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Larry

Season Of Caring Is Also Season Of Friendly Competition

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: This week kicks off the annual Counties Care Holiday Food Fight. This friendly competition between employees of Solano and Contra Costa counties is a way of sharing the holiday spirit with the people in need the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano serves. County employees volunteer their time in creative ways raising funds for the Food Bank so help can be there during the holiday season and beyond.

Twelve years ago, Contra Costa County employees decided to do a food collection in the County Administrators office.  They raised 1600 pounds of food and felt incredibly positive about what they had accomplished.  They felt so positive that the next year they threw the challenge out to other county departments setting up a friendly competition to see which department could be most generous.  Incredibly creative ideas were shared within the county employee community about how to help more.  Departments offered dress down days for employees who donated and some departments competed to see who got to throw a shaving cream pie into the department head’s face.

As the employees learned more about the Food Bank’s efficiencies, they realized that raising money was more effective than raising food.  The “food drive” became a “fund drive” that gives the Food Bank the money it needs to acquire the fresh produce that has become such an essential part of our work.  The organizers also knew that the Food Bank serves both Solano and Contra Costa counties, so the friendly competition grew to be a contest between the two counties to see which could raise the most funds per employee.  So within each county individual departments compete with other departments to see which can be the most giving.  The prize for the county competition is the Big Apple trophy (going back to the time a huge donation of apples helped bring a victory for a Board of Supervisors member).  This year, Solano County has held the Big Apple trophy for two years in a row, but Contra Costa wants it back!

There are two victories that come out of this competition.  People who are part of the county employee community, in both Solano and Contra Costa counties have fun.  They work together for something that benefits the greater community, no matter which department they work for.  More important, their accomplishments allow the Food Bank to provide help to people in need in both counties.  The Counties Care Holiday Food Fight has raised over $1.1 million for the Food Bank.  More than twenty million pounds of food went to people in need in our community last year because people—like the county employees — care.

Thankful For Help At Thanksgiving And Throughout The Holidays

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: One in eight residents now relies on the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and during the holidays we work with our more than 180 partner agencies to bring additional hope and relief to our neighbors struggling with hunger.  This Thanksgiving and Holiday season we will provide food for over 14,000 meals and about 30,000 grocery baskets to your neighbors in need. Thanks to amazing community support through monetary donations and food drives, we can make the holidays more hopeful for children, families and seniors who struggle to put food on their tables.

We have a tradition going back longer than I can remember coordinating food drives with Safeway.  Obviously, there is no better place to do a food drive than a grocery store.  Years ago, Safeway let us place barrels in stores and we did all we could to urge people to donate.  Other corporate sponsors helped us purchase colorful wraps to go around the barrels.  We put the types of food we most wanted on the barrel wraps and on flyers.  Volunteer groups passed the flyers out to shoppers as they went into the stores.  Those efforts produced thousands of pounds of food donated by a generous community.

For the last five years, NBC Bay Area has partnered with Safeway to help stock the shelves of local food banks. In addition to providing on air promotion, the station enlists hundreds of volunteers – including NBC Bay Area anchors and reporters helping at their own neighborhood Safeway Stores –to encourage shoppers to donate food items. NBC Bay Area is once again teaming up with Safeway Stores for a one-day food drive on Saturday, November 22, kicking off a month-long effort to fight hunger with Bay Area Food Banks, a collaboration of seven food banks serving over 780,000 local residents each month. The “Help Us End Hunger” food drive will take place at 155 Safeway locations throughout the Bay Area making it easy for community members to participate and help feed their neighbors in need.

To make the donation process easier, a specially produced shopping bag filled with items that food banks need the most will be available for $10 at all local Safeway stores. Items include pasta and sauce, canned vegetables and important protein items like peanut butter and canned tuna. Once collected, the bags will be delivered to food banks for distribution to needy families. The bags will be available for Safeway shoppers to purchase now through December 25.

The holiday season is the time everyone can help their neighbors in need.  NBC Bay Area, Safeway, Kiwanis clubs, scout troops, other community organizations and the entire community helps make a difference, each in their individual way.

We thank NBC Bay Area and Safeway for bringing attention to the severity of local hunger and for creating a simple way for anyone in our community to help a family in need. The Food Bank and our partners are feeding people in every neighborhood and you can donate to make a difference in the lives of people in your community.

 

Scouts Help Feed Families In Need This Holiday Season

The generous support from the community makes the work of Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano possible.  What we ask is quite straightforward; we need people to donate food, give volunteer time or donate money.  By combining those three things together, in different amounts from different people, we distributed over twenty million pounds of food to people in need last year. The amazing thing for me is the creative ways people find to tie their personal style to helping us in our work.

For example, part of being a Boy Scout is doing a “good turn”.   Boy Scouts know that they have a responsibility to improve their community, so the national organization endorses the Scouting for Food drive.  Scout troops reach out to their neighbors, placing door hangers on people’s front doors.  They come back the following week, picking up bags of food the community wants to share.  Scouting for Food is an incredible one-day effort, brings the Food Bank over 130,000 pounds of food.  Coming in the middle of November, this donated food gives us a perfect start providing food donations to the charities preparing to distribute holiday baskets.

Behind the volunteer work the Scout troops are doing, the Food Bank provides the support they need to succeed.  Scout troops pick up the food donations with their parents on Saturday, November 15 and they return it to a central location (usually a church or school parking lot) where the Food Bank has placed bins to collect the food.  Scout troops are at those locations as well, overseeing the consolidation of the donations.  Food comes in to these collections sites all day, and then the Food Bank trucks pick food up and bring it back to our warehouse.

Scouting for Food brings in more than three trailer loads of food which we need to distribute quickly.  Volunteers from corporations, service clubs, faith communities (and even some Scout troops) come to our warehouse to help sort the donations we have received.  Volunteers sort the food into seventeen different categories, putting things like peanut butter, tuna, canned fruit and canned vegetables in separate boxes.  With this sorting done, Food Bank partner agencies receive the food they need to help the people they feed during the holidays.

The effort involved in getting the food from Scouting for Food into the hands of hungry people is done mostly by volunteers.  Volunteer Scouts collect the food and we help by transporting what they have raised.  Community volunteers come to our warehouse to sort the food.  Staff members roll bins of unsorted food into the sorting room so volunteers can prepare it for the volunteer-run agencies that provide food to those in need. These incredible volunteers enable us to supply millions of pounds of donated food to a community in need.

 

 

Food Bank Aims To Make Those Tough Decisions Go Away

We all make choices every day about how we spend our money.  Do we own a house or do we rent an apartment?  Do we depend on public transportation or do we own a car?  How nice a car?  Are we able to go out to dinner?  Are we able to travel?  These questions are about how we use our expendable income, money in excess of what we need to meet our basic living expenses.  The people served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano don’t have many choices about expendable income because they may not even have it. We see people who have to choose between heating their home and having food to eat, there’s nothing extra.

Senior citizens receiving Social Security know about this struggle.  The current average monthly benefit for a Social Security recipient is $1,294 per month, an annual income of $15,528.  If I look at what rental and utility costs are for an individual receiving Social Security, those costs in California will eat up most of their monthly income.  So how do they pay for medical costs, operating a car (assuming they can afford to own one) or public transportation?  Sometimes they go without.

Food is an area where people can make decisions to save some money.  Pasta and rice are pretty cheap.  I have had people tell me they dilute milk to make it go further.  You can make decisions when you choose groceries that save money.  People can’t bargain with their landlord or ask the utility company to cut their rates because they are in difficult financial circumstances.  People who face difficult decisions can save money as they go through the grocery store, or skip a meal here and there.

Unfortunately, the decisions people make that save them money short term cost them over time.  If they cannot feed their children well, the kids don’t succeed in school.  If people are not eating well themselves, they harm their health.  Good nutrition is medicine; people who do not eat well suffer both physically and mentally.  All we know about nutrition and its impact on health tells us we need to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.  We need to get exercise and drink water.  People know what they should do to preserve their health, no matter what their income.

But if you are poor, vegetables look very expensive compared to a fast food meal.  If you are a single parent bringing tired and cranky children home from day care, the drive through window looks good.  It is also a cheap meal that puts food into a hungry child’s stomach.  What decision would I make at the end of the month when I know my rent is due and the utility bill will be coming to me in a few days?  For the people we serve, we hope with the help they get from the Food Bank they don’t have to make as many of those tough decisions.

Volunteers Make Food Bank Work Possible

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Whenever I talk about the work of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I always explain how important volunteers are, but as we prepared for our volunteer recognition and I looked at the total volunteer hours given this past year, I am even more amazed.  Volunteers gave more than 86,000 hours of their time last year; the equivalent work time of more than 40 staff members.  Volunteers answer our phones, sort food, bag produce and help run our distributions.  They are ambassadors making presentations to groups about the work we do.  Our volunteer Board of Directors takes responsibility for setting the goals of the organization and making sure we provide the services the community needs.  We succeed as an organization because volunteers care about the work we do.

Volunteers are also an inspiration to our staff members.  When we see the time and energy people give to help us feed others, we know we are part of an organization doing the right thing.  I personally feel privileged that I got to know Duncan Miller because of my work at the Food Bank.  Duncan past away this year, but his legacy lives on in the work of the “Milk Duds”, fellow volunteers from Rockville Presbyterian Church who continue to provide food to their neighbors in need.  Duncan started his “Milk Dud” group to help him haul donated milk to his food pantry and other charities in the Fairfield area.  As the volume of donated milk grew, Duncan partnered with the Food Bank to make sure these valuable donations of dairy products were used.  Duncan was a retired pilot who owned classic planes, but his passion for helping others defined his life.  That passion continues in the work of the Rockville Presbyterian “Milk Duds” who continue to serve community members in need.

Volunteers also keep staff motivated by the example they set through their energy and commitment.  Houston Robertson has energy that exceeds what I only wish I had.  She volunteers with us doing outreach to enroll people in the CalFresh program (a quite complicated task) and helps with the distribution of Food for Children boxes at our distribution site in Vallejo.  She is also an incredibly articulate Ambassador for us, speaking to groups about the Food Bank’s work and hopefully persuading them to volunteer as well.  When she is not volunteering for us, Houston does presentations about aging that refer to the memoir she has written.  Did I mention she is also branching out as a stand-up comedian?

Our Volunteer Recognition event took place October 26, celebrating people like Houston and Duncan.  Our work could not be done if we did not have the support our volunteers give.  We live in a community that cares about people in need and gladly gives their time to make a difference.

Community Partnerships Provide Vital Holiday Meals

During the holiday season, people think of gifts, food and family.  Families gather together with the holiday meal being a main part of the celebration.  It is also a time we give presents to each other, sharing with others to show we care for our family and friends.  But the holidays are an especially difficult time for the families served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  People who need help from us throughout the year struggle as they try to make the holidays a special time for their family.

We at the Food Bank are lucky we live in a community that wants to help.  The Food Bank has been working for nearly forty years to make the holidays a happier time for the families we serve in our community.  We begin our planning in August by purchasing the food we will need for the holiday baskets put together by the agencies we serve.  We work with local food pantries and soup kitchens to determine who they will serve and what they will need from us during the holidays.  We are able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables as well as canned food and turkeys at no cost to the agency.  We raise money so we can buy grocery gift certificates that allow families with limited cooking facilities to obtain the food they need for their holiday meal.  Working with the pantries and soup kitchens in our community, we helped provide 14,000 meals to people last year, and more than 26,600 baskets went to families in need.

The holiday time is the busiest of all at the Food Bank, but we are able to do this work because the community gives.  We have collection barrels in local grocery stores.  Businesses and schools organize food drives.  Scout troops, faith communities, swim teams and motorcycle riders from our local refineries collect food and raise funds.  The number of drives increases every year, but we have nearly 800 locations where people can donate food to their neighbors.  We must receive this community support because we need to distribute over 1.7 million pounds of food and over 900 turkeys during the holiday season.

You have helped make the holiday brighter for the families we serve every year because the community gives generously.  Our committed volunteers help to sort and box the donated food we receive so that the generosity of the community during the holiday season continues to provide for the people we serve into the new year.  Because the community gives so generously, we are able to make a difference in the holiday season and throughout the year.

Senate Must Include “America Gives More Act” in Tax Legislation

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The United States Senate has the opportunity to provide a powerful boost to charitable organizations working to improve lives and strengthen communities all across the country. In July 2014 the House of Representatives approved the America Gives More Act, landmark legislation that would make three major charitable giving incentives (including donations of food inventory) permanent and reliable for donors of both food and funds.

Here is why the legislation is so important to our Food Bank and our community:  the America Gives More Act would help the farmers, restaurants, retailers, and food manufacturers we work with donate more excess food to those in need. Up until now, the charitable giving provisions in the tax code have been repeatedly extended on a short-term, often erratic basis that limits their impact, as donors cannot consistently rely on the certainty of receiving tax benefits for their generous donations. This is certainly true for small businesses that are relying on the food donation tax deduction to provide a needed incentive to help them establish a regular donation program with food banks. The uncertainty they face with the tax code has a tremendous impact on the amount of food we can bring in to the Food Bank, and in turn, get out to those in need.

In addition, the America Gives Back Act has much needed expansions of the food donation deduction that would allow farmers and ranchers to take the same tax deduction when donating food – a much needed improvement.  Our Food Bank is now distributing 10 million pounds of fresh produce every year – and we anticipate this legislation would help us increase that amount.

The impact of the America Gives More Act on our mission—and those we serve—would be significant. With over 70 billion pounds of wholesome excess food wasted each year, we have a critical opportunity to give food banks and food donors a powerful tool to donate more food.

The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to include the America Gives More Act in tax legislation that’s expected to be voted on after the election. Doing so would have a significant and positive impact on millions of individuals and families in every community who benefit from the programs and services provided by charitable organizations across the country. To contact your senator and ask them to support this legislation, call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Hunger Action Month Reaches All Areas of the Nation

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Hunger Action Month is an opportunity to raise the issue of hunger as one voice across the nation. In September, we reach out to our supporters and volunteers, those who are already concerned about hunger, and ask them to join us in action. We invite them to share about the issue with their friends, family and coworkers who might not even know hunger is a problem. With this collective effort we are able to spread the fact that one in six Americans is at risk of going hungry to many more people than the Food Bank could on our own.  The power of social media, email and face-to-face conversations about why we Turn Orange each September have spread the message to all areas of the community.

Our largest area of support, our volunteers, donors and staff, are all given a simple and clear message. Hunger is everywhere, and we can all do something about it. They are invited to Turn Orange to make a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. Their enthusiasm spreads to their circle of influence, including those who might not be as involved with hunger relief. Every time they share a postcard with a business or wear their Turn Orange t-shirt, they are standing up for the people we serve and raising awareness.

For the people our supporters reach who do not know as much about hunger in America, we appreciate their willingness to learn. We have statistics based on census data and third-party surveys to show the incredible need across all walks of life. We can reference academic papers and books that discuss poverty and hunger in great detail. But we can also teach people about hunger in their community by taking them to one of our Community Produce Program distributions. People will see a program that distributes fresh fruit and vegetables directly to low-income individuals. Those who visit any of our distributions will see that the people we serve look a lot like them. Families with children need help with groceries; senior citizens need food to supplement their Social Security income. People need food assistance when they live in an area that has expensive housing and a high cost of living.

For those who still do not feel hunger is an issue, I consider it progress if we start a conversation. I received some comments about my article on living on a CalFresh budget. People made worthwhile points about where I shopped and the decisions I made and believed they could shop smarter on a regular basis. They correctly identified that I am a single individual and that I don’t have the patience to dedicate energy to shopping smart. All of these comments point to the fact that we never truly know who might need help with food because anyone could be battling healthcare costs, job loss or have to support an elderly parent. We all know life gets busy and someone might not have the time to shop if they are dealing with multiple jobs, family and kitchen situations or lack of access to healthy food. We hear stories like this every week.

Hunger Action Month is a time for us to empower supports to share why they are passionate about ending hunger in America and ask others to do the same. We thank everyone who took action in September whether you shared or just listened, you have helped move people in every category to consider the issue of hunger in America.

Living on a Limited Food Budget Takes Sacrifice

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: During Hunger Action Month every September the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano joins with people throughout the country to take action to end hunger.  We are working to create a movement that will no longer accept hunger in a society as rich as ours.  Part of this effort is helping people understand why their neighbors are hungry and what we can do to make a difference.  For someone who has been doing this work as long as I have, this is an opportunity to step back from what we do every day and look at why we do what we do.

As part of Hunger Action Month, I have spent this week living on food I bought with the average CalFresh (Food Stamp) allotment.  For this working week, I took my $22.50 ($4.50 per day) and bought what I needed to get by.  A box of store-brand Toasty O cereal was just over two dollars.  Enough yogurt for five lunches was a little over three dollars and I bought bananas to put in the yogurt (bananas are a lot cheaper than strawberries).  For dinner, spaghetti was on sale for 99 cents and pasta sauce was $2.99.  I also bought lettuce, cucumber and a pepper to make a salad my dinner.  I also bought six eggs for $1.75.  A couple ears of corn were pretty cheap, and I was set.

This effort reminded me that living on a low-cost diet can be done, but it takes planning and sacrifice.  I had to make compromises because I really would have preferred strawberries, but I had two pasta dinners with half an ear of corn and two salad dinners with corn as well.  Scrambled eggs were my fifth meal.  Even though my meal selection was deadly boring, I got through a week living on a CalFresh diet, getting a glimpse of what life is like for those who need assistance.  It helped me understand the situation faced by those who do not have the money they need to get the food they need.  Making difficult decisions about where your limited resources go becomes a constant concern for people with low incomes.

Emotionally, it was a strange feeling when the week came to an end.  Rather than feeling proud of myself, I felt as if I had been a bit condescending.  I had only “sampled” being poor, not lived that life.  I lived the CalFresh diet one week, not for months at a time.  I only had my food needs to worry about, not those of my children.  I didn’t have any car problems, medical issues or other problems pull money away from me.  I pretended to be poor in one small way for five days, and on Saturday, I could take my credit card and go out to a dinner at any restaurant I wanted.  Living on a very limited food budget for the long term is much more serious than boring meals. People make hard choices every day between buying food or paying the rent, utilities or putting gas in the car to get to work. These benefits and help from the Food Bank allow a little relief to those hard decisions.

To try the Hunger Challenge for yourself, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Proof of Community Care is Clear in the Audit

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: In spite of what we think when we hear the word, having an audit done is not a negative thing.  As a charitable organization, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano knows we should have outside experts evaluate the way we manage our financial affairs.  We want those we ask to give us food and money to know that we are doing the work they want to support.  Our audits show community members that we are accomplishing the important work people want to see done.

As we are doing the final review of our audit for 2014, it is very helpful to me to look at what we have accomplished.   We establish goals each year and June 30 is when we stop the clock and look at how we have done.   In the last fiscal year, we distributed over 20 million pounds of food and half of those pounds were fresh produce.  Our administrative and fund development costs are less than 4% of our budget.  We have reason to be proud we are running an efficient organization that is meeting the needs of hungry people in our community.

But when I consider where the support comes from that makes our work possible, I am even more proud of the work we do.  If I look at a random list of contacts I have had in the past few months, I see amazing community connections.  We receive support from Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, League of Women Voters, Valero, Shell, Tesoro, Chevron, Janssen, Safeway, Whole Foods, Genentech, and Walmart.

The Food Bank gets help from Solano and Contra Costa County employees, Contra Costa Bar Association (and a bunch of law firms), Realtors in Motion, the County Library, St. Mary’s College, Prophet, the Rossmoor Harvest Festival and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church’s crab feed.  Food, money and volunteers come from Stanley Middle School, Hercules Middle School, Valhalla School, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Pacific Service Credit Union, Bloomingdales and Forma Gym.

We also receive over half our financial support from individuals.  Some people donate once a year, some people donate every month.  People ask friends to give money to the Food Bank instead of buying them birthday or wedding gifts.  Parents bring their children to the Food Bank warehouse so they can give us the money they raised in their neighborhood.  There is a sense of community that comes from helping each other.

Our audit is a time we look at what we have done, and it shows me that we are part of a community that cares for their neighbors.  When we put together efforts to provide food to those in need, we know that we can count on the strong support provided by our community.  We are able to make a difference because we are part of a community that knows they can work with the Food Bank to get healthy food to their neighbors in need.