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Food Bank Ambassador is a Living Legacy

Houston (holding the flower and award) is pictured with friends, family and Food Bank staff members.

Guest post by Food Bank Office Assistant, Lauren Strouse: Every so often life presents us with the opportunity to do something special for someone else. Food Bank staff in Solano recently nominated one of their wonderful volunteers for a special honor. The Solano County Senior Coalition, in partnership with the Area Agency on Aging, the County, and cities in Solano, annually sponsor the Living Legacy Awards for individuals 60 and older.  The award categories are diverse: Community Spirit, Inspired Leadership, Social Innovation, Community Champion, Building Bridges, and Generative Age.  An application had to be completed, which included a 500 word essay detailing why this individual deserved the award. Volunteer Houston Robertson was nominated for a Community Spirit Award. We were truly delighted when she won, and even more excited to share the news with Houston.

The Award Ceremony was held at the Fairfield Community Center on May 15th. The honorees were able to invite guests and Houston’s son, daughter, and several friends were present to share this special occasion with her. Food Bank staff also attended. Mayors from all seven Solano County cities were in attendance. Houston was honored to have Benicia mayor Elizabeth Patterson sit at her table. Three members of the County Board of Supervisors helped present the awards and representatives for the other county supervisors, plus state legislators, were also present. Twenty one individuals, many well into their 80’s, from all seven cities in Solano County, were honored. It was a very inspirational afternoon.

Houston was nominated because she is a very special volunteer. She has an infectious personality and enthusiasm that inspires others to get excited about what they are doing. Houston, 77 years young, has been a volunteer with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in Solano County, for just four years however, during this time she has demonstrated a dedicated commitment to the work the Food Bank is engaged in – fighting hunger.  She is a “member” of the Wednesday Morning Regulars, a group of retirees who sort food together every Wednesday. She has been a Food Bank Ambassador for two years, representing the Food Bank at various functions, such as community health fairs. She has also learned to conduct the Food Bank’s Wheel of Life activity, which is a regular part of our Family Volunteer Day, held approximately three times a year. She recently took full responsibility for presenting this at ACE Charter School when the school decided to organize a food drive as a Service Day activity, and she addressed the entire student body as well.  Last but not least, Houston volunteers at the Vallejo Food for Children distribution, which involves an additional time commitment of roughly four hours each month.

Houston also does public speaking about “Aging as Renaissance,” mostly to groups of seniors. It is a humorous, joy-filled presentation. She has written and published a book about her life, with special focus on mid-life. She is a fantastic example of how to age well, possess community spirit, and how to give back to the community. Her work exemplifies concern and compassion for others. She is active, fully engaged with life, and constantly seeking out new opportunities to be of service, learn and grow.

The Food Bank is fortunate to have someone like Houston helping to support our organization and equally grateful to have been able to play a role in this special individual being recognized with a “Living Legacy Award.”

When Law Firms Compete Everyone Wins

Guest post by Food from the Bar Chairperson, Edward L. Shaffer of Archer Norris: The Contra Costa County Bar Association recently completed its 22nd annual Food from The Bar fundraiser for the Food Bank.  This was a special milestone year because they anticipated hitting One Million Dollars in total contributions.  While money still is trickling in, we did it and are well on the way to our second million!  Approximately 35 law offices in the County representing more than 800 employees raised more than $61,000 – for a grand total of more than $1,016,000.  Over the years participants also have collected more than 55 tons of food.

An important part of the drive was the 18th annual Comedy Night kickoff, attended by close to 200 people and headlined by noted comedian Will Durst.  Generous sponsors donated $13,500 to underwrite the event and help make the million dollar goal.  Some were new while others have been supporters for many years – and we thank them all!

Special Benefactor:
Wells Fargo

Patrons:
Archer Norris;  Liffey Network Solutions Inc.;  Newmeyer & Dillion LLP;  Steele, George, Schofield & Ramos LLP;  Timken Johnson LLP;  U.S. Legal Support

Contributors:
Certified Reporting Services;  Esquire;  Frankel Goldware Ferber;  Gagen, McCoy, McMahon, Koss, Markowitz & Raines;  Gil Berkeley;  Law Offices of Suzanne Boucher;  MassMutual Financial Group;  Miller Starr Regalia;  Quivx;  Scott Valley Bank

In-Kind Supporters:
Back Forty Texas BBQ, Contra Costa County Bar Association, The Recorder

Food Bank Director Larry Sly Honored for Hunger-Relief Efforts

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter – Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Executive Director Larry Sly has been awarded the 2013  Fellowship by Feeding America for leadership, local and national impacts and commitment to hunger-relief, it was announced Wednesday.

The annual award from the Food Bank’s national network honors the ideals of the late John van Hengel, a soup kitchen volunteer and community activist credited with founding the nation’s first food bank in 1967.

“There are so many excellent leaders in the food bank movement who have won this award before me, so I am understandably humbled and honored to be among them this year,” Sly said in a prepared statement.

Under Sly’s leadership the Food Bank has developed several comprehensive programs designed to distribute more food efficiently and with as little waste as possible.

His latest efforts involve working with local growers to get produce to low-income neighborhoods.

Sly began at the food bank in 1976 as one of two employees as a truck driver. Since then the Food Bank has grown to a 35,000 square-foot warehouse in Concord and a 40,000 square-foot warehouse in Fairfield with a fleet of trucks.

The Kids Run the Food Drive

Guest post by Galila Kitzes: A few weeks ago, the students of ACE Charter School– a small kindergarten through 6th grade elementary school in Vacaville – organized and ran their own food drive. ACE has a dedicated group of parents who support all kinds of community activism. But as much as we parents like to engage the kids, sometimes it’s hard to turn off our own need to control outcomes and take a chance on letting the kids do it…letting the proverbial chips fall where they may even if it’s not in pretty, well planned patterns of success.

So, we took a little risk. Students planned as much of the drive that they reasonably could. On a Friday morning five, multi-age classes planned one aspect of the food drive and a team of about 15 parents guided them through it. The parent volunteers didn’t give long explanations about how Food Banks or Food Pantries work. Instead, we asked students to tell us in their own words what they thought a food drive was – which took about 3 minutes – then they got to work. Our youngest classes decorated collection boxes for each classroom and made posters. The middle grades made fliers and ideas for meal donations instead of just single item donations. They also created an enormous chart on which to display each class’s progress for item collection. The oldest class came up with the general plan: how long the food drive would run, collection goals for each student and, of course, the prize for the classroom that collected the most items. In addition to setting up the rules of the food drive, the older students played the Wheel of Life with Houston, a Food Bank Ambassador. This game teaches kids, in a straight forward manner, how a person or a family becomes in need of emergency food assistance. Kids’ thinking evolved from seeing hunger as only an issue for the homeless to understanding how a family with a home, electricity and even a vehicle can end up hungry.

After each class had worked on its part, all five classrooms convened in the multi-purpose room, and kids from each classroom took turns explaining what they had done and what the other kids would need to do. The kids strode confidently up to microphones to speak: sometimes awkwardly and with wrong information, sometimes clearly and powerfully. The student audience listened with interest to them all. After this sharing of information and food drive planning, the kids went along their merry way to recess.

The parents left on their merry way, too. The older students decided to let the drive run for 3 weeks…how would all this work out? The students had copies of the fliers they designed …but would they just end up flying around the playground much to the chagrin of the custodian or would they make it to family, neighbors and other potential supporters? The posters the students made certainly looked cute and inspiring around the campus…but would anyone even notice them after a few days, let alone a couple of weeks? The chart had to be lugged into and out of the school daily. Would it be a source of motivation? Would the students really care about it after the novelty wore off?

What was the end result? The items came pouring in: 327 lbs the first week, 472 lbs the second week and 434 lbs the final week. One family even donated $100 for the Food Bank. The chart became the focal point for daily inspiration. Each day, kids gathered during recess and after school to count “cans” (the symbol used to represent a donated item). Parents congregated around the graph, too, interested in where their child’s class was relative to the other classes. This competition fueled their motivation, far more than posters and more than fliers. Thanks to Joan Tomasini at the Food Bank, the kids learned that 1,233 lbs of food was an unusually high amount for a school of our size (144 students) and a pride-worthy achievement.

Any school that is interested in teaching kids to be activists in their own community should consider running a food drive in this manner. Given that 1 in 4 recipients of emergency food is a child, kids have a vested interest in supporting organizations like the Food Bank.

A Family Affair: Family Volunteer Day at the Food Bank

Guest post by Pamela Adelman Ball: We were the apples group. There were also grapes, broccoli, and carrots. This wasn’t Fruit of the Loom, but a recent Family Volunteer Day at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. The fruits were a fun touch though, and certainly set the tone for the day.

Family Volunteer Days are designed for families with young children to visit the Food Bank and learn more about hunger in our country, and what the Food Bank is doing to help those in need. I was impressed at the turnout — both sessions were filled to capacity, with dozens of families coming out on a St. Patrick’s Day Sunday, interested in introducing their kids to these important issues.

I brought my five-year-old daughter, Peyton. While we are looking to instill in her compassion for others and the importance of being an active participant in her community, we’ve been uncertain how to talk to her about potentially frightening topics such as hunger or the disadvantaged. Luckily the staff and volunteers at the Food Bank had a way to introduce this in a manner kids could understand. The 90-minute event included coloring, counting, stickering, tying knots, and checking out some cool sci-fi-ish technology — what could be more fun for a child?

 

The counting and stickers were labeling and packing fruit cans; coloring was a paper lunch bag campaign to convince elected officials not to cut funding for food stamps; tying knots was sorting apples into bags. The sci-fi was touring the massive warehouse and cold storage area. Throughout the event, Food Bank representatives spoke about hunger, ways the organization was helping, and ways we as a community could contribute.

Some of the take-home points were shocking: 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger, and 1 in 4 people receiving emergency food from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano are children. The Food Bank feeds approximately 149,000 people each month, and not just homeless; some of them are just like you and me. Kids are going hungry at school, so in partnership with after school programs in low-income areas the Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables to 9,000 kids in 80 schools. As a result each child receives a 3-5 pound bag of produce to take home every week during the school year.

While it was sad to be reminded of how much need exists right her in our community, it was also heartwarming to hear how much is being done to help. As for my daughter? I was happy to hear her take-home point was right on target: “Mommy, that was really fun.”

 

If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day, please let us know.

Garden like a Pro at the Urban Farm Expo

Guest post by Master Gardener Marian Woodard: This time of year plant sales pop up like dandelions, and the nurseries are full of vegetables already fruiting. It’s easy to buy a plant grown in huge hothouses sprayed with heaven only knows what, but what if you want an organic, locally grown treasure AND want to know how best to care for it so it produces long and well?

Trust in the Master Gardeners and local experts at the Rodgers Ranch Urban Farm Expo & Plant Sale this Saturday, April 6th.  Not only will they have lovingly grown, local, organic, heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers and succulents, but there will be experts on hand to answer all your gardening questions.

There are also free classes on subjects from chickens to creative container gardening with 10 more in between. AND there are phenomenal products (some brand new to market!) like biodynamic compost, worm castings and towers, containers and teas to make your plants thank you all summer.

All this will take place in a gorgeous, historic setting. Visitors will also have the option to sponsor a plant for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. For a suggested donation, we will grow fresh vegetables for our neighbors in need. You can visit your adopted plant as often as you like!  While you’re waiting for your plant to grow, a Pleasant Hill native food vendor will make sure your tummy’s happy.  Come early for the plants; stay for the classes!

Rodgers Ranch Urban Farm Expo & Plant Sale
315 Cortsen Rd (between Taylor Blvd and Pleasant Hill Road off Grayson)
Pleasant Hill
10:00am – 4:00pm

Carpool if you can as parking may be limited.

www.RodgersRanchUrbanFarm.org

Sponsors Are Critical in the Fight Against Hunger

At the Food Bank, we are careful stewards of the money donated to us, ensuring that as much as possible goes to providing food to the people we serve. Savvy donors have been using sites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar to make more informed decisions about where to donate their dollars.  We have to ask ourselves often “are we putting donations raised to the best use possible?”

One of the factors that enables us to put 95 cents out of every dollar raised directly into food assistance programs is our connection to the local business community.  Sponsorship opportunities help us not only purchase nearly half the food we distribute, but also afford the necessary items we need to spread the word about our work. It allows us to promote and acknowledge local businesses, strengthening our ties to the community.

For instance, to spread the word out about our recent event Empty Bowls, we wanted to print materials to distribute to potential guests. We carefully source a good price for printing, then reach out to potential supporters.  We were fortunate to have Appel Law Firm in Walnut Creek become our print sponsor for Empty Bowls. They were happy to help, and saw it as an opportunity to support our mission. Thanks to Appel Law Firm, we were able to give your registration fee a lot more hunger-fighting power!

In addition to the print sponsor, Chevron bought bowls for the event and even came out to paint them, add those to bowls donated by Clay Planet of Santa Clara and the Walnut Creek Clay Arts Guild, bread donated by Panera Bread, soups donated by local agencies and businesses, media sponsorship supplied by CBS5 and Diablo Magazine, and what do you have?  An event where the bottom line is all about the people we serve.

We could not move forward with our mission to end hunger without the generous support of the local business community.

If you would like to become a sponsor, we have many options available. Please contact Kathy Gleason, kgleason@foodbankccs.org for more information.

Fighting Hunger is Only an Empty Bowl Away

Photo by Linda Elsdon

A fellow co-worker and I were painting bowls for our Empty Bowls event the other day and she shared with me how it is one of her favorite Food Bank fundraisers.  That got me thinking, what is it about Empty Bowls that makes it so special?  Maybe it’s the fact that it goes beyond being just a fundraiser, it goes beyond being just a Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano event.  It is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger whose basic premise is simple: Potters, craftspeople and others in the community contribute handcrafted bowls. Guests are invited to a simple meal of soup and bread, and to meet local activists from their own community and hear how they are working to end hunger and food insecurity.   In exchange for a cash donation, guests are asked to keep a bowl as a reminder of all the empty bowls in their community. The money raised goes directly to feed people in need.

A simple idea ,yet is the collective passion and effort of all the people involved that has made Empty Bowls what it has become. Events have now taken place across the United States and in at least a dozen other countries. Many millions of dollars have been raised and donated to hunger-fighting organizations.  It is a project spread through individual communities that has touched people on a global scale.

A key component to Empty Bowls is people.  You.  Me.  Our family and friends.  Local businesses who provid
e sponsorship and volunteer time, such as Chevron,  CBS5, Diablo Magazine and and the AppelLaw Firm in Walnut Creek.  Together we can share a meal, raise awareness and be part of something great.   Everyone is invited to the table.  Won’t you join us?

Register for Empty Bowls, Concord, March 9th 5-7pm

Register for Empty Bowls, Fairfield, March 10th 3-5pm

Forma Gym Puts Hunger on the Run

The mission at Forma Gym is simple, “We change lives”.   Forma Gym is the premier training and fitness facility in the East Bay, dedicated to helping its 3,600 members get results.  On Thanksgiving, the Walnut Creek Forma Gym lived up to its mission by holding the 20th annual Turkey Trot, to motivate people to “move their feet before they eat”!  Not only do they want to share their passion for health and wellness in our community, but they turned that passion into an amazing fundraiser and invited the Food Bank to be one of the beneficiaries.  In those 20 years the Turkey Trot has grown from a 5k event for its members to a charity 5k & 10k run/walk, and a kids’ ½ mile, ¼ mile, 100 yard fun run that involves 6,000 runners and walkers including  kids from over 20 different schools.

In 2011 they began collecting food donations for us and continued that effort in 2012 but then also expanded that support by including a generous $5,000 donation and 200 turkeys to be distributed through our partner agencies.    It just goes to show how grass root efforts can benefit an entire community

Owner President/CEO Robert Jackson and Program/Race Director Bob Boos, worked hard  to spread the word to the community and media in hopes that people and other small businesses like theirs would support a healthy tradition and a great cause.  It was a morning to remember and we return the favor by putting nutritious produce and healthy food on the table of children, families, and seniors in our community!

Local Businesses Shared the Holiday Spirit

Bowles and Verna Holiday Fundraiser

We wanted to take a moment to thank businesses throughout Contra Costa and Solano for the many creative ways they raise money and awareness about the issue of hunger throughout the year.  Whether it is a portion of the proceeds for their goods or services, a grand-opening event, a special menu created just for us, having collection barrels for food donations, or sponsoring a special event, without their support it would be very difficult, if not impossible to maintain our mission and get nutritious food on the table for the many families, children and seniors that we serve.

In December there was an outpouring of giving through fundraisers and parties, for instance things were Rockin’ in San Ramon at Shboom night club!  Tan Angels of Walnut Creek and Shboom partnered to throw a party to raise money and food  for our food bank and receive toys for Toys for Tots.  The event was hosted by Wayne Coy of KKIQ, there was live music by bands Ruckatan and Caravanserai, a Santana tribute band, DJ Bene, Santa, games for kids, an auction and a grab bag of gifts and prizes.  Tan Angels and Shbooms definitely brought the ‘fun’ to their fundraiser and raised over $300.00 through donations!

Another great supporter of the Food Bank is Wood Group Field Services.  They invite friends and clients to join them on an annual Feed the Hungry Fishing Trip out of Berkeley harbor.  The hearty participants braved December’s blustery weather to take part in the festivities which included rock fishing and the opening of crab season (who doesn’t look forward to that?!).  Each fisherman could bring home up to 6 Dungeness crab and a sack full of fish!  To take part in this event Wood Group asked that everyone donate $10 in support of the Food Bank.  Now that’s dedication!

There were a wealth of holiday parties, where the spirit of giving and celebration went hand in hand.  We would like to thank Bowles and Verna  LLP for making us the beneficiary of their holiday party donations, as well as the employees and management at Brinderson professional services for energy, where managers personally matched employee  contributions. We would also like to thank Nan Brace and her Jazzercise group, Atria Living, and Western States Petroleum Association for asking everyone to bring a check to their holiday party, ready to donate!  We would also like to thank the Merry Mixers and Kathy Monthei, the CCC Bar Association Open House for their holiday donations and to Moffatt and Nichol who donated grocery store gift cards to us.

Every dollar raised provided two healthy meals for those in need during the holidays.  Thank you all for your amazing efforts to give back to your community!