Author Archive

Caitlin

Community Produce Program: Realities from the Frontlines

William asked if he could have extra produce because “I don’t have enough food.”  A senior citizen said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.  It really helps me stretch my social security.”  A family of four with three children came up to the table and asked if they could pick up produce.  “I’m really hungry, we don’t have food at home,” said the young girl. We hear this from young people to seniors and everyone in-between.

These are a few of the many folks who come to the Community Produce Program for the Food Bank’s twice-monthly fresh produce distribution.  Five days a week, clients thank us for the produce and often mention this is their only access to fresh produce.  First timers are often surprised at the quality, variety and quantity of the produce.  Many tell us they have not had persimmons or apples in a long time.  One client was happy to see the persimmons, telling us he had not had one since he came to this country six years ago.

Thanks to support from the National Dairy Council the Food Bank is able to help a lot of working folks who simply do not make enough money to feed their families.  But more important than providing folks with enough food is providing them with the right food.  In partnership with Feeding America the National Dairy Council has developed a list of “Foods to Encourage” for food banks around the country to use as a guide to build healthier communities.  Creating a program that distributes nothing but fresh produce ensures our clients are receiving the most nutrient-rich food possible.

In addition to providing fresh produce, the Community Produce Program also includes a nutrition education component.  Many of these same clients tell us they like the nutrition information provided in the recipes and the engaging nutrition questions we ask.  Some try the recipes and let us know how they came out.  Many clients also learn something new about the featured produce, often being reminded to sauté, bake, or eat the fruits and vegetables whole.  For more information about the Community Produce Program or the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano please visit www.foodbankccs.org.

Taking Schools to the Next Level: School Pantries Feed the Minds of Tomorrow

Fall is generally a time of great excitement for school-age kids; it means a new year with a new teacher, new friends, and new beginnings.  Schools serve as so much more than a place where a child learns math or geography, but as a center and safe gathering place for the community surrounding it.  For the 1 out of 4 children who struggle with hunger every day, it can also serve as a place where you can they can count on receiving the food they need to learn and thrive.  The Food Bank has fostered partnerships with schools over the past five years, creating the Farm 2 Kids program that provides five pounds of fresh produce to over 9,000 children at 80 sites each week.  To take these partnerships even further, the Food Bank created a School Pantry program that provides shelf-stable food to high school students in need.

The School Pantries are located on school grounds and run by a school staff member.  This way food can be given out discreetly to avoid any embarrassment that many students already experience during high school years.  The office manager of one high school realized a girl at school was not eating anything except for the free lunch she received at school.  When she spoke with this girl, the student explained that her dad has diabetes and they spend all of their money on buying him special foods.  Sometimes there is just not enough for her brothers and sisters.  She is now able to pick out the foods her family can eat like brown rice, canned vegetables without salt and low-sugar cereals.  This represents a need that the Food Bank would not be able to identify on their own.  Through these strategic partnerships the Food Bank is able to help students of all ages in a way that makes them confident, happy and ready to learn.

The Food Bank is able to maintain programs like school pantries and Farm 2 Kids with support from a generous community. Find out how to donate on our website.

 

Fresh Produce Where It's Needed Most

The other day I visited a school in Richmond as part of my regular visits to the 79 schools we serve through the Farm 2 Kids program. As the Program Coordinator it is my job to make sure everything is going smoothly at the schools’ weekly produce distributions and look for other ways the Food Bank can help.

This is an area hard it by the effects of the recession and as I drove through the neighborhood that fact was made apparent by the amount of foreclosure signs I saw.  Kristina, the After School Program Manager showed me where they pass out bags of produce to the kids as their parents pick them up at the end of the day.  Families were helping themselves to oranges, potatoes, and yams and the kids seemed more than happy to help their parents carry the food home.  When I talked further with Kristina she explained to me that parents are taking this produce not as a luxury, but as a necessity.  “We have so many families that are moving in with their extended families to save money so we have new kids at the school all the time.  Parents are losing their homes and their jobs and having to rent rooms to get by.  This food is something they really need.”  She went on to explain that in times of crisis, people see the school as a safe place they can go for resources.  She loves being able to provide healthy food as another resource for them because she knows they need it.  The extra help the Food Bank provides helps them stretch the few dollars they do have to provide for their children.

The Farm 2 Kids program provides 3-5 pounds of produce to after school programs each week.  Over 9,000 low-income children regularly receive fresh fruits and vegetables through the program.  To find out more about Farm 2 Kids visit our page or donate to support the program.

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.

The Different Faces of Hunger

Every day I am more and more surprised by how many people need our help.  Every month the Food Bank helps feed 132,000 people, an immense number by any standards. Who is the face of hunger and what brings each one of our clients to our distributions? When looking at the statistics I was shocked to see that 28% of the clients the Food Bank serves are children. If one parent loses their job this not only affects them but their children and others in the household. While school-aged children often receive lunch at school many times this is their only meal of the day. Talk to teachers and you will find out that they all have at least one student who goes home to an empty dinner table.

Another staggering statistic is how many seniors are in need of food assistance.  As Social Security benefits continue to be cut, many low income seniors are being asked to live on less and less. Meanwhile, prices of housing, food, and utilities keep rising.  For many seniors, a nutritious balanced meal is a luxury.

To serve these populations, the Food Bank has different programs. The Farm 2 Kids program provides produce on a weekly basis to nearly 9,000 children who then take the fruits and vegetables home to their families. For younger children ages 4-5 there is the Food For Children program which provides a monthly box of nutritious, kid-friendly food as well as a bag of perishable items. Low income seniors on a tight budget can join the Senior Food Program and receive a bag of canned and fresh items twice a month.

With the generous help of our supporters, the Food Bank is able to not only help people in need, but to target the special populations who need it most. As you take action this Hunger Action Month, keep in mind the many different individuals you are helping in so many different ways.

Veggies for Everyone

We often look for other agencies to partner with in our produce distribution program while school is out, and this summer we provided food to children of migrant farm workers.

When I did my regular site visit, the program staff told me how the produce really helped out the families each week since all the families are low-income and have difficulty putting food on the table.  It made me feel really good about what we do as I saw parents returning from a long day working in the fields to pick up their children and the food we were able to provide.  I also thought of the irony that we were providing fresh fruits and vegetables to the very people who did the back breaking work to grow and pick them.  All the children in this distribution have working parents, but those parents do not earn enough to afford the very product they are producing.

We know we are doing the right thing in providing food to the people we serve, but we also know it is important for our advocacy program to focus on protecting the social service safety net.  The community needs to understand what we can do to make life better for low-income people in our neighborhood.

Children from Meadow Homes Elementary with their Farm 2 Kids produce

Visit www.foodbankccs.org to sign up for our e-newsletter and find out how you can help fight hunger.

What is Hunger Action Month?

September is Hunger Action Month, when we ask everyone in America to take action to fight hunger in their community, all month long. Did you know that 1 in 6 people in Contra Costa and Solano are at risk of hunger?  Hunger Action Month is your opportunity to join a movement that has a real and lasting impact on our effort to feed more Americans than ever before.

Hunger Action MonthWhether it’s by advocating and raising awareness, making donations, or volunteering, you can find the way that’s right for you to make a difference during Hunger Action Month. You can go online and view a video Matt Damon made about hunger, wear orange on Wednesdays to show solidarity, or go to www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth to find a calendar with 30 different ideas of how you can get involved – one for each day in September! You don’t have to be an adult to get involved. We even have a version for specifically for kids so they can become hunger helpers!


The New Glenbrook Middle “Farmer’s Market”

At Glenbrook Middle School in Concord they have gotten creative in distributing the produce they receive through the Food Bank’s Farm 2 Kids program. They noticed that some of the kids were not taking it because, especially with middle school-aged kids, taking home produce is not “cool.” Mr. Woods, their teacher leader, purchased some wire baskets and arranged the produce on tables like a farmer’s market would do. Now, the kids and parents “shop” for their produce with bags that are provided and get to choose exactly what they want. A few student volunteers monitor the market each week letting the “customers” know if there is a limit on any item. Before, they used to pre-make bags and it was difficult for them to get the students to take them home. Sometimes a change in presentation is all it takes to change the way people think about fruits and vegetables.

Sadly, because of budget cuts the Mt. Diablo Unified School District will be closing Glenbrook Middle next year. Not only does this change mean that students will no longer be able to walk to their neighborhood school, but it also means the students will not be able to receive their fresh fruits and vegetables each week. As we can see, the budget cuts affecting our schools affect more than their education.

Making a difference

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to work with Kim, a former police dispatcher for 13 years.  She volunteered at our Richmond Food For Children site helping to pack bags with food and carrying the food for our clients.  Afterward, Kim told me how much she enjoyed helping at our site.  She spent 13 years of her life listening to some of the worst situations and feeling relatively powerless when it came to helping.  Volunteering with the Food Bank gave her the chance to see that she could do something positive and directly make a difference in people’s lives.  “It truly has been a blessing to me; I get so much from being there,”  she told me.

Often when I work with a volunteer that I haven’t worked with before I worry if they will enjoy themselves because I need their help and I hope they come back.  I was so happy to know that the Food Bank was doing something for her while she did something priceless for the Food Bank.

More than just produce

While the kids get produce every week through Farm 2 Kids, we include flyers so their parents to know that we have programs that can provide them with non-perishable items as well.  One student brought the flyer home to her grandmother and a short time later she called me.  Although I thought that she probably had a question about the program it turned out she was interested in volunteering.  The very next week she was out with me in Richmond helping at our Food For Children distribution and even though it was blustery, cold day, she really enjoyed it.  Her Spanish skills really helped as well as having an extra set of hands.

If you are interested in learning more about our programs please visit the “Get Help” section of our website.  We are currently looking for Spanish speaking volunteers to help at some of our distribution sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties.  If you are interested, please email VolunteerHelpDesk@foodbankccs.org with your name, phone number, city of residence, Monday – Friday availability, and an explanation of your relevant experience using your Spanish language skills.