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.