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Larry

Food Banks Across Region Prepare For Disasters

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: When we think about disaster response in California, we recognize the threat of fire, drought and tsunamis, but our main concern is earthquakes.

With the 6.0 magnitude Napa earthquake that took place last year, and the small earthquakes that have hit the area more recently, we are constantly being reminded that we need to be prepared. When we watch the news about the earthquakes in Nepal, we are reminded of the devastation these natural disasters can bring to a region.

This is why the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is committed to preparing for the role we will play for any disaster in our community.

The first time local food banks responded to a major disaster was after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The food banks in the Bay Area banded together to help the food bank that was serving Watsonville. They were overwhelmed by the damage in their community. We had an incredible response from a generous community that enabled us to accept disaster donations from Feeding America, the national food bank network. We stored those donations for the people in Santa Cruz County and helped meter the flow into their food bank.

After Loma Prieta, with the support from the San Francisco Foundation, we worked with consultants to develop a comprehensive disaster plan for the Food Bank. We developed a business continuity plan to assure that the Food Bank can continue to provide service in our local community. But as we looked at this local plan, we realized that we needed to have a regional plan for disaster response in the Bay Area.

We had to think about where would we look for help if a disaster limited our ability to assist our local communities. We also needed to consider what we would do if the food bank in Alameda or San Francisco were not able to operate.

All of the food banks are already dealing with the crisis of hunger in local communities on a daily basis. The need for food will obviously get significantly worse where a disaster occurs, but the food banks in areas that escape harm will still need to meet the daily needs of feeding members in their communities.

The Bay Area food banks developed a memorandum of understanding among one another that outlines what we would do to assist each other when a disaster occurs. We also keep that commitment alive by continuing training for table top exercises to practice how our mutual support will play out.

There is no question that another major earthquake will happen in the Bay Area. Roads will be damaged, electrical and water systems disrupted and property damage will occur. From our experience with Loma Prieta and other disasters, we know that people pull together in time of need.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is prepared to help other Bay Area food banks when a disaster occurs, while we continue to help our local community too.

Food Bank To Hold Black-Tie Optional Fundraiser

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The year was 1975. Gasoline cost $0.44 a gallon. The average cost of a home was $40,000. You could get a brand new car for $4,000. Even back then, although those prices seem like a bargain today, not everyone had enough food to get by. This is why the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano (then called the Community Food Coalition) formed and incorporated.

We were simply a group of people who were responding to the needs of our community. When someone applied for food stamps or other government assistance programs, there would often be delays in receiving benefits.

For people in that predicament, the eligibility worker would refer them to a local church or community center where they could get three days of food from local volunteer organizations. The Food Bank was created to help those organizations stretch their dollars by buying food in bulk and soliciting donations.

Little did we understand in 1975 the impact that the Food Bank would have in our community and how the need for food would grow.

Last year we provided over twenty million pounds of food to people in need in our local communities.

We work with nearly two hundred nonprofit service agencies and have a variety of direct service programs that bring food directly to low-income senior citizens, children and other people in need. We have a positive health impact on the people we serve because over half the food we distribute is fresh produce.

Everyone connected with the organization is incredibly proud of what we have been able to accomplish, but we struggle with using the term “celebration” to acknowledge our fortieth anniversary.

Some of us feel that it would truly be a cause for celebration if we didn’t have the need for food banks in a country that is as wealthy as the United States.

More importantly than looking back at what we’ve accomplished over the past 40 years, is the need to look forward. We need to focus on what needs to be done to get food in the hands of people who need it.

In addition to food donations, we need to raise money to pay the handling fees for the produce we distribute and for transporting it to our warehouse. We need to raise funds to pay for our trucks and drivers who bring the food to those we serve.

To honor 40 years of nourishing our community, we are holding a black-tie optional gala on Saturday, May 16. Nourish is our 1st annual Gala benefitting the Food Bank.

Money raised at the gala will help us accomplish the work we need to do in the coming years. For every dollar we receive, 0.96 goes directly to food programs.

If you would like to come to this dinner dance and auction fundraiser, visit www.foodbankccs.org/40th. On the web page you can RSVP to the event or make a donation if you want to help, but are unable to attend the gala.

Letter Carriers To Help Local Food Bank This Saturday

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: On Saturday, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano will participate in the Letter Carriers’ Food Drive, the biggest one-day food drive in the nation. This will be the 23rd year that the letter carriers have organized this successful event that provides residents an easy way to donate food to help “Stamp Out Hunger” in their community.

On the day before Mother’s Day, letter carriers will pick up food donations during their normally scheduled mail route. To participate, all you need to do is pick up some extra nonperishable groceries at the store or gather some of the surplus unexpired and unopened food in your pantry.

The food needs to be placed in a sturdy bag next to your mailbox, prior to your regularly scheduled mail delivery.

If you are looking for ideas of what to donate, the recipients of our many food programs can always benefit from canned items such as tuna, chicken, meat, soup, fruit, vegetables and tomato products. Other items that are needed are peanut butter, iron-rich cereal, 100 percent fruit juice, dry beans, powdered milk, rice and pasta.

Last year the Food Bank received 170,000 pounds of food from this one-day event.

It takes a lot of coordination to pull off a food drive of this magnitude. The Food Bank has to do a great deal of work behind the scenes to process the donations efficiently.

However, as always, we couldn’t do it without the help of others. Safeway and Save Mart Supermarkets help by loaning us trailers. We use the trailers to collect the donated food from letter carriers’ trucks at consolidated distribution sites in strategic locations. We rely on hundreds of volunteers to help us gather the food at these collection sites throughout the day.

This year we also received financial support from organized labor to help us purchase the bags we distributed to postal customers.

The biggest heroes of the day are the letter carriers themselves. They are the eyes and ears of their communities and they want to take action to help our neighbors who are struggling.

Residents often donate a bag of groceries as a gesture of support to not only the local food banks, but their letter carriers as well. They appreciate the hard work that letter carriers put in on a daily basis and know that this drive is important to them.

The food we receive from this food drive allows us to stock the shelves to feed children in the summer. Child hunger is more of an issue during summer than any other time of year. This is due to many low-income children not receiving the free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunches that they normally receive at school.

Letter carriers have been encouraging neighbors to help one another for 23 years through their annual food drive.

They know they are going to be extra tired at the end of their shift this Saturday. However, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they, along with the generous residents on their routes, will have made a real difference to so many in need.

Spring Provides Opportunity To Help Those In Need

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The spring is often thought to be a time of renewal and a time for “spring cleaning”, but it’s also a season where we can unintentionally add more clutter to our lives.

Many celebrations occur in springtime: Mother’s Day, graduations, weddings and birthdays. These are important occasions that give us a chance to celebrate those who are important to us. With celebrations often come unwanted gifts; sometimes even with a plea for no gifts.

For many of us who have reached the age where our children are moving away, we are trying to get rid of all the extra things we have collected over the decades. We want to do something that celebrates our relationship with those who are important to us, not acquire more things.

Many supporters of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano celebrate their important events by asking friends to bring nonperishable packaged food to their celebrations in lieu of gifts.

Everyone benefits from this act of kindness. The guests don’t have to stress over selecting “just the right” gift, the recipient doesn’t have to add unwanted clutter to their life and best of all, the gift of nutrition is given to the people who really need it. This is a true gift that won’t be thrown out with guilt after sitting in a closet for years.

Another way supporters of the Food Bank incorporate giving into their celebrations is by setting up a personalized online donation page on our website (www.foodbankccs.org/funddrive).

In less than 10 clicks of a computer mouse, they are able to create a unique donation page and receive a personalized URL which they share on their invitations and announcements. This makes it really easy for friends and family to make a donation, even if they don’t live locally and even if they are not able to attend the celebration.

There is no better time to create a fundraising page than right now because with the $40 for 40 matching campaign, friends and family members can double their donation dollars.

In honor of our 40th anniversary, donations made through this special fundraising event will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Friends of the Fortieth Fund, providing 160 meals (instead of 80 meals) for every $40 they give (www.foodbankccs.org/40for40).

With the financial donations, we are able to purchase healthy food for the people we serve including low-sodium, reduced-sugar, and high-protein options. With our industry buying power, we can buy these items at a much lower cost compared to retail pricing.

Financial donations also give us the flexibility of buying what we need, when we need it.

For people who live comfortably and want to reduce clutter in their life, hosting a food drive or virtual fundraiser, in lieu of receiving gifts, is a good solution.

Everyone benefits when those who have too much, think of those who don’t have enough.

 

Larry Sly: Earth Day a reminder to use resources responsibly — including food

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: This week we celebrate Earth Day, which focuses on responsibly using the resources of the planet.

Being “green” means we use what we need while we minimize the waste we produce. When I began working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I didn’t realize that we were also an environmental organization. Our primary mission is providing food to people in need and one of the main ways we are able to do that is by acquiring food surplus that would otherwise go to waste.

California grows enormous amounts of fresh produce which has a limited shelf life. Refrigeration and other technology extend the life of the fresh food, but millions of pounds of produce would go to waste if food banks did not exist.

Today more than half the food that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano distributes is fresh produce. Because we have contacts in the agriculture industry, we receive donations of produce by the trailer load.

Local residents are also saving perfectly good food from being wasted in residential backyards.

Often people have fruit trees and gardens that produce much more than their family and neighbors can consume. An orange tree, for example, can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit; far exceeding the needs of a few individuals. We are thankful that groups like Urban Farmers, Food Rescue and the Concord Diablo Rotary club have volunteers who are willing to gather and donate fruit from backyard trees. Instead of the fruit falling to the ground and perishing, these volunteers ensure that it goes to the people in need within our community.

We try to make sure that we conduct our business of feeding people in need, in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This includes working to conserve natural resources.

We installed solar panels on the roof of the 30,000 square-foot warehouse that we own in Concord. Those panels produce nearly all the energy we need for our commercial refrigerators and freezers, as well as for our computers, lights, etc.

In both of our Fairfield and Concord warehouses, we had an analysis of our energy use done by PG&E so we could take steps to limit our energy consumption. We have screens in our refrigerator doors to help keep the cold air inside as our forklifts transport food in and out of the refrigerators. We installed energy-efficient lighting throughout our warehouse and offices.

We also use a software program called Roadnet that helps us track our drivers as they drive their routes, allowing us to divert them so they can immediately pick up items, saving gas in the process.

The people we serve benefit from us working with the agricultural community and backyard gardeners to save over ten million pounds of food from waste.

The environment benefits from us using solar technology and adhering to other “green” ways of doing business.

Our society, as a whole, benefits when we all try to honor Earth Day every day.

Healthy Eating Habits Best Thing For Children

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Whether the information comes to you from statistical studies or just from taking a look around, it is obvious that the United States is facing an obesity epidemic.

The facts are overwhelming; we have the second-highest obesity rate in the world and spend more than $190 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. If you think the battle over healthcare is a major issue today, imagine what is going to happen as obesity and other diet-related illnesses increase the need for high-cost medical services.

As with so many of the issues we face as a society, the answer is fairly straightforward, but is difficult to implement because it requires us to think and plan long term. It will require us to change patterns that have developed over decades.

For more than a generation, our diet has deteriorated as we’ve replaced fresh food with prepared ready-to-serve meals and fast food.We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

This situation will not turn around overnight, but the conversation around the importance of improving our diets has at least begun and some progress has been made in our children’s school cafeterias.

The nutrition standards of school meals were updated in 2012 under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act. These improved standards require more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains and less sodium, fat and sugar in school lunches.

A survey done by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 72 percent of parents support strong nutritional standards for school meals. Another study published in Childhood Obesity, found that 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students like the more nutritious school meals.

Kids are being exposed to healthier food in their school lunches and they are gaining first-hand knowledge that healthy food can taste good.

Most of the children we serve at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano receive free or reduced costs lunches; making the meals they receive at school an important part of their diet.

By providing students healthier food on a regular basis, they are learning that fruits, vegetables and whole grains are an important part of a wholesome diet.

Furthermore, they are developing patterns that will fight obesity and other health-related illnesses.

We are doing the right thing when we feed our children well; we are setting them up to be healthy and successful.

A healthy school lunch is one of the best investments we make in the future of our society.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord. Email: info@foodbankccs.org

Marking Four Decades Of Making A Difference

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: This year the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing food to people in the community.

Our work began with two employees and a pickup truck. We borrowed a trailer to store the food and assisted 19 local emergency food agencies. Forty years later, we have grown to an organization of 70 employees (full-time and part-time) and a fleet of 16 vehicles. We now operate out of two warehouses, totaling about 60,000 square feet, and we serve one in eight residents within Contra Costa and Solano counties.

Much has changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the dedication of our employees.

Last week I celebrated my 39th anniversary with the Food Bank (I was the truck driver in the two-person operation). People are often astounded (myself, included) that anyone could work in a job for nearly 40 years, since, in today’s world, the average employee stays in a job for under five years.

At the Food Bank, my tenure is not that exceptional. Three other employees have been working tirelessly for more than 30 years. One of them is our Warehouse Manager, who was originally hired as a truck driver when he was just 18 years old. Another employee has reached the 20-year milestone and eight others have exceeded the 15 year mark. Soon, six more employees will be celebrating their tenth anniversary with the Food Bank.

What causes this level of commitment to a career? The Food Bank is a good employer; we pay decent wages and offer benefits, but we are not a high-tech software startup with all the goodies.

The people who work for us are driven by the mission of the organization. They see the need in the community on a daily basis. They understand the roles that volunteers and non-profit agencies play in providing food to people who need help.

They understand that the jobs that they perform, such as providing financial oversight, raising money, educating the community about hunger and running an efficient food distribution system, all serve as integral functions of the organization. Simply put, Food Bank employees know that the work they do makes a difference in people’s lives.

Food banks throughout the nation are filled with people who have spent 20 to 30 years dedicating their lives to anti-hunger work.

We are proud that we also have served as the “farm team” for other food banks. Three Executive Directors of Feeding America food banks began their career at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

Our 40-year growth curve demonstrates incredible change. We are not the same organization we were in 1975 and we are not the same organization we were in 2010.

The need is great, so we must grow. Having spent 39 years doing this, I acknowledge it has also been a fun experience. Even on one of the days that is not so good because of “stuff,” I go home knowing that we distributed nearly 80,000 pounds of food, contributing to more than 65,000 meals for our neighbors in need. I wish I could do another 40 years.

Distributing Food Is Collaborative Process

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: Distributing more than 20-million pounds of food a year, in an effective matter, is no simple feat.

One way the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano gets the food to the people we serve is through our direct distribution programs. This means that we give the food directly to the individuals and families in need. However, by collaborating with almost 200 partner agencies, we are able to reach many more people who are food insecure. The Food Bank distributes food to these agencies, who in turn, distribute it to the people they serve.

Besides the soup kitchens and food pantries that we partner with, our other nonprofit partner agencies provide a variety of other services that include transitional housing, child-care, career counseling and assisting the disabled. Collectively, these agencies serve food to 110,000 individuals annually, ranging in age from young children to the elderly.

Last week the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted its 5th Agency Summit and I was reminded of how important our network of agencies is in making our work possible. The goal of this event is to gather information and learn from each other. It was inspiring to see nearly 200 people representing agencies from cities throughout Solano and Contra Costa counties working together with a common goal.

The Food Bank arranged for the attendees to break up into smaller groups to learn about a variety of topics. These topics included: food handling safety, fund development, CalFresh basics, dealing with difficult people, serving diabetic clients, crowdfunding to raise money and recruiting/training volunteers.

The agencies benefited not only from the expert presentations, but also from exchanging their knowledge and experiences with one another.

We were privileged to have Ann Huff Stevens from the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis and Kim McCoy Wade from the Alliance to Transform CalFresh as our keynote speakers.

Ann discussed poverty and the impact being poor has on local families. The academic studies she has done demonstrate an incredible social loss when people must focus on providing the basics of life. Children who do not eat well do not learn well and develop health issues. Ann’s research shows that if we improve the lives of those in poverty, society will benefit.

Kim followed Ann’s presentation by talking about CalFresh, one of the basic building blocks that helps California residents living in poverty. CalFresh recipients are given a debit card that allows them to buy food in local grocery stores. The CalFresh program provides essential support to individuals who do not earn enough and struggle to provide housing, utilities and the basics of life for their families.

Ann Stevens and Kim Wade put forth the concept that we are all part of a social investment by helping individuals and families escape poverty.

The Food Bank and our partner agencies are excited about expanding the role we have in making long-term differences to the people we serve, while simultaneously improving our society as a whole.

Working To Ensure Food Programs Reach All Those In Need

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has direct food distribution programs and we work with nearly 200 nonprofit agencies that feed people in our local communities. The Food Bank is committed to fighting hunger and more than likely you have witnessed our efforts firsthand. There is a good chance that you have seen the food donation barrels around town. And perhaps you have seen a Food Bank banner at a community event or have seen the delivery trucks on the road? You might have even seen us in action if you have come to one of our two warehouses to drop-off donations or volunteer your time. It might be surprising to learn that one of the most important ways the Food Bank helps the hungry individuals in our society doesn’t take place in the public’s eye. Advocating for food and hunger related issues and policies are a crucial part of helping those we serve.

The national organization that we are affiliated with, Feeding America, partners with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to bring food banks and advocates together in Washington DC each year.  It is a chance for us to communicate with our elected representatives, so they understand the food issues we see in our communities.  We are grateful that in Solano and Contra Costa counties, our elected officials have a good understanding of what causes hunger.  It is important that we share real-life stories with these policy-makers about the people we see. They, in turn, can help others understand the challenges people face trying to get assistance from federal food programs.

In some instances, we advocate for programs that directly impact our ability to provide food.  The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides the Food Bank with food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  We receive millions of pounds of food as well as administrative funds that allow us to provide food to the agencies we serve. We also provide this food directly to people who come to our Food Assistance Program.

The Food Bank realizes we need to help carry the message to elected officials that there are many Californians that legitimately experience food insecurity. The CalFresh program provides benefits to eligible low-income Californians. CalFresh is the first line of defense against hunger, providing food assistance to low-income children, seniors and disabled individuals.  Because so many people need food assistance, this program is a significant part of the budget and Congress often looks to cut programs like CalFresh.

The Food Bank recognizes that our distribution programs only address part of the public need and that the behind-the-scenes work we do to influence public policy is vital.  There is no doubt that the Food Bank plays a significant role in helping people in need, as we distributed 20-million pounds of food just in the last year.  However, people also rely on CalFresh, school lunch, Meals on Wheels and TEFAP.  We need to do our part to ensure that all these programs get the appropriate funding, so the most basic of needs, such as providing your body nourishment, can be a reality for all.

Food Safety Is A Top Priority For Local Food Bank

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is a member of Feeding America, the national association of food banks. Feeding America food banks are held to a high standards for service, food quality and transparency. We use the same standards as the corporate food industry because food banks realize that low-income people deserve food that meets the same standards as the grocery industry demands.

Food banks have been working with the food industry to demonstrate how we can work in tandem to save food from being wasted. Feeding America collaborated with several major grocery chains as they developed systems that would significantly reduce the amount of food waste in their stores.  Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, SaveMart and other chains established procedures where perishable food items would be pulled from the retail display while the food was still at a high level of quality. In some instances, meat could be frozen or other steps could be taken to extend the useful life of the food. As the grocery industry developed this system, they worked with Feeding America food banks so we could be an effective partner in accepting and distributing the grocery donations they were able to provide.

As the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano set up procedures to accept these donations, we focused on our building structure and developing our training plans. The Food Bank either picks the donations up in our refrigerated trucks or has member agencies directly pick food up from stores. We provide the agencies that pick the food up with thermometers so they can verify the proper temperature of the food and we provide them with thermal blankets to properly transport the food to the agency refrigerators. All the people involved in this effort receive ServSafe® training, so they are properly trained in safe food handling methods. Because we take these steps and because we handle food properly, millions of pounds of valuable food has become available to the people we serve.

Constantly improving the food safety standards of the Food Bank is a constant part of our culture. Part of our contract with Feeding America requires that our warehouse pass a third-party sanitation and safety audit.  AIB International is a food safety audit firm that has been doing training and food safety compliance work for over one hundred years (they began as the American Institute of Baking). With their advice, we developed a thick binder full of processes and protocols that have become part of every decision we make in our warehouse. The procedures our truck drivers and warehouse workers follow insure that the food we distribute is safe.  We take great pride that our audit score (on a scale of 1000 with 700 being a passing grade) was 935. I was pleased that the reaction our warehouse employees had after receiving the good news was to start thinking of how we could improve. We work to get better because it is the right thing to do for the people we serve.