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Archive for March, 2014

38 Years of Food Banking

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The Community Food Coalition 2 years after it was founded in 1977. Larry Sly is 3rd from the right.

I just celebrated my 38th year working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and so it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the changes I have seen. When I was hired, I was the second employee; the one and only truck driver. At that time the Food Bank was a trailer Safeway had loaned us to store canned food. Our job was to provide food to 17 food pantries that gave people an emergency three-day food supply. Individuals who tried to obtain government assistance programs like CalFresh (food stamps) often found that they had neglected to bring proper documentation, so the eligibility worker was able to use the community resource these food pantries represented to deal with a short term emergency.

We still provide food to pantries today, in addition to our direct service programs, but many programs now provide food to people on a regular basis. Even if people receive government support, they have difficult time getting by on a limited income. The first Food Bank direct program was what is now known as the Senior Food Program because we saw that people could not make ends meet on Social Security alone. The Food Assistance Program was set up to give surplus food from the US Department of Agriculture to low-income people. The availability of fresh produce allowed for the creation of the Farm 2 Kids program and the Community Produce Program.

Food Banking has changed as the need in the community changed. The government programs that provide financial assistance to people in need have greatly diminished. While we cannot make up the loss, we are able to make a difference for those at risk of hunger. We’d like to get back to a place where people only need food from us in an emergency, but until hunger is recognized as a national issue, the Food Bank will do all we can to help people get the nutritious food they need.

How the Drought Could Effect the Food Bank’s Ability to Provide Food to People in Need in Our Community

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Those of us at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano are proud that we have been able to increase the amount of food we distribute to people in need in our community. We serve over 149,000 people each month, and our job is to provide them as much food as we can. We also try to give them the healthiest food we can, so we have dramatically increased the amount of fresh produce we distribute. Last year we gave away eight million pounds of produce as part of the eighteen million pounds of food we distributed, and we are on track to give out ten million pounds of produce this year.

Our plans depend on the excess produced by California agriculture however, so we are very concerned about the effect the drought will have on the produce available to us. Food comes to us from the produce producing areas in our state, so we worry about how much cauliflower and broccoli will be grown in the Salinas Valley. Carrots, onions and potatoes may not be available to us if growers can’t get water. Fruit trees may only receive enough water to keep the tree alive, not enough to allow it to produce fruit.

The decisions being made about how we allocate the water available to us will have an impact on everyone. We will all pay more for food because less will be produced at a higher cost. We also see that the increasing international demand for food driving up the cost of both fresh and canned food. The Food Bank depends on California agriculture and we fear that this is a year we will have less food at an increased cost as we try to help those in need.

The Food Bank and Good Nutrition

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month which causes us to reflect on the changes that have occurred at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano over the past several years. Our first priority is to see that people have enough to eat; everyone needs enough calories. But people who lack money should not have to get by on food that is empty calories; we all deserve good nutrition. So the Food Bank focuses on buying food that helps us meet that goal. The canned fruit we purchase is packed in juice, without additional sugar. We buy low-salt vegetables. Whole wheat pasta and rolled oats provide good nutrition as well as filling you up.

We have made the most significant changes in the area of nutrition with our Community Produce Program. We will distribute nearly three million pounds of fresh produce to people in our community this year. People are able to take home approximately 25 pounds of fresh produce twice a month. In addition, we have a nutritionist at the distribution sites offering people educational materials and recipes. The Community Produce Program hopes to provide people food and help them understand how best to stretch their limited dollars.

People understand that their health is related to the food they eat. But people with limited budgets constantly have to decide if fast food (incredibly cheap and convenient) is a better choice than fresh food. We are currently doing a study to see whether people change their patterns and eat more fruit and vegetables because the Community Produce Program made fresh produce part of their normal meals. I think the message is very clear that what we eat determines our health. National Nutrition Month gives us an opportunity to show that message applies to everyone.

Walnut Creek skaters give Olympic-sized turnout

During the holiday season, Contra Costa Oncology partnered with Walnut Creek on Ice to promote awareness for the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano.   From November to January, for every skating ticket that was collected at the ice rink, Contra Costa Oncology would match with a donation to the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano.  The campaign “You Skate. We Donate.”  provided the opportunity for the local community to feel involved with the fundraising efforts, while enjoying a fun time at the rink. Tens of thousands of skaters showed their support and Contra Costa Oncology delivered a check for $5,145.

pic 1 pic 2 pic 3 pic 4The Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and SpecialIce were a huge help in making the Contra Costa Oncology fundraising effort a huge success!

A Local Business, Filling an Important Role in Our Local Economy

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted a recent mixer for the local Chamber of Commerce and it reminded me of the many roles the Food Bank plays in the community. I often focus on the “non-profit” side of our status as a non-profit corporation, downplaying our role as a local business. But when we gather with other local businesses in Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo, I realize that we are like many other small businesses in our community.

We employ more than 60 people in Solano and Contra Costa counties. We own a warehouse in Concord and lease 30,000 square feet of warehouse space in Fairfield. We have bobtails and tractor trailer trucks that deliver millions of pounds of food to agencies in our community. While we do not pay business or property taxes because of our non-profit status, we pay DMV fees, sales tax, Social Security taxes, Worker’s Comp, etc. We provide health insurance for our employees.

As a local business, we consume fuel (lots of fuel), we buy boxes to store donated food, and we buy bags for produce. We buy office supplies, pallet jacks and forklifts. We contract with a payroll service, a janitorial service and firms that provide training to our staff. We have a Board of Directors that approves a budget and sets operating goals. We provide them with monthly dashboard reports to track our progress.

We are members of the Chamber of Commerce because we are a locally-based food distribution business. The only thing that makes us different is that our business is providing food to other non-profit organizations or directly to people in need. Because of our mission, we have non-profit status, but we are a local business, filling an important role in our local economy.