As the Farm 2 Kids Coordinator, this is probably one of the most common questions I am asked. As part of our statewide association of Food Banks we are able to purchase surplus produce for pennies on the pound. Fruits and vegetables grown by farmers in the central valley are often “not perfect enough” to be sold in grocery stores. Often, they are just too big or too small to be sold and that is why our clients sometimes receive giant oranges or tiny potatoes. The Food Bank buys the produce in large bins and then we have volunteers sort out any items that may have spoiled in transit. They then package the fruits and vegetables in boxes and a driver delivers them to the school site.
Last week I visited Sullivan Middle, a Farm 2 Kids school in Fairfield. They had cooking class where they made baked potatoes and snacked on apples and peanut butter. They loved that the produce they get from the Food Bank enables them to do activities like this. Their teacher, Ms. Denise told me that many kids come to the after school program hungry and she is really glad that she is able to offer them a healthy snack.
Through the Farm 2 Kids program, the Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables to children whose families cannot afford to keep food on the table. As produce is perishable and expensive, many families have trouble feeding their kids the nutrients that are essential for developing children. Every week, Farm 2 Kids provides 3-5 pounds of fresh produce to more than 7,800 children in nearly 70 after school programs in Contra Costa and Solano counties. Over 50% of the students in these schools receive free or reduced cost school lunches, meaning at least half of the households in the school are considered low-income by the federal government.
On Wednesday, October 13 students from Ygnacio Valley and Meadow Homes Elementary came on a field trip to the Food Bank. These two schools are both served by Farm 2 Kids, a program that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income schools. Students on each school’s Youth Advisory committee got to come and see how the Food Bank receives, packs, and delivers the produce that they receive each week. The children were excited to see the trucks, forklifts, and other equipment in action but the highlight of the trip was getting to go inside the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.
The kids were full of questions and learned everything about the Food Bank, from the types of food in our warehouse to the safety procedures our staff follow. The trip came full circle when the students were able to see the apples in our warehouse that would be sorted and boxed by volunteers and then delivered to their school that Friday. Not only are they receiving healthy produce each week, but they now know where it comes from.
At a time when stock prices are plunging, unemployment rates are soaring and many Americans are struggling with uncertainty regarding their economic futures; it’s encouraging to see elected officials like Assemblymember Mariko Yamada raising awareness about an issue that is affecting a steadily increasing number of Californians.
The Food Stamp Challenge is an opportunity to not only experience, first-hand, the budgeting constraints that millions of Californians face on a regular basis, but it’s also an opportunity to take stock of our individual eating and food-spending habits. For instance, have you ever considered how much money you spend on food daily? Weekly? Annually? How would you respond if you suddenly found yourself unable to enjoy or afford some of your favorite treats and dishes?
Assemblymember Yamada’s reflections of each day’s meals and activities give insight into the necessity of making smart decisions, and, oftentimes, difficult choices in the wake of severely limited resources. We thank and salute Assemblymember Yamada for, once again, taking the Food Stamp Challenge! We also want to thank our partners at the Yolo County Food Bank for working with Assemblymember Yamada on this project. For more information about Assemblymember Yamada’s comments, see their blog at http://yolofoodbank.blogspot.com/.
Here, at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, staff members are joining Assemblymember Yamada by taking the challenge during the month of September. September is Hunger Action Month, a month where the Food Bank asks everyone to take action in the fight against hunger. Food Bank staffers are taking the Food Stamp Challenge from September 20-24. Join us on September 25 for our Open House at our new warehouse in Fairfield where you can hear the experiences of those that took the challenge. To learn more about the Food Stamp Challenge or more activities you can participate in for Hunger Action Month, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth.
Over 3,000 fourth graders from all over Solano County came to the Fairgrounds in Vallejo on March 17 to learn about health, nutrition, agriculture, and the world they live in for the annual Youth Ag Day 2010.
The Food Bank ran an activity to teach kids about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables while incorporating a component of physical activity. By looking at the rainbow of fruits and vegetables on the wall, the student s learned the importance of eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables every day. They then played a game tossing around a beach ball to encourage some movement and exercise. Each child had to name a fruit or vegetable in a different category. For instance, “red fruits and veggies” or “fruits and veggies you would put in a salad.”
After a long and exciting day, the children (and the Food Bank staff and volunteers) left tired, healthy, and happy.
During the summer months, school is out, but the need for lunch is not. The Summer Lunch Celebrations, held by the Food Bank throughout the month of July, embodied this idea. The Food Bank partnered with UC Cooperative Extension, Contra Costa Health Services, and Vallejo and Mt. Diablo Unified School Districts to hold two events hosted by Wren Avenue Elementary in Concord and Norman King Community Center in Vallejo. Children of all ages were invited to participate in various activities, games, and giveaways related to healthy eating and physical activity. Over 200 children played a relay game, learned about healthy food and drink choices, and enjoyed a snack of peaches and plums in addition to their free lunch. For the parents, there was information about food stamps and other food assistance programs provided by the Food Bank.
Many children rely on free or reduced-price school lunches as their main or only source of nutritious, balanced food. During the summer months, some kids go without a healthy meal for this reason. To rectify this, the USDA created the Summer Food Service Program that provides free lunches to any child under the age of 18. Free lunches are offered at various community centers, schools, and parks in low-income neighborhoods. With the budget crisis and many schools closing, there are fewer locations that offer free meals. Thankfully, despite these setbacks, free lunches were served at over 100 sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties.
You can help improve access to nutrition programs for kids — like the Summer Food Service Program. This Fall, Congress will be making decisions about the Summer Food Service Program, School Meals, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and more in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. What can you do? Write your members of Congress and ask them to expand and improve current federal child nutrition programs. Visit www.foodbankccs.org for more information.
On May 14th and 15th over 230 students from Pittsburg Unified School District came to the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds in Antioch for the 6th Annual Day of Nutrition and Physical Activity. A partnership between the Food Bank and the UC Cooperative Extension, Day of Nutrition is an event that focuses on teaching children the importance of healthy eating and active living in their everyday lives. Fourth graders from Marina Vista, Highlands, and Los Medanos Elementary came to learn the health benefits (and sample) different fruits and vegetables, explore the edible garden, and participate in various physical activities. With the help of various volunteers, notably the AT&T Pioneers, students rotated through eight different stations focusing on various areas of nutrition and fitness. In the “Go for the Whole Grain/Fruit Breakfast Relay,” students learned about how to read the label of their cereal to make sure it was really a healthy breakfast choice. They discovered the importance of eating a whole grain breakfast and discussed different ways they could spice up their normal cereal with different seasonal fruits. The children then participated in a relay where they picked up fruit on a spoon and ran back and forth putting the fruit into their cereal bowl. The kids definitely needed a healthy, energy packed breakfast to run fast and finish first! Thanks to everyone involved for making Day of Nutrition 2009 a great success!
Students in the Mangini Agricultural Museum classroom at learning to eat a rainbow.