Blog

Archive for 2014

Volunteers Make Food Bank Work Possible

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Whenever I talk about the work of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I always explain how important volunteers are, but as we prepared for our volunteer recognition and I looked at the total volunteer hours given this past year, I am even more amazed.  Volunteers gave more than 86,000 hours of their time last year; the equivalent work time of more than 40 staff members.  Volunteers answer our phones, sort food, bag produce and help run our distributions.  They are ambassadors making presentations to groups about the work we do.  Our volunteer Board of Directors takes responsibility for setting the goals of the organization and making sure we provide the services the community needs.  We succeed as an organization because volunteers care about the work we do.

Volunteers are also an inspiration to our staff members.  When we see the time and energy people give to help us feed others, we know we are part of an organization doing the right thing.  I personally feel privileged that I got to know Duncan Miller because of my work at the Food Bank.  Duncan past away this year, but his legacy lives on in the work of the “Milk Duds”, fellow volunteers from Rockville Presbyterian Church who continue to provide food to their neighbors in need.  Duncan started his “Milk Dud” group to help him haul donated milk to his food pantry and other charities in the Fairfield area.  As the volume of donated milk grew, Duncan partnered with the Food Bank to make sure these valuable donations of dairy products were used.  Duncan was a retired pilot who owned classic planes, but his passion for helping others defined his life.  That passion continues in the work of the Rockville Presbyterian “Milk Duds” who continue to serve community members in need.

Volunteers also keep staff motivated by the example they set through their energy and commitment.  Houston Robertson has energy that exceeds what I only wish I had.  She volunteers with us doing outreach to enroll people in the CalFresh program (a quite complicated task) and helps with the distribution of Food for Children boxes at our distribution site in Vallejo.  She is also an incredibly articulate Ambassador for us, speaking to groups about the Food Bank’s work and hopefully persuading them to volunteer as well.  When she is not volunteering for us, Houston does presentations about aging that refer to the memoir she has written.  Did I mention she is also branching out as a stand-up comedian?

Our Volunteer Recognition event took place October 26, celebrating people like Houston and Duncan.  Our work could not be done if we did not have the support our volunteers give.  We live in a community that cares about people in need and gladly gives their time to make a difference.

Community Partnerships Provide Vital Holiday Meals

During the holiday season, people think of gifts, food and family.  Families gather together with the holiday meal being a main part of the celebration.  It is also a time we give presents to each other, sharing with others to show we care for our family and friends.  But the holidays are an especially difficult time for the families served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  People who need help from us throughout the year struggle as they try to make the holidays a special time for their family.

We at the Food Bank are lucky we live in a community that wants to help.  The Food Bank has been working for nearly forty years to make the holidays a happier time for the families we serve in our community.  We begin our planning in August by purchasing the food we will need for the holiday baskets put together by the agencies we serve.  We work with local food pantries and soup kitchens to determine who they will serve and what they will need from us during the holidays.  We are able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables as well as canned food and turkeys at no cost to the agency.  We raise money so we can buy grocery gift certificates that allow families with limited cooking facilities to obtain the food they need for their holiday meal.  Working with the pantries and soup kitchens in our community, we helped provide 14,000 meals to people last year, and more than 26,600 baskets went to families in need.

The holiday time is the busiest of all at the Food Bank, but we are able to do this work because the community gives.  We have collection barrels in local grocery stores.  Businesses and schools organize food drives.  Scout troops, faith communities, swim teams and motorcycle riders from our local refineries collect food and raise funds.  The number of drives increases every year, but we have nearly 800 locations where people can donate food to their neighbors.  We must receive this community support because we need to distribute over 1.7 million pounds of food and over 900 turkeys during the holiday season.

You have helped make the holiday brighter for the families we serve every year because the community gives generously.  Our committed volunteers help to sort and box the donated food we receive so that the generosity of the community during the holiday season continues to provide for the people we serve into the new year.  Because the community gives so generously, we are able to make a difference in the holiday season and throughout the year.

Senate Must Include “America Gives More Act” in Tax Legislation

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The United States Senate has the opportunity to provide a powerful boost to charitable organizations working to improve lives and strengthen communities all across the country. In July 2014 the House of Representatives approved the America Gives More Act, landmark legislation that would make three major charitable giving incentives (including donations of food inventory) permanent and reliable for donors of both food and funds.

Here is why the legislation is so important to our Food Bank and our community:  the America Gives More Act would help the farmers, restaurants, retailers, and food manufacturers we work with donate more excess food to those in need. Up until now, the charitable giving provisions in the tax code have been repeatedly extended on a short-term, often erratic basis that limits their impact, as donors cannot consistently rely on the certainty of receiving tax benefits for their generous donations. This is certainly true for small businesses that are relying on the food donation tax deduction to provide a needed incentive to help them establish a regular donation program with food banks. The uncertainty they face with the tax code has a tremendous impact on the amount of food we can bring in to the Food Bank, and in turn, get out to those in need.

In addition, the America Gives Back Act has much needed expansions of the food donation deduction that would allow farmers and ranchers to take the same tax deduction when donating food – a much needed improvement.  Our Food Bank is now distributing 10 million pounds of fresh produce every year – and we anticipate this legislation would help us increase that amount.

The impact of the America Gives More Act on our mission—and those we serve—would be significant. With over 70 billion pounds of wholesome excess food wasted each year, we have a critical opportunity to give food banks and food donors a powerful tool to donate more food.

The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to include the America Gives More Act in tax legislation that’s expected to be voted on after the election. Doing so would have a significant and positive impact on millions of individuals and families in every community who benefit from the programs and services provided by charitable organizations across the country. To contact your senator and ask them to support this legislation, call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Big Fun at 13th Annual Refinery Run

refinery run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many dedicated refinery workers, contractors and their families all joined together at Supplies and Solutions in Fairfield excited for this year’s Refinery Run with a new starting point and new, longer route for all to experience together.  Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery, Shell Oil Products US, Phillips 66 and Valero Benicia Refinery began collecting food and money in the beginning of August and ended mid-September with a fundraiser celebration which includes a Poker Run, sponsored by Supplies and Solutions, Contra Costa Electric, Brinderson Constructors, Inc. and Swan Associates, Inc., a 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 $25,500 and 2829 pounds of food. Alfred Conhagen, Inc., Carone & Company, Inc., Harder Mechanical Contractors, McJunkin Red Man Corporation, Mistras Group, Inc., Redwood Painting Company Inc., Roberts Company, Unico Mechanical Corporation, Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., Chevron and Regal Collision Repair, our Contractor Sponsors, also deserve big thanks for all the support they give to the Food Bank. The Shell Clubhouse was jumping with music by Old’s Khool Slingers, powered by DC Solar, and the food was good as always when using England’s Café & Catering. Great vendors, including Joyce Cid CMT, Origami Owl, Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys, Shell Refinery EMT/Fire engine, Crowne Plaza, Dr. Denise Britt with Contra Costa Chiropractic and Iron Steed Harley Davidson, a fun photo booth from Digital Audio Visual Solutions and a variety of raffle and silent auction items made this day complete.  We would like to thank all of you for caring for and helping your neighbors in need.

 

 

Hunger Action Month Reaches All Areas of the Nation

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Hunger Action Month is an opportunity to raise the issue of hunger as one voice across the nation. In September, we reach out to our supporters and volunteers, those who are already concerned about hunger, and ask them to join us in action. We invite them to share about the issue with their friends, family and coworkers who might not even know hunger is a problem. With this collective effort we are able to spread the fact that one in six Americans is at risk of going hungry to many more people than the Food Bank could on our own.  The power of social media, email and face-to-face conversations about why we Turn Orange each September have spread the message to all areas of the community.

Our largest area of support, our volunteers, donors and staff, are all given a simple and clear message. Hunger is everywhere, and we can all do something about it. They are invited to Turn Orange to make a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. Their enthusiasm spreads to their circle of influence, including those who might not be as involved with hunger relief. Every time they share a postcard with a business or wear their Turn Orange t-shirt, they are standing up for the people we serve and raising awareness.

For the people our supporters reach who do not know as much about hunger in America, we appreciate their willingness to learn. We have statistics based on census data and third-party surveys to show the incredible need across all walks of life. We can reference academic papers and books that discuss poverty and hunger in great detail. But we can also teach people about hunger in their community by taking them to one of our Community Produce Program distributions. People will see a program that distributes fresh fruit and vegetables directly to low-income individuals. Those who visit any of our distributions will see that the people we serve look a lot like them. Families with children need help with groceries; senior citizens need food to supplement their Social Security income. People need food assistance when they live in an area that has expensive housing and a high cost of living.

For those who still do not feel hunger is an issue, I consider it progress if we start a conversation. I received some comments about my article on living on a CalFresh budget. People made worthwhile points about where I shopped and the decisions I made and believed they could shop smarter on a regular basis. They correctly identified that I am a single individual and that I don’t have the patience to dedicate energy to shopping smart. All of these comments point to the fact that we never truly know who might need help with food because anyone could be battling healthcare costs, job loss or have to support an elderly parent. We all know life gets busy and someone might not have the time to shop if they are dealing with multiple jobs, family and kitchen situations or lack of access to healthy food. We hear stories like this every week.

Hunger Action Month is a time for us to empower supports to share why they are passionate about ending hunger in America and ask others to do the same. We thank everyone who took action in September whether you shared or just listened, you have helped move people in every category to consider the issue of hunger in America.

Living on a Limited Food Budget Takes Sacrifice

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: During Hunger Action Month every September the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano joins with people throughout the country to take action to end hunger.  We are working to create a movement that will no longer accept hunger in a society as rich as ours.  Part of this effort is helping people understand why their neighbors are hungry and what we can do to make a difference.  For someone who has been doing this work as long as I have, this is an opportunity to step back from what we do every day and look at why we do what we do.

As part of Hunger Action Month, I have spent this week living on food I bought with the average CalFresh (Food Stamp) allotment.  For this working week, I took my $22.50 ($4.50 per day) and bought what I needed to get by.  A box of store-brand Toasty O cereal was just over two dollars.  Enough yogurt for five lunches was a little over three dollars and I bought bananas to put in the yogurt (bananas are a lot cheaper than strawberries).  For dinner, spaghetti was on sale for 99 cents and pasta sauce was $2.99.  I also bought lettuce, cucumber and a pepper to make a salad my dinner.  I also bought six eggs for $1.75.  A couple ears of corn were pretty cheap, and I was set.

This effort reminded me that living on a low-cost diet can be done, but it takes planning and sacrifice.  I had to make compromises because I really would have preferred strawberries, but I had two pasta dinners with half an ear of corn and two salad dinners with corn as well.  Scrambled eggs were my fifth meal.  Even though my meal selection was deadly boring, I got through a week living on a CalFresh diet, getting a glimpse of what life is like for those who need assistance.  It helped me understand the situation faced by those who do not have the money they need to get the food they need.  Making difficult decisions about where your limited resources go becomes a constant concern for people with low incomes.

Emotionally, it was a strange feeling when the week came to an end.  Rather than feeling proud of myself, I felt as if I had been a bit condescending.  I had only “sampled” being poor, not lived that life.  I lived the CalFresh diet one week, not for months at a time.  I only had my food needs to worry about, not those of my children.  I didn’t have any car problems, medical issues or other problems pull money away from me.  I pretended to be poor in one small way for five days, and on Saturday, I could take my credit card and go out to a dinner at any restaurant I wanted.  Living on a very limited food budget for the long term is much more serious than boring meals. People make hard choices every day between buying food or paying the rent, utilities or putting gas in the car to get to work. These benefits and help from the Food Bank allow a little relief to those hard decisions.

To try the Hunger Challenge for yourself, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Proof of Community Care is Clear in the Audit

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: In spite of what we think when we hear the word, having an audit done is not a negative thing.  As a charitable organization, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano knows we should have outside experts evaluate the way we manage our financial affairs.  We want those we ask to give us food and money to know that we are doing the work they want to support.  Our audits show community members that we are accomplishing the important work people want to see done.

As we are doing the final review of our audit for 2014, it is very helpful to me to look at what we have accomplished.   We establish goals each year and June 30 is when we stop the clock and look at how we have done.   In the last fiscal year, we distributed over 20 million pounds of food and half of those pounds were fresh produce.  Our administrative and fund development costs are less than 4% of our budget.  We have reason to be proud we are running an efficient organization that is meeting the needs of hungry people in our community.

But when I consider where the support comes from that makes our work possible, I am even more proud of the work we do.  If I look at a random list of contacts I have had in the past few months, I see amazing community connections.  We receive support from Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, League of Women Voters, Valero, Shell, Tesoro, Chevron, Janssen, Safeway, Whole Foods, Genentech, and Walmart.

The Food Bank gets help from Solano and Contra Costa County employees, Contra Costa Bar Association (and a bunch of law firms), Realtors in Motion, the County Library, St. Mary’s College, Prophet, the Rossmoor Harvest Festival and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church’s crab feed.  Food, money and volunteers come from Stanley Middle School, Hercules Middle School, Valhalla School, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Pacific Service Credit Union, Bloomingdales and Forma Gym.

We also receive over half our financial support from individuals.  Some people donate once a year, some people donate every month.  People ask friends to give money to the Food Bank instead of buying them birthday or wedding gifts.  Parents bring their children to the Food Bank warehouse so they can give us the money they raised in their neighborhood.  There is a sense of community that comes from helping each other.

Our audit is a time we look at what we have done, and it shows me that we are part of a community that cares for their neighbors.  When we put together efforts to provide food to those in need, we know that we can count on the strong support provided by our community.  We are able to make a difference because we are part of a community that knows they can work with the Food Bank to get healthy food to their neighbors in need.

Join Effort for a Glimpse of What Those in Need Endure

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working to end hunger in our community.  As so often happens, a straightforward idea becomes incredibly complicated when we look at all we need to do to reach that goal.  We know that our main purpose is to provide food to people in need in our community.  We recently participated in a national hunger study with other food banks that are part of Feeding America, the national food bank network.  It’s no great surprise that the study confirms low-income people face an incredibly difficult time providing healthy food for their families.  The people we serve face more difficult circumstances because the Bay Area is an expensive place to live.  People do not have room to negotiate housing or fuel costs, so food is often the area where people scrimp to save money.

Our job at the Food Bank is to make as much healthy food as possible available to low-income people in our community.  We have been able to dramatically increase the amount of fresh produce we provide through our Community Produce Program.  Through this program and our other distribution efforts, half the 21 million pounds of food we distributed last year was fresh produce.  Because we make healthy food easily accessible in low-income neighborhoods, we are having a positive effect on the lives of our neighbors in need.

But hunger in our community cannot be solved solely by the Food Bank.  We have a responsibility to educate the community about the need around us.  In the suburbs, hunger is not as visible as in urban centers.  Those who live in nice housing developments only drive through low-income neighborhoods, and that is probably on a freeway.  So we are asking people during Hunger Action Month in September to slow down and consider what it is like to not have the money you need for food.  During the week of September 15, I ask people to join me living on the amount the average Cal Fresh (food stamp) recipient receives for their food each day, $4.50.  It’s not totally sharing the experience a Cal Fresh recipient lives because I can use my spices and cleaning supplies. I’m not living the life a low-income individual faces every day, but living on the Cal Fresh budget helps me understand the tough decisions low-income people make.

If you can only spend $4.50 a day you realize how expensive fresh fruits and vegetables are.  Processed foods are significantly cheaper, so you ignore the huge amounts of sodium you are consuming and the poor nutrition the packaged food provides.  High fructose corn syrup tastes good and is a cheap part of the packaged food we buy.  Low-income people are trying to make healthy food choices, but they are doing that on a budget of $4.50 each day.  Please join me the week of September 15 so we can better understand the lives our low-income neighbors live.

 

Breaking the Cycle

Guest post by Food Bank friend Marla Williams: Monopoly money, something I remember thinking as a young child standing impatiently by my mother’s side, watching her tear paper coupons out of a book and hand them to the cashier. I was too young to understand anything different about the poverty my brothers and I grew up in. Not long ago, I found myself in a similar situation. A few years back, instead of waking up Christmas morning excited about opening presents like most children, my oldest daughter Lilia ran into my room and jumped on my bed exclaiming to the world that she knew it was Christmas because Santa had come and filled up the kitchen with food. That was my epiphany. I’m Marla Williams and this is the window into the life of a struggling family. A mother determined to break the cycle of poverty.  A woman fueled by the love of my family, my community, my education, and leadership.

Marla and her family

Marla and her family

Lilia loves to read and has a quiet and kind disposition. Victoria continuously will surprise people with a sense of humor often far beyond her age and is very prone to expressing her wit at random. Michael, my husband; is a former veteran who has served two tours in Iraq. Michael is currently enrolled at Los Medanos College working on his associate’s degree. Michael is also employed full time making minimum wage. Our family has faced some challenges in the past few years.

In July 2008 I held a job in the mortgage industry that paid fairly well. Two years later, I was laid off.  Through the discouragement of the situation, the children had to adapt suddenly to several new changes at once. They went from a life that was comfortable to a life that left them struggling .They have slept in the backseat in the early hours of morning while their mother worked a second job throwing newspapers out of the car window to make ends meet. They’ve been without warm clothes for school until our family could afford them. Lilia and Toria know what it is to be hungry and go without. It is their love that keeps my husband and I motivated.

After being laid off, I got a job at a well known coffee company to help make ends meet.  I knew my family would need some additional assistance with food and finances. At that time I decided to seek out answers within my community. I went to social services to see what programs I might qualify for to temporarily better our situation. After the frustration of being told we make too much money for some forms of assistance, I discovered that we could get help with groceries and fresh produce from the Food Bank.

Today, after graduating Opportunity Junction (a partner agency of the Food Bank) and helping my family change our circumstances, the holidays this year will look different for my girls. Michael is no longer working at a minimum wage job, however money is still tight. The Food Bank is the glue that holds struggling families together when we have expenses like a $900.00 car repair and there isn’t enough money left over to buy groceries. I went to the local pantry to pick up groceries just this morning so we can make it until his next payday this Friday.

I’m a dedicated individual when it comes to making our communities more resourceful for families in need. I believe in the power one individual can have to change not only their circumstances for the better but for the community around them as well. My family is on our way to no longer needing support from the Food Bank, but many like us are still in need of a helping hand. I will continue to fight to save community programs that are so vital to hundreds of families facing these financial challenges in today’s economy.

Ending Hunger Requires a Community Effort

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: In order to end hunger, there needs to be a movement that says hunger is not acceptable.  Social change is a gradual curve, but movements change the way we see things as a society.  While we are far from perfect in every area, we have seen significant progress in many areas:  women’s issues, racial issues, LGBT issues.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working with our partner food banks in our national network, Feeding America, to create a movement that says the existence of hungry people in our community is not acceptable.  The month of September is Hunger Action Month, and we are trying to motivate people to take action against hunger.  Hunger Action Month is built around “Go Orange”.  Why orange? Orange is the official color of hunger relief and makes a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. We want people to talk to their neighbors, talk to their faith congregation, talk to the people they play cards with about the issue of hunger.  We need to understand that hunger is no more acceptable than racism, sexism or homophobia.  Social change begins with events that begin conversations among people who care.

Help Contra Costa and Solano counties Turn Orange for Hunger Relief during Hunger Action Month this September! This is a great way to mobilize everyone in our community — in America — to take action in the fight against domestic hunger, generating strong and sustainable engagement.  We see Hunger Action Month as a way for the community to come together to take action to end hunger.

We have a vision that someday soon there will not be hungry people in our community.  Social change will take place and we will not accept hunger.  We will understand that hungry children don’t learn.  We will recognize that people who don’t eat a healthy diet have poor health.  We will understand that there is enough food for everyone and there is no reason for hunger to exist in our community.  I look forward to the future when people think it was a strange and different time when hunger was tolerated.