Author Archive

Larry

Growth in Donations Meets Growing Need for Service

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Over the last two years, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has seen a 26% increase in the number of people we serve, due to people struggling from the recession and an increase in programs available through the Food Bank. The significant increase of produce available to the Food Bank has been a dramatic change in the type and amount of food we distribute allowing people to more easily receive nutritious produce in the areas where they live.  At the same time, the increases we have seen in donations of perishable food at the retail level have grown significantly to meet the need as well.

The Food Bank has transformed over recent years from providing emergency help at the end of the month when food and funds have run out, to becoming a support system to help families make ends meet. Improving the nutritional value of food available to people through the Food Bank and our partner agencies has and will continue to help meet this need. Last year, 50% of what we distributed was fresh produce which is often too expensive for people facing economic challenges.

The California Association of Food Banks understood how marketing orders keep cosmetically imperfect produce from being sold; they also found that there was a secondary market for that produce.  Growers got paid a small amount for unmarketable produce when it was sold for animal feed or juice.  By appealing to growers to help us feed those in need, we got access to oranges at the same price the juice people were paying.   We showed the growers that we did not interfere with their markets and we made a difference in the lives of thousands of people in need.  The persuasive work of food banks convinced the apple growers, pear growers, and potato and onion growers that they should donate too.  We will continue to work on increasing the amount of fresh produce available to us because it is now more than half the food we give out.

The work of Feeding America, our national network, has increased both the quality and amount of food available to us from retail stores.  The grocery industry recently made a major operational change, with Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and Save Mart stores agreeing to donate food to Feeding America food banks.  The grocery industry is justly concerned about the liability they would face if food donations they made were improperly handled, so Feeding America worked for years with the grocery industry to develop standards Feeding America food banks meet for safe food handling.  All food banks and the agencies they serve undergo Serve Safe food safety training.  In addition to this training, we provide the agencies with which we partner freezer blankets and scales so they can properly record the donations they pick up from local stores.

The stores that donate to us are able to be greener by eliminating the waste they would have produced.  When meat is coming to its “sell by” date, the store freezes the meat until it is picked up by one of the properly trained agencies that work with our Feeding America food bank.  We have developed a system that has member agencies serving stores as often as they have food donations available.   In this way, local stores are following the lead their national headquarters has developed with Feeding America.  On a local level we get the high-quality food we so desperately need while our local grocery stores are eliminating waste while they work to help feed their neighbors in need.

Thanks to this significant growth in donations of fresh produce and retail donations of perishable food items we are able to provide and excellent source of nutrition to the increased number of people we serve.

Ready and Willing to Speak About Fighting Hunger

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As often sited, public speaking is the most common fear.  People have anxiety attacks when they think of making a speech to an audience, large or small.  When I became Executive Director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I had to learn to speak before groups to help us build the community of support that is necessary to our work.  The fact I have become as comfortable as I am when I speak to people about the Food Bank’s work is because I believe so strongly in what we do.

When I try to persuade people to join us in our work I am not selling them a vision, I am offering them an opportunity to make a difference.  I believe that people understand there is no reason in a society as rich as ours that anyone should be hungry.  With so much evidence of the need for hunger relief and stories we hear in the lines of our distributions, we see the problem often. We also know there is a solution.

It is my job to share the stories of our clients and explain to as many people as possible how they can help.  I speak to faith communities, service clubs, schools, and businesses.  I have talked to people in office suites and in factories.  In my experience, if people understand that they can help by volunteering and giving food or money, they are happy to do so.  Our task at the Food Bank is to reach out to those who can help so they understand how that can make a difference.

One of the ways we reached out to our supporters was organizing a wine and food event at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3.  G V Cellars provided their space and provided a great deal on wine because they believe in our mission. MagPies Catering also went above and beyond with the delicious food they provided at a reduced cost.  Westbound 80 performed classic rock music, and also donated to the cause. Not only did this event help us generate revenue to support our work, but, as importantly, it helped us connect with the people who make our work possible.

The Community Produce Program truck was set up at the event to show how much fresh produce their donation can provide.  A display showing the huge amount of healthy food we are able to purchase with $100 surprised and delighted guest.  When people understand how the Food Bank works, and understand how effective we are with their donations, I believe they will continue to help us feed those in need in our community.  It is my job to help people understand, so please, invite me to your next club meeting, service group or class. Either through Facebook, Twitter, or face-to-face, we will continue to tell our story so people understand how they can help.

 

Food Bank Has Developed Greatly Through the Years

Originally posted in The Vacaville ReporterThe Food Bank has moved a long way from providing emergency food to people every now and then to becoming a major part of the safety net.  Trying to end hunger means we have to be in this for the long haul because the end of hunger is not yet in sight. We have a sophisticated distribution system that provides over 60,000 pounds of food to low-income people in our community every working day.  In order to make this possible, we have developed a variety of ways to get food to the people we serve.

Many of the distribution systems we developed came about because the nature of the food available to us changed.  As the amount of processed food diminished and the amount of fresh produce increased, we had to move food more quickly.  The majority of the fresh produce we receive is the “less perishable” type (apples, oranges, potatoes, cauliflower, etc.) but it still needs to get to people quickly.  In order to make produce available to the 180 agencies we serve, the Food Bank established remote distribution sites where we meet local agencies in their community.  We meet agencies every week (twice a week in some communities)in a parking lot where we provide them the shelf stable items they order from a shopping list of available food, and give them access to bins of fresh produce.

While we are doing well providing more food for agencies to distribute to the community, we also bring the food directly to the people in need of help.  Our Farm 2 Kids program depends on a driver and truck making deliveries to after-school programs at low-income schools.  This program distributes enough fresh produce so each child can take home three to five pounds to share with their families each week during the school year.  We were granted  two trucks that are set up to be like a mobile farmer’s market and created the Community Produce Program  Those trucks go to over fifty sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties, making it possible for low-income people to receive over twenty pounds of fresh produce every other week – at no cost to them.

These programs work because the community wants to see people have the food they need to be healthy.  Volunteers bag produce in our warehouse so it is easier to distribute.  Volunteers come to the distribution sites and help prepare food bags so it is easy for people to obtain.  A generous community helps us cover the costs involved in proving people in need with millions of pounds of food each year.  Our work has changed, but what we can accomplish has improved significantly.  We are part of a community that does all they can to help their neighbors in need.

 

 

Community Members are Connected in a Variety of Ways to Our Efforts to Feed People

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter:  Nearly four decades ago, when I started working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano I didn’t realize how large a role the organization would play in the community. As the years have passed, the Food Bank has become a well-recognized resource for helping those in need in the community. Because of that recognition, people lend their support to our mission to end hunger.

Community members are connected in a variety of ways to our efforts to feed people. For those who have the time to do hands-on work, we ask volunteers to sort food, bag produce and assist with our remote distributions. Distributing nearly twenty million pounds of food means we need to address logistical issues, including trucking, food storage and running efficient distribution programs. For all these tasks, we depend on volunteers.

We also rely on volunteers to help us obtain the food we need. Food drives are organized year round because hunger exists year round. Our food drives range from the major effort organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers every May or the Boy Scouts each November to food collections done by individuals. Gardeners grow extra vegetables in their back yard to share with their neighbors in need. Businesses organize food collections as a way to give back to their community. We receive over a million pounds of food every year from a generous community, while we engage people in helping end hunger.

We are also lucky that a generous community helps us raise the money we need to distribute the food we gather. Gathering the support we need also goes from large to small, with the total effort being important to our work. We organize events like golf tournaments, motorcycle runs, or Uncorked, a food and wine afternoon at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3. Events like Uncorked bring people together to help the Food Bank, creating a sense of community around a common cause. Giving to charitable causes is an important part of many people’s lives, and they know the Food Bank plays an important role in improving our community.

Many people learn the habit of giving early in life. I talked to someone yesterday who shared the story of their nine year old daughter who sold wrist bands to her friends to raise money to buy food for the Food Bank. Her parents and grandparents matched the money she raised, helping her buy more food to bring to the Food Bank. When she brought the food to us, she saw how her donation became part of a bigger effort to help. Our work is possible because we connect with those in the community who want to see an end to hunger.

Annual Report Change Shows Growth of Food Bank, Local Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Someone was going through some old materials they found in storage and brought me an annual report from 1998, sixteen years ago. Annual reports and financial audits are snapshots in time that define how an organization is providing service in the community, so it was pretty astounding to see where we were then versus where we are now.

I was amazed at how much we have grown as an organization. In 1998, we had 32 employees; today we have 63. (Eleven of the people who worked for us in 1998 still are with us today.) We have been able to increase our services because the support we receive from the community has increased significantly. As an example, in 1998 the support we receive from individuals was one million dollars and we now receive five million dollars annually.

The Food Bank needs that increased support because we have expanded our work to meet the need in ways we never dreamed we would be doing in 1998. At that time, we had our Senior Food Program, Food Assistance Program and Food for Children program as the only direct service we provided in the community. Because of the collaborative work of food banks through the California Association of Food Banks, we now have access to supply of fresh produce through packing sheds in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys that’s only limited by the amount of support we receive to purchase it. Because this fresh food is available to us, we established the Farm 2 Kids program that distributes food to students in low-income schools. In the past two years, we developed the Community Produce Program that takes fresh produce to over fifty distribution sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties. I would have been surprised in 1998 to know that someday we would provide over ten million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables in one year to low-income people in our community.

The reason we must keep focused on our work is because the need continues to grow. We were serving 58,000 people a month is 1998 and have seen that number increase to 149,000 today. At some of our Food Assistance Program sites for example, we have seen the number of people coming increase fourfold. We are sending two trucks filled with food to some of the sites we serve because nearly 600 people come for the food we give. With our increased efficiency, staff and community support, we are able to meet that high demand and outreach to those who may not know help with food is available.

I am proud of the programs we have maintained and strengthened, as well as the new programs we have initiated. Everything we do, from distributing more fresh produce to helping enroll people in CalFresh is dedicated to getting food to those in need. Our supporters should be proud as well. Because of them, we are able to be of service to the increased number of people who need us.

Water Situation Affects Fresh Fruits, Vegetable Availability for Those in Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The drought we are currently experiencing raises serious questions about how we use a finite resource.  The Mediterranean climate we enjoy means that we have long summers where no rain falls.  In normal years, the snow that falls in the Sierra Nevada mountains has been our reservoir and provides the water we need in the summer.  Much of the water is needed for agriculture because California has some of the most productive soil in the world.  Our water system works well as long as snow falls in the mountains, but when a drought takes place, competition begins for the limited water available.

Residential consumers are urged to limit the amount of water they use.  We may have green lawns and swimming pools, but many homes have drip irrigation, low-water landscaping, low-flow toilets and other technology to make effective use of the water they use.  There are debates about how you compute the numbers, but urban water use is less than 20% of the total consumed in California.  One third of the water used in the state goes for environmental purposes; making sure rivers have adequate fresh water to support a healthy environment.  More than half the water the state consumes is used for agricultural purposes.

Residential consumers often wish that water could be saved in the agricultural and environmental areas.  Some people argue that using “environmental” water to preserve fish should take second place to water for agriculture.  The looming battle over the bypass tunnels proposed to move fresh water from rivers above the San Joaquin/Sacramento delta raises concerns about the impact that action would have on the environment of our local area.  If we decide that environmental and urban uses are most important, what does that mean for agriculture?

Agriculture is a major part of California’s economy.  California farms and ranches generate over $42 billion worth of revenue.  Of that revenue, over $18 billion is food we export to other countries.  Over 11% of the food produced in the United States comes from California, and over half the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in California.  Our climate and our water make a major contribution to California’s economy and the nation’s food supply.

The work of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is possible to a certain extent because we are located in California. Because food grown in California sometimes does not meet marketing standards, the Food Bank can reclaim that food, allowing us to provide fresh produce to people in need in our community.  Because of the drought, some of the crops we received in past years are not available to us currently, plus everything we receive costs more. Fresh fruits and vegetable prices will go up an estimated 6% in the coming months according to the federal government.  In order to get the food we need, we depend on agriculture, and agriculture depends on water. Difficult decisions need to be made both by government and at home as we decide how we can best use the water on which we all depend, so people of all income levels have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Provide Incentives, But Let Them Make Their Own Decisions

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Debates over what food and beverages are good for us and what are not seems like a worthwhile discussion when what we consume impacts the overall public health. The truth is we are capable of making our own decisions based on available public knowledge. Since I have spent most of my life providing food to low-income people, I have some emotional feelings about what people say when they propose that CalFresh benefits (Food Stamps) cannot be used to buy soda.  I saw a recent plan that talks about incentivizing CalFresh recipients to buy fresh fruit and vegetable by providing a rebate if they use their benefits to buy fresh produce.  The same plan also says however, that people will not be able to use their benefits to buy soda.  My lack of comfort is that instead of focusing on providing low-income people an incentive to spend their benefits on “good food”, people want to prohibit others from buying “bad food.”

The feeling is this is ok because CalFresh recipients are receiving benefits we as tax payers help provide.  I think there is an assumption that people who are poor are somehow less than those of us who are not, so they need to meet the standards we set for their behavior.  We already say CalFresh benefits can only be used to purchase food, not soap or toilet paper (two fairly essential parts of a healthy life I think) so taking it much further becomes an issue of judgment.

Part of the reason CalFresh benefits were changed from Food Stamp coupons to an ATM-like card was to diminish the stigma recipients felt as they went through the grocery line.  We have all heard the theoretical story from someone who saw a Food Stamp recipient in a grocery line buying food “I could never afford” with their CalFresh benefits.  Part of this judgment may not even be based on reality. A CalFresh benefit of just $100 won’t go very far to buy groceries for the month. Careful planning becomes essential and many recipients are actually making do with affordable basics like dry beans, frozen vegetables and pasta. Because people are poor, we somehow feel it is their fault and we somehow assume it is because of the bad decisions they make. In reality, we hear stories every day of losing work to disability, the economy, or the added financial burden of taking care of an aging parent.

I encourage you to try it for yourself. Take the Hunger Challenge to live on just $4.50 of groceries a day to see how challenging it is to nourish yourself. Find the guidelines at www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge and let me know how it goes.

I have a support system that saves me if I fall on hard luck, but for some the Food Bank and CalFresh may be the safety net keeping their family from going hungry. We can, and do inform the public about healthy eating and offer nutritious choices and education in our Food Bank programs, but believe that our clients should be treated with the dignity to make their own decisions.

“Simply stated, SNAP works” – We Need to Continue to Invest in Our Future

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  Mathmatica Policy Research did a study that led them to conclude “simply stated, SNAP works”.  (The SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly known as the food stamp program and is known as CalFresh in California).  Mathmatica’s research demonstrated that because they participated in the program, children had significant improvements in their consistent access to food, also known as their “food security”.

The Mathmatica food security study surveyed 3000 families and compared the status of families newly-enrolled in the program with those who had been in the program for six or seven months.  In the initial part of the study, 37% of newly-enrolled families were food insecure, while those who had been on the program six months or more were at 27%.  When they checked the newly-enrolled group after six months they had seen their food insecurity decline from 37% to 25%.  This type of research shows the wisdom of feeding those in need in our community.

If an individual is food insecure they cannot find enough food or purchase enough food for themselves.  In a society as rich as ours, with huge agricultural surpluses, there is no reason an individual should be food insecure.  More importantly, there is no reason a child should be in that position.  Increases in SNAP/CalFresh that were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were eliminated in November of 2013.  After that, Congress cut $8 billion in funding for the program over the next ten years.  Because of these actions, average benefits for recipients will drop below $130 a month.  I know there are some people who can make that work, but I also know from my attempts to live on the average CalFresh budget for a week, that the benefits are not enough.   These budget cuts will have a negative impact on people’s ability to feed their children.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and he told me stories of receiving blocks of cheese and bags of sugar from the government.  I don’t think he was ever hungry, but he lived in a house where concern about the next meal was a part of their life.  He saved every scrap of leftovers until the day he died and his choices in the grocery store always were always based on price.  I think we are in danger that the budget decisions that are being made are creating a generation that will be as food insecure as those who lived through the Great Depression.

It’s frustrating that we are cutting a program that provides hungry people the ability to get food.  People are on the program for a short period of time (average of nine months) and research shows that the effects are positive, whether you measure improved nutrition or food security.  By giving people SNAP/CalFresh benefits, we are making sure that our children receive the food they need.  We are making an investment in the future of our society when we help hungry families.

Changing the Way We Eat, Beginning With Our Children

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Change is never easy. We all know people who tout their flexibility and their openness to change, but lock themselves up when change begins. (Other people of course, not us.) At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano it is interesting to watch this take place around a subject everyone knows needs to be addressed, improving the nutrition of our children.

Obesity has risen dramatically among younger people (and adults too) over the past twenty years meaning that diabetes and other diseases are becoming a major health problem for our society. The astronomical costs of treating those diseases, as well as the other problems we face as an obese society can be prevented by changing what we eat. Most of us recognize we eat too many fats, too much sugar, too many empty calories. In principle we all understand that we should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and more whole grains.

If we are going to take steps to implement these changes, one of the most effective ways is to start with our children through the school lunch program. By providing students with a healthy lunch, we can give them good food to eat once a day as well as helping to educate them about how good food tastes. Seems simple, right?

In fact, changing school lunches has become a major political issue. The School Nutrition Association, a lobbying group that focuses on school lunches has switched its position from supporting the changes recently implemented in nutrition standards to now asking for relief from those standards. There are anecdotes about the disruption the new standards have caused that raise legitimate concerns. Stories are told of schools in the Southwest having whole grain tortillas thrown away because they are not culturally acceptable. Applesauce is thrown away as are fresh fruit and vegetables. And of course, funding is not adequate for these districts to provide increasingly expensive healthy food.

On the other side, school districts in rural Georgia share stories of how they were able to move from fried chicken (a Southern staple) to herb-baked chicken that kids love. Locally grown grits are one of the most popular items for their school breakfast program. Here in our community, some school districts are purchasing fresh produce from local farms, providing healthy locally-grown food to their students.

But beyond these operational issues, on the political side, a group named the Coalition for Sustainable School Meals Programs has pushed Congress to designate pizza with tomato sauce as a vegetable. The goal of providing healthy food to our children gets complicated because providing school lunches is a multi-billion dollar program.

While a few people may defend the status quo of the school lunch program, most agree that change is necessary for the good of our children. For the sake of our health, we need to see a change in our individual diets, and that will only come about through education. We need to begin with our children.

Food Bank Offers Healthy Food Choices

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: It’s no great secret that the way we Americans eat is killing us. According to the Center for Disease Control, 35% of adults 21 years of age and older were obese in 2012. The percentage of adults who are overweight (which includes those who are obese) was 69%. The frightening fact is that even our children are obese, with 12% to 18% classified as obese depending on their age. Diabetes is also a significant problem nationwide with over $28 billion being spent on diabetes treatment in California in 2012.

These problems are caused by the diets we eat. Fast food, huge portions and enormous amounts of sugar lead to obesity and diabetes. If we want to address these health issues, people will need to change the way they eat. How to do this is a complicated question. There are those who would like to mandate what people eat. Some people want to begin with individuals who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits. New York City tried to ban the use of these funds to buy high-sugar drinks, but ran into resistance from soda manufacturers and some civil libertarians. The New York City plan to control what food recipients purchase was overruled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instead of mandating what people can or cannot eat, public health advocates want to generate change by making healthy food more economical and attractive. Along with programs that distribute fresh produce, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides access to recipes and a nutrition educator. We are also able to distribute coupons to the low-income individuals we serve so they can purchase fresh produce at farmers markets. The California Market Match Consortium was created to distribute funds obtained from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and private donors. We let the people we are helping enroll in the CalFresh program know that they can obtain Market Match coupons to use at the farmers markets. As a bonus, people receive $5 worth of bonus scrip for every $10 they spend at the farmers market. This program can grow through a $100 million allocation in the 2014 federal Farm Bill and a $2.75 million per year (for five years) Market Match Nutrition Incentive fund included in a California Assembly bill.

The Food Bank also distributes farmers market coupons to low-income senior citizens through our Senior Food Program. Funds from the California Department of Food and Agriculture provide us with $20 booklets of coupons that seniors can use at their local farmers market. Over 1600 of these coupon books go to the Senior Food program participants, helping them obtain healthy produce on a continuing basis. The Food Bank sees its responsibility as helping those who want to change what they eat. We will distribute over ten million pounds of fresh produce this year. Providing farmers markets coupons and giving people fresh produce also allows healthy change to take place. People want to eat well and they want to be healthy. The Food Bank wants to make that possible for the people we serve.