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Archive for 2013

Help Make Holidays a Little Brighter for Those in Need

Every year during the holiday season, we are especially thankful for all of our caring supporters who have joined the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in our fight against hunger.  The holiday spirit means people are willing to donate money, food or time to make a difference.  County employees in both Solano and Contra Costa collect money to help the Food Bank’s work by doing bake sales or “a cream pie in the department head’s face” fundraisers.  Golf tournaments and food collections at holiday parties benefit the Food Bank.  Donations are given during “Sing Along Messiah” events.  Food and money are raised in Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith communities.  Businesses collect food and money, schools join the effort, the whole community comes together to make a difference.

 

The story of need in the community is more prominent during the holidays.  News stories during this time help us see that most of the people who need food are not that different than us.  People who come to the Food Bank have had unfortunate circumstances take place that mean they need help.  Because of the generosity of the community, the Food Bank can make a difference.

 

The community trusts us to provide food to our neighbors in need during the holidays and all year long.  Thanks to our generous community, we are gathering food from those who want to give and are distributing it to partner agencies and directly to people who need help.  Together we are making the holidays a little brighter for people in need right here in our community.

 

To learn more about how you can make a difference this holiday season, visit our holiday ways to help page.

12th Annual Refinery Run

What started as a cloudy rain turned into a downpour but that did not stop these dedicated refinery workers, contractors and families for coming out to raise money for our Community Produce Program*. Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery, Shell Oil Products US, Phillips 66 and Valero Benicia Refinery began collecting food and money the beginning of August and ended mid-September with a fundraiser celebration which includes a Poker Run, sponsored by United Rentals, S&S, and Contra Costa Electric , motorcycle and custom classic car show, music, great food and lots of laughter. These refineries as well as their contractors and employees of both give time, money and food to help their neighbors in their community throughout the year.

It is great experience working with all of them towards our mission. So far this year, they have been able to raise over $23,000. Contra Costa Electric, Inc., S & S Supplies and Solutions, Brinderson and Discover Land Care, our Contractor Sponsors, also deserve big thanks for all the support they give to the Food Bank. The Shell Clubhouse, jumping with music by Bourbon Fixx Band was powered by DC Solar and the food was good as always when using England’s Café & Catering.   Great vendors, such as, McGuire Harley-Davidson, Joyce Cid CMT, Origami Owl, Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys, Crowne Plaza, Body Savior Wraps, Fit 2 the Core, Central Valley Paranormal and Contra Costa Chiropractic, fun, games and a variety of raffle items made this day complete.  We would like to thank all of you for caring and helping your neighbors in need.

*Through June 2014 John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund is committed to a 50% match on donations that are designated for Community Produce Program operations in central and east Contra Costa County. With your help we can continue to bring high-quality fresh produce to people in need in your community. Donate to provide more fresh produce today!

Food Day Celebration

Post by Blanca Campos, Food Bank Nutrition Education Coordinator: Food Day is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies. It builds all year long and culminates on October 24.

Food Day aims to help people Eat Real. That means cutting back on sugar drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein. Food Day envisions shorter lines at fast-food drive-thrus—and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

Locally, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano partnered with the Pittsburg Unified School District, John Muir Health, Contra Costa Health Services, Kaiser Permanente and the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market to celebrate Food Day at Willow Cove Elementary.  The celebration included carrot salad tasting, nutrition information, recipes, and fresh produce giveaway (courtesy of the Food Bank).  Over 150 parents participated and received fresh produce during the event.

We’ll be celebrating Food Day at Rancho Medanos Jr. High today!

Were you involved in Food Day this year? If so, please tell us how.

Valero Takes Aim at Hunger

Clay shooters to aim to provide over 100,000 meals!

A strong supporter of the Food Bank for many years, Valero’s Benicia Refinery placed an increased emphasis on the mission and work of the Food Bank among  its employees and contracting companies during a Month of Caring.  Valero employees were encouraged to provide volunteer service sorting food orders, packaging fresh produce, and distributing food to those in need.   The employees responded by donating 460 hours of volunteer service.  In addition to supporting the volunteer effort, Valero also sponsored the Inaugural Sporting Clays Invitational held at Birds Landing, October 4, 2013.  Thanks to the support of numerous contractors and volunteers, the event raised $55,000 for the Farm 2 Kids program.  When asked about Valero’s involvement with the Food Bank, John Hill, Vice-President and General Manager of Valero’s Benicia Refinery said that he and his fellow employees love volunteering at the Food Bank because we can see the direct and positive results of service.  Food comes from the farms, volunteers package it for distribution, and people receive it the next day.  As far as having a direct, timely, and positive impact for people in need, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Budget Cuts Hurt Low-Income Households

Editorial originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Passing the Federal budget takes away one piece of chaos from the “perfect storm” striking low-income people, but it certainly doesn’t end the challenges they face. Those who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits may be surprised on November 1 when the benefits they receive go down. A family of four will see a 5% decline in the $668 monthly CalFresh benefit they receive, losing $36 each month and over $400 annually.

This is extremely frustrating for us who are trying to help low-income people get food because the CalFresh reduction is a political decision. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) increased the CalFresh benefits people receive. This increase helped get more food to low-income people, and helped stimulate the economy because those dollars were spent in grocery stores every month. In 2010 Congress passed bills to end this stimulus early because a decision was made that there were more important places to use the funds. Little publicity came out about this action, so people who are depending on CalFresh benefits to feed their children will be surprised when they receive less help in November.

The more frustrating part is that Congress is also considering a proposal to reduce expenditures on the CalFresh program by $40 billion over the next ten years. This doesn’t make sense when the Food Bank is providing food to more people than we ever have before. As the cost of living continues to go up, people have a difficult time making ends meet, even if they have a working individual in their family. As recent events around the Federal budget show, difficult political decisions are being made. The Food Bank must continue to speak up for the people we serve.

Growing Food to Build Community

Sometimes I think it can be easy for us to forget how fortunate many of us are and why we need organizations like the Food Bank. This week I had the pleasure of attending a three day conference in Tucson titled Closing the Hunger Gap. The conference was made up of three parts:

1. Visiting existing programs
2. Learning and brainstorming about issues relate to hunger relief including policy change and nutrition
3. Planning actions we will take over the next year to make a change

On day one I went with a group to see a school, soup kitchen, farm and home garden.

The school was amazing! Everyday the kids are involved in the operation of the school garden and sustainability program at the school. They grow fruits and veggies, raise chicken and tilapia, compost, collect rain water and host a farmers’ market. Incredible! The outcomes are just as amazing from increased attendance and parent involvement to better understanding of math and overall academic improvement. I encourage you to check out www.goManzo.com to see all the amazing work the school and community are doing.

At the soup kitchen I was again blown away and honestly I wasn’t expecting much here. Terrible I know but I thought I’ve seen soup.kitchen and know what good works they do. What could I possible learn here? Well, this soup kitchen not only feeds people everyday (except thanksgiving and Christmas – because “everyone else wants to do that”) but every afternoon they spend working on community organizing. They are working on keeping bus fares from increasing knowing the people they serve absolutely cannot afford even a five cent increase. A crossing guard was needed so families could safely cross the street to get their food and the community organizers at Casa Maria helped make that happen. It’s amazing how a group of community members can affect so much change. I think we forget the power we have.

Next stop on our tour was the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s farm. Community plots are available for families and groups. The food bank also grows food for their services, but the farm is more than that. It’s a place for the neighborhood to gather and to continue a tradition of farming that has been taking place there for thousands of years. One gentleman spoke about how he brings kids on probation to the farm and what a difference that make in their lives. The host potlucks and workshops. It’s an outdoor community center for that neighborhood.

Finally we went to the home of a man who is growing food in his front yard to provide for his family. The food bank helped by providing education and starter plants. Also he sells some of the produce on consignment at the food banks farmers market.

This blog post doesn’t do justice to what I saw last month. Amazing work being done in a community that not only needed help with food but also help remembering how to be a community. They are being given space to gather and learn as well as the tools to affect lasting change in their community. I think this is something we should all think on. 

Passage of $40 Billion SNAP Cut in House

The House passed a bill to cut $40 billion from SNAP (food stamps) yesterday. The measure narrowly passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Locally in Contra Costa and Solano counties:

1 in 4 people are struggling with hunger. (This is the percent of people living at 180% FPL.) The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is serving 50% more people since the start of the recession through their direct service programs and network of partner agencies. That number does not seem to be slowing down. The Food Assistance Program through which the Food Bank distributes federal commodities, the need is still continuing to grow and new people are needing help each month. Regular volunteers who serve each month and often multiple times a month are getting burned out and there is a lack of volunteers willing to commit to help with this program.

Already struggling to keep up with the demand, these farm bill cuts will flood food banks across the country with people needing assistance to feed their families.

From Feeding America:

Did you know that the proposed cuts to SNAP (food stamps) is more than the meals distributed by the entire nationwide network of food banks? Together, the SNAP meals lost in 2014 from the scheduled ARRA cuts and the proposed farm bill cuts (nearly 3.4 billion meals) would exceed the projected annual meal distribution by Feeding America food banks around the country (3.3 billion meals). Following a 46 percent increase in demand during the recession, food banks are already struggling to meet need in their communities and will be unable to make up the difference. Charity can’t make up for lost SNAP meals. Congress must protect SNAP in the farm bill. http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/advocacy-public-policy/policy-center/federal-anti-hunger-programs-and-policies/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-charity.aspx#

 

From recent SNAPclients:

Rosa and Ron

SNAP is the only source of food for Solano county seniors Rosa and Ron.  Their only source of income is Ron’s social security.  Most of that goes to pay their $1,120 rent, leaving them very little for other living expenses.  Often, they will forgo filling or refilling their prescriptions for diabetes and high blood pressure medication because they simply do not have the funds for it.  Without SNAP they simply would not have the funds to put food on the table.  They utilize the Food Bank’s Senior Food Program for additional food but that alone is not enough to feed them for the month.  Many months are even more trying when their disabled adult son lives with them for short periods of time.  Their son has a mental disability and is often homeless unless he lives with them.  Feeding two people on $190 month of CalFresh benefits, what is $6.30 per day or $3.15 per person per day is reduced further when their son is living with them.  Those benefits must now feed three adults at $2.11 per person each day.  Ron is a very proud man, having worked three jobs his entire life and it was difficult to accept the idea that he needed government benefits to feed his family.  Rosa and Ron are already living without medical necessities and doing all they can to survive, the SNAP benefit cuts would further negatively impact their already precarious lives.

Next steps:

The House and the Senate will confer and have to come up with some sort of compromise. Call your Representatives. Let them know SNAP cuts do nothing to fix what ails our country and economy.

Local Congressman Votes Against Increasing Hunger in America

Guest post from Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA): Today, Congressman John Garamendi, a rancher, pear farmer, and a Member of the House Agriculture Committee, voted against H.R. 3102, a partisan bill that would slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by nearly $40 billion, thereby denying food assistance to at least four million low-income Americans. The measure narrowly passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Congressman John Garamendi released the following statement:

“We live in the richest nation on earth, yet one in five American children go to bed hungry. Nearly 50 million Americans, including many of our friends and neighbors in Northern California, struggle to put food on the table – through no fault of their own. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays a vital role in feeding the hungry, preventing millions from slipping into destitution, and helping people get themselves back on their feet. Indeed, more than 9 in 10 Americans on SNAP are children, seniors, disabled, or already working.

“SNAP has been a bipartisan success story. As President Reagan said, ‘As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that’s one person too many, and something must be done about it.’ This week, bipartisan Senate Leaders Bob Dole and Tom Daschle wrote an op-ed urging Congress to ‘Stop playing politics with hunger’ and reject this bill. They also point out that ongoing improvements to regulate the program have kept fraud and abuse to an historic low of less than 2%. The bipartisan Farm Bill passed by the Senate this year continues these reforms.

“H.R. 3102 breaks with this bipartisan tradition. The bill throws a monkey wrench into the work requirements for SNAP recipients found in the 1990s Welfare Reform Law. It eliminates employment opportunities by cutting job training programs. The bill’s pernicious legislative text would encourage states to pocket the savings from taking food away from their most impoverished residents. H.R. 3102 would take away school breakfast and lunch for 210,000 children. The bill would eliminate food assistance for one in five veterans and hundreds of thousands of seniors, disabled people, and low-income working Americans. At a time when so many Americans are struggling to get by, these draconian cuts would plunge even more people into extreme poverty.

“This bill will also weaken our nation’s farm and rural economies and jeopardize any chance of passing a new farm bill to support our nation’s farmers, ranchers, food security, conservation, and rural communities.”
Facts on SNAP:

 

  • Every dollar spent on reducing hunger adds $1.70 to the economy
  • The number and percent of people who struggle with hunger (i.e. meet the USDA definition of “food insecure”) in California’s Third Congressional District counties: Solano: 64,360 (15.6%), Sacramento: 243,470(17.3%), Yolo: 35,100 (17.6%), Sutter: 19,000 (20.2%), Yuba: 15,290 (21.3%), Colusa: 4,210 (19.8%), Lake: 12,990 (20.2%), Glenn: 5,080 (18.1%).
  • The number and percent of children who struggle with hunger: Solano: 21,120 (20.7%), Sacramento: 86,390 (23.8%), Yolo: 10,960 (24.4%), Sutter: 8,110 (31.1%), Yuba: 6,910 (33%), Colusa: 2,120 (19.8%), Lake: 4,530 (32.7%), Glenn: 2,350 (29.7%)
  • The rate of fraud and abuse in SNAP is less than 2%.
  • By contrast, the rate of error and fraud in the federal income tax system equals about 15 % of taxes legally owed.  That is, about 15 % of the income taxes that are owed go unpaid.
  • The House bill eliminates food assistance for more than 170,000 veterans, or nearly one in five veterans. An estimated 3 million veterans and their families don’t get enough to eat each month.
  • One in five children (16 million) struggle with hunger, a record high.
  • 22 million of all SNAP recipients are children (45% of the total).
  • There are nearly 4 million people over age 60 who are enrolled in SNAP, with the typical senior household with an average income under $10,000
  • In 2011, SNAP lifted the incomes of more than 1 million women above the poverty line.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 American Indians and Alaskan natives struggled with hunger in 2008.
  • The average SNAP benefit equates to roughly $1.40 per person per meal
  • There are two million fewer jobs than at the start of the recession
  • SNAP currently has work requirements which can be waived by the states during times of high unemployment.  46 states – including almost every Republican Governor – have sought waivers in FY13 to provide SNAP for those looking for work and repeatedly over the last ten years.
  • SNAP recipients live in all areas of the country – about 40 percent live in urban areas, 40 percent in suburban areas, and 20 percent in rural areas.
  • Sources and Resources: Agriculture Committee Short Summary of the bill, LA Times Article by Senators Dole and Daschle, Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Feeding America, Agriculture Committee detailed summary, and Feed Our Vets.

Old School Savings

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: For today’s breakfast I made Jiffy corn muffins.  Jiffy is a basic muffin mix brand dating back to the 1930s that hasn’t changed much and is really inexpensive.  I was able to buy two boxes for $1.38 which yielded 12 large muffins after just adding in 2 eggs and some milk.  The kids will be able to eat the muffins for breakfast as well as an afternoon snack

Lunch today will be leftovers from last night.  My wonderful husband made chicken adobo and rice using another amazing deal from Safeway.  Chicken leg pieces were on sale for 99 cents/pound.  So this dinner and lunch will end up costing less than $10.

For dinner tonight I planned on making a pasta dish, but I will be working late and need to get my kids to different activities right around dinner time.  Wednesday is a night we usually eat out due to our busy schedules so we may resort to another super Safeway deal of frozen burritos that I got for 40 cents each.  I usually read ingredient labels very closely, but tonight we are probably going to trade off high-quality and healthy ingredients for cost and convenience.

Jill is participating in the Hunger Challenge with her husband and three children. Read her first two posts here. To learn more about the Challenge visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Hunger Challenge Slashes Budgets

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: I decided to take the Hunger Challenge and see what it is like to eat on $4.50 per day.  By taking the Hunger Challenge we are committing to eat all of our meals this week from a limited food budget comparable to that of a SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) recipient.  We are a family of five, so our total weekly budget is $112.50.  This is a pretty big reduction from what we normally spend on food.  I usually spend between $150-200/week on groceries, plus we eat out once or twice for dinner and my husband and I often eat out for lunch and grab coffee for a total of about $300/week on food.  

When we decided to do this challenge we sat down with our two older children to explain what we were doing this week and why.  We explained that there are many people in America (1 in 6) that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and that many of those people are children (1 in 4 people receiving emergency food are children).  By eating on a SNAP budget and blogging about it, we hope to raise awareness for people that may not know where their next meal is coming from.  We also thought that it would be good for them to learn more about budgeting and healthy eating. 

I am a working mom with three kids, so I often rely on prepared foods and/or take out to manage our busy schedules.  Knowing that I won’t be able to do that this week, I spent almost the entire day (Sunday), planning what we are going to eat, grocery shopping, and preparing food for the week.  I started out the day planning what we would eat for the entire week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) and estimating whether or not we could get it all within our SNAP budget.  I didn’t clip coupons, but did leverage the Safeway Just For U app which helped me save over 30% on my grocery bill which ended up costing $84.00.  We have a couple of items already in our house (milk, pears, sunbutter, rice, popcorn, spices) that we will use for our meals this week, so I wanted to try and be under the $112.50 budget.   I realized that the only way to make this budget work, was to not rely on pre-packaged convenience foods and to make more of our meals/snacks from scratch.  I then spent about three hours preparing food including home-made granola, granola bars, and banana chocolate chip muffins.  All of these foods will save us a significant amount of money, but did “cost” me a lot of time.   

I am hoping that this will be a good learning experience for the entire family and will help to raise awareness for those who are food insecure and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Day 2: Stretching your food

One of my tactics for living on a SNAP budget this week is to stretch our food.  This is something that my grandparents’ generation used to do a lot to make precious ingredients like meat go farther.

Our meal for dinner last night was stir-fried pork and green beans.  This is a pretty regular meal in our house, but to stretch it into two meals (dinner and next day’s lunch) I did two things: 1) added more green beans, and 2) served it with more rice. 

Knowing that we wanted to use this meal for lunch the next day, I made sure we didn’t  eat more than half for dinner.  Because of that I ate less than I normally would – assuming I would be fine given a late afternoon snack I had.  This morning I woke up before my alarm went off feeling hungry.  This was something I normally don’t feel and I realized it was probably due to controlling how much I ate last night to ensure we had enough for lunch today. 

This feeling of hunger gave me a moment to reflect on what we are doing with the Hunger Challenge and to remember the 149,000 people that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano serves each month.

 

It’s not too late to join the Hunger Challenge. To learn more and sign up, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.