficulty, when more people are experiencing job loss, poverty, and hunger.  As the economy improves, SNAP enrollment rates will go down.  The Congressional Budget Office projects that the share of the population that participates in SNAP will fall back to 2008 levels in coming years and that SNAP costs as a share of the economy will fall back to their 1995 level by 2019.

Anti-hunger advocates see streamlining efforts such as Categorical Eligibility and Heat and Eat not as loopholes, but as tools to reduce administrative burdens on states and on SNAP participants while helping to ensure that hungry low-income people are able to access nutrition benefits.  Categorical eligibility helps low-wage working families with children and seniors with modest savings to qualify for SNAP.   Heat and Eat helps reduce paperwork and allows low-income people who don’t have utility bills in their name, but who still pay utility costs, to receive a SNAP benefit that is above the minimum benefit level of $16 per month.  A cut to Heat and Eat would disproportionately affect seniors, the disabled, and working poor families with children.

Next Steps:

There is still a lot of dissention in the House of Representatives around the Farm Bill.  Although it has passed through the House Agriculture Committee, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the bill in the full House.  The more conservative members of the House would like to see the bill’s price tag cut down further.  The more liberal members of the House don’t like the Farm Bill in its current form because of the SNAP cuts.

To further complicate matters, the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill differs significantly from the House’s version.  It is unclear at this point whether either house of Congress will bring the Farm Bill to the floor for a vote before the current version of the bill expires in September. They may decide to extend the current Farm Bill until the November election and to deal with creating a new Farm Bill at a less politically contentious time.

We will continue to keep you updated on upcoming opportunities to contact your representatives and advocate for a fair Farm Bill that does not hurt hungry people.

House Agriculture Committee Passes Farm Bill Proposal

Guest post by FRAC (Food Research and Action Center): The Farm Bill proposal passed early this morning by the House Agriculture Committee slashes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $16 billion over ten years. It does this mainly by restricting states’ ability to coordinate SNAP with two other low-income programs.

Specifically, the cuts would restrict the broad-based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) option that allows states to coordinate SNAP gross income and asset rules for participants enrolled in other programs, and limit states’ options to operate “heat and eat” policies. The cuts particularly target seniors and working poor families. The proposed cuts would have the following consequences:

  • Limiting Cat-El would result in millions of people each year losing benefits –1.8 million according to the CBO, or from 2 to 3 million, according to the Administration. The CBO also estimates that approximately 280,000 school-age children in those low-income households would no longer be deemed eligible for free school meals through their receipt of SNAP benefits.
  • Limiting “Heat and Eat” would result in an additional 500,000 SNAP participating households losing $90 a month in benefits, according to CBO.

Every cut to SNAP means less food in the refrigerators and the cupboards of the hungriest people in America – children, seniors, working families, unemployed workers, people with disabilities and others. And such cuts have been rejected by the American public. Seventy-seven percent of voters say that cutting SNAP would be the wrong way to reduce government spending.

“These cuts mean lost meals for hungry households,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “These cuts are at odds with every bipartisan deficit proposal discussed over the past year – Simpson-Bowles, Gang of Six, and others – as well as the Budget Control Act, which protected SNAP from cuts. We urge the House of Representatives to reject these cuts and pass a Farm Bill that preserves the strong structure of SNAP.”

How My 7th Grade “Take Action Project” Purchased Over 1600 Meals!

Guest post by Caleb C. – 7th Grader – Orinda Intermediate School: For my 7th grade science project, I decided to do a Take Action Project. The topic I chose to take action on is hungry children in the Bay Area. There are thousands and thousands of children in the Bay Area that do not have enough to eat every day. I researched hunger, did a PowerPoint presentation for my class and volunteered at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano where they provide food for hungry children. As part of my project, I decided to do a Virtual Food Drive with the Food Bank. It makes it easy to donate food – just pick the food from the site and pay. The Food Bank takes care of everything else. You can use your credit card and it’s a donation for your taxes too.

To raise money for the Food Bank I sent an email to over 75 friends and family asking them to contribute to my Virtual Food Drive and the total donations received were $830.27.

This will help the Food Bank provide enough food for 1660 meals to our neighbors in need. I learned that some families only use the Food Bank once and others have to use it many times. Also, there are some children who really need the food at the Food Bank because they are too young for some government programs like school lunch and too old for other programs, like WIC (Women Infants and Children).

One thing that I wanted to say was that I really enjoyed working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. It was a lot more fun than I had expected. I also got the chance to volunteer at the Food Bank. I helped sort the bread at the Food Bank and I also sorted cans for the Food for Children program. The staff at the Food Bank are really nice. All the people there seemed happy to be volunteering. I even met some people who have been volunteering once a week with their friends for many years.

Again, I thank you all that donated and also those that looked at the email, as I enjoyed making you aware of this problem. I would encourage any teen out there to give them a call and spend some time volunteering to help feed the families they serve. I am sure that like me, you would be surprised to learn about how many children especially don’t get enough to eat. I know what it’s like to be hungry but I have never had to go without food for long. I am glad that the Food Bank is there to help anyone in our county that needs a little help.

The Food Bank was the perfect choice for my project. I plan to volunteer there again.

Building Community, Sharing Food

During the summer months, many think of sun, vacation and playtime, but at the Food Bank we are thinking of ways to meet the ongoing need for food in our community. Food drives are an important part of the food we provide, but during the summer, food donations are dramatically down compared to during the holiday season. In an exciting new effort to bring in a steady supply of food all year, we are embarking on a new project called the Contra Costa & Solano Food Project (CCSFP).

The Food Project is a donor drive, not a traditional food drive. Rather than asking for one-time contributions of food, volunteers enlist their neighbors to become long-term food donors. People commit to giving a small amount of food every two months, which provides our Food Bank with a year-round supply of food and provides the donors with the ongoing satisfaction of making a real difference.

Our key volunteers to the CCSFP are the Neighborhood Coordinators that enroll their neighborhood often asking friends and acquaintances that live close by. The Neighborhood Coordinators (NCs) can choose to involve a few houses, a whole street, or several blocks. The Food Project begins when the NC takes a supply of information cards and green Food Project bags to neighbors to explain the program and invites them to join in helping to provide food for hungry people in their community (we’ll show you how!).

The Food Project was created in January 2009, by a small group of Ashland, Oregon residents. They realized that many of their neighbors wanted to help fight hunger in their community, so they created a simple, door-to-door food collection system to make it easy for everyone to participate. They had three goals:

1. To provide a regular supply of food that would help feed hungry neighbors all year round.

2. To create new neighborhood connections and strengthen their community

3. To serve as a model for other communities

The volunteers promised to stop by their selected neighborhood homes every 2 months, pick up the food and take it directly to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. The project started with a core group of 10 volunteers picking up food and netted 600 pounds of food. One year later, there were over 150 Neighborhood Coordinators. By December 2010, the collection was over 28,000 lbs in one day! And this quantity of food still comes in on the 2nd Saturday of every other month.

It is now our turn to join in the Food Project movement as it spreads into California and soon across the nation. The Contra Costa & Solano Food Project needs you to make this grassroots effort a success. Whether you’re interested in donating food, collecting it, or helping build community in other ways, we invite you to join us as we form our neighborhoods for our first pickup day of August 11th. Learn more and get started by filling out a contact form on the Food Project website, or call Joan Tomasini at 925.676.7543, extension 208 or email jtomasini@foodbankccs.org. Together we are building community by sharing food!

Rethinking Summer Food Drives

Summer is traditionally a slow time for food drives. You might ask why? Many food drives are driven by students of all ages and without school, there goes our captive audience (and a huge CAN DO audience). Many of us think of hunger when the weather is cold and during the traditional giving time of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when we hear of many organizations and people that need help. During the summer months we think of sun and vacation and the things we personally need to do. For us at the Food Bank and the food pantries we work with, hunger is a year round concern. The faces of hunger may change throughout the year but the faces are there no matter what day of the year, no matter what type of weather or what type of news that day. Hunger is hunger no matter what month it is.

Last summer between June through October, we brought in 82,000 pounds in food drive versus over six hundred thousand pounds of food drive from October through December. Food drive is an important part of the food we need. We are fortunate to have barrels in over 100 businesses/churches throughout the year but we need more of that and a steady stream of food.

We are embarking on a solution that will help us receive more food drive throughout the year. It is called the Contra Costa & Solano Food Project and relies on people like you to be a part of this exciting community undertaking. Stay tuned for more on the CCS Food Project, coming soon!

Fewer Summer Meals Served Across California

Over 2 million (84 percent) of the children in California who benefitted from federally funded school meals during the academic year were not served by the federal summer meal programs in 2011. The report, School’s Out…Who Ate?, authored by California Food Policy Advocates* (CFPA), ties the elimination of summer school to the loss of affordable, nutritious meals for low-income children.

CFPA’s analysis of data provided by the California Department of Education shows that participation in federal summer meal programs has decreased by over 50 percent in just under a decade. That downward trend is driven largely by a decline in meals served by summer schools.

Beyond children’s health and development, the loss of summer meals also impacts the bottom line. As reported by the Food Research and Action Center, in Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, California missed out on an estimated $34 million in federal funding due to low participation in summer nutrition programs during July of 2011.

School’s Out… Who Ate? includes an analysis of county-level data. In July 2011, 17% and 12% of the low-income children in Contra Costa and Solano counties who participated in free or reduced-price school meal programs during the academic year were served by summer meal programs. This means Contra Costa and Solano counties has the 9th and 13th highest summer meal participation rate among California’s 58 counties.

Across the state, the federal summer meal programs reach fewer children each year and many families continue to struggle in this tough economy. Policymakers at all levels should take action to mend the widening summer nutrition gap faced by millions of low-income children in California.

*California Food Policy Advocates is a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food.

Rancho Solano Thanksgiving in June Food Drive

For 12 years, the gated community of Rancho Solano in Fairfield has hosted a Thanksgiving Food Drive. What makes their food drive different is that it is held in June, at a time when we need food for the summer months. The process is fun and easy. We met our coordinator, Dorothy Flynn, at 5:30am (so we could have the barrels out for the residents to drop off their bags of food on the way to work) to deliver and place the barrels throughout the community.

 

Dorothy and her committee publicized the food drive through their community newsletter, signs up throughout the community and also a flyer/paper bag on their doorstep a few days before the drive. All the residents have to do is fill up the bag and when they are on their way to work or run errands, just drop the bag in a barrel which is at the front of their street. Our Food Bank truck comes by several times to pick up the food and replace the full barrels. It is that easy. This year, the Rancho Solano residents donated a fantastic 2,701 pounds of food for our Solano County neighbors in need. Thank you Rancho Solano for your wonderful Thanksgiving in June Food Drive! Would you like to have your neighborhood or gated community host a Thanksgiving in June Food Drive (or in July or August)? Just give us a call!

Senate Passes Farm Bill

The Farm Bill that passed the Senate yesterday preserves the strong structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps). We commend the Senate for rejecting amendments that would have crippled the program and left millions of people who rely on the program for basic food poorer, hungrier, and unhealthier. The attacks by some lawmakers on the strongest part of the safety net for millions of low-income seniors, working parents and other adults, unemployed families with children, people with disabilities, members of the Armed Services and veterans, and others were outrageous.

Thank you Senators Boxer and Feinstein for voting against the harmful amendments and being two of just 33 senators who stood up to protect SNAP by voting in support of the Gillibrand amendment. Our only wish is that more Senators had done the same as the bill that was passed does contain a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP that will harm large numbers of struggling families. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an estimated 500,000 households a year will lose $90 per month in SNAP benefits.

These are real cuts with real consequences – they mean lost meals for Americans who are already hungry. As the Farm Bill moves through the rest of the process, we will work with our elected officials and national partners, FRAC and Feeding America, to produce a final bill with no cuts to SNAP and that preserves the strong structure of the program. No community is free from hunger, and it is time for Congress to tackle this challenge with the urgency the situation demands.

We won’t be able to make a change without your help! Stay tuned for action alerts as the Farm Bill continues.