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Larry

Grateful For Food Drives During The Holidays

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is lucky to have the support of CBS 5 KPIX  and Whole Foods in organizing the Food for Bay Area Families food drive.  Whole Foods helps us collect food at their stores which helps us provide food to those in need in our community.  But equally important to us in our efforts to fight hunger, Whole Foods and KPIX help educate the community about why people in our community need food assistance.

KPIX is incredibly generous in giving Bay Area food banks the opportunity to publicize businesses and organizations that help us feed those in need.  During the Food for Bay Area Families effort, KPIX carves a minute or two out of their noon and six o’clock newscasts so Bay Area food banks can bring people on to talk about the good things they have done to help us feed those in need.  We bring international companies like Chevron on to talk about their financial support of our work, or bring on local Rotary clubs to talk about helping us obtain bright orange tee shirts branded “Go Orange to Fight Hunger” for Hunger Action Month.  Eight Rotary clubs in the Diablo Valley helped us get the message out that hunger is a real issue in our community.

We had Pick-N-Pull on the air to talk about the support they provide at their Fairfield and Richmond stores.  They do everything from asking their customers to donate to giving us the change they find in the cars that come to them.  Pick and Pull’s parent company Schnitzer Steel also makes a matching donation, further helping us in our work.

The people from Forma Gym in Walnut Creek talked about the holiday run they staged on Thanksgiving Day that raises money to help the Food Bank’s work.  They put on a phenomenal event which reached a caring community (they got MC Hammer to help sponsor the event!).  We also had a chance to acknowledge the CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer for the help they give the Food Bank’s efforts to provide food to those in need in our community.

We are grateful to KPIX and Whole Foods for giving us the opportunity to publicly thank the generous individuals, businesses, service clubs and community members who make our work possible.  But I will admit that we are also hoping that when people see what others in the community do, they will decide to take steps to make a difference as well.  We know that no one in our country should go hungry and people will take action to help those who need food.  When we can show that those we put on the news make a difference by giving food, money or time, we are helping to build a community that cares.  That community will make a difference in the lives of their neighbors who need food.

Neighbor To Neighbor, Community Food Drives Make An Impact

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Nearly twenty five years ago, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano began working with a local television station to set up a holiday food drive in collaboration with the other Feeding America food banks in the Bay Area.  The General Manager of the station was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea and suggested that we approach the homeowners association at Blackhawk, the community where he lived.  Blackhawk was one of the first planned communities with upscale homes built around golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools. Sports personalities and business leaders owned homes in a gated community that had a limited number of entrance and exit gates.  We were lucky enough to find volunteers within the homeowners association who felt this collection effort resonated with social responsibility beliefs that came from their faith community.  We worked with them to take their ideas and grew food collections that make a significant contribution to our work.

Today, ten gated communities (including Rancho Solano in Fairfield) have similar drives where neighbors ask neighbors to help us feed those in need.  Volunteers come to our warehouse in October to staple flyers to grocery bags that are specific to each individual community.  Volunteers from each community go door to door leaving the bag with their neighbors.  On the day of the food collection, we set up our plywood sleighs with food barrels placed inside.  As people drive out the gate, their neighbors happily accept the bag of groceries right from the car.  We also place return envelopes in the bag and many individuals also give us a financial donation as well.  Communities vary in how much they provide, but the larger communities can give as much as 10,000 pounds of food and $25,000, making a significant contribution to feeding those in need.

These gated community drives are making a difference in people’s lives. People like Grace, 73, of Vacaville. Grace was married, owned a house, worked part time and lived comfortably with her husband until she retired at 62. Then everything changed when her husband passed away in 1999.  The house they owned needed repairs her husband used to be able to do and it needed a new roof. She couldn’t afford to fix it up. When she finally sold it to buy a smaller condominium, “I barely broke even,” she said. Now her only income is her Social Security, which leaves her about $400 after utilities, mortgage and homeowners association fees.

It was on a trip to a Food Bank partner agency, Vacaville Storehouse, a year and a half ago that Grace discovered she could get groceries to stretch her pantry and refrigerator. Bread and meat she divides into portions to freeze help stretch her grocery budget. “I could never do as well as I do with proteins without being blessed by the Vacaville Storehouse,” Grace tells us.

The food and funds collected by neighbors in their gated communities support people like Grace every day.

Needing Help – It Could Happen To Anyone

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: All of us see things in ways that are familiar to us.  Everything is filtered through the lens of where we grew up, what our family was like, who our friends were and what experiences we have had. While we may think we understand what others are going through, to actually live it is another story.  For many, when we think about people in poverty there is an element of judgment. It can be difficult not to think that “if they did this, they wouldn’t be in this predicament.”  Listening to the stories of people who need help with food has greatly changed any judgment I may have had remaining.

The majority of the people we serve are senior citizens and children.  Some of the people are disabled because of disease or injury and others have mental health issues like depression.   Most of us agree we need to care for the elderly, children and the sick, but people raise questions about why we need to care for those who they feel aren’t trying hard enough to care for themselves.  I found that talking to someone who has been there quickly puts things into a new perspective.

Someone I met through my work at the Food Bank shared her story with me and it spoke to a series of bad events followed by more of the same for their comfortable two-income household. It began with one of the family cars breaking down and needing $2,000 in repairs.  Two weeks later, an auto accident totaled the other car, so they had to buy a $1,000 clunker.  They were keeping their heads above water when the husband’s hours were cut because business was down.  Parents helped with bags of food, but couldn’t do much more on their retirement income.  When money got tight, they started selling household items to buy food and gas to get to work.

As bad as it was, things got worse when the wife lost a job she had held for over twenty years referring people to emergency food and shelter resources.  She knew the system well and went to one of the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program sites where she got much-needed fresh fruits and vegetables for her family.  Going to the site brought her to tears, not because she was treated poorly “the people who helped me were incredibly nice,” but because the reality of being on the receiving side was so much harder than she imagined.  It was scary to know that the person needing help was her.  Knowing that she was asking for help for her family was more than she could bear.  She desperately wanted to think of herself as a contributing member of society, not someone who had to take.  She now has a part-time job and things are going the right direction for her, but she feels like she is trying to manage circumstance she cannot control.

Listening to her story made me wonder.  I like to think that I have job security, enough savings and a strong enough support system to never be in this situation, but stories like this remind me that anything could change and I might need help. How would I feel if it happened to me?

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.