Author Archive

Larry

Giving, Volunteering Honors Legacy Of MLK

When the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was declared I don’t think people realized it would evolve into a day that is focused on volunteer service.  It’s very appropriate the day has become dedicated to community service, as it highlights the role giving back plays as part of American life.  For those of us old enough to remember, when the federal holiday was declared many states and localities did not observe the day.  Recent events demonstrate that the struggles of the civil rights era are still not resolved and when the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was enacted by the federal government, there was resistance to honoring the day.  But as time has passed, the holiday has become more universally observed, and that is because the holiday honors the work Martin Luther King Jr. did to help make a better community.

Today many people celebrate the holiday by participating in a volunteer activity that helps make a stronger community.  Volunteering is an American tradition that goes back generations.  It is a tradition that when people identify a problem they come together to try to help.  Service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Soroptomists or Lions clubs exist so members can act as volunteers to make a stronger community.  Faith communities often have a social mission committee that focuses on the role they should play in dealing with community issues.  Non-profit organizations have a distinct role in our society because we realize there are some things that are done better by organizations that effectively use volunteers in their work.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano depends on volunteers.  We have more than 88,000 hours of volunteer time given to us each year.  That includes people answering our phones, sorting the food donations we receive and helping with the food distributions we do in the community.  Our Board of Directors are all volunteers, the people who help us prepare thank you letters for donors are volunteers, and the people who help bag produce for distribution are volunteers.  We depend on people being willing to give their time and talent in order to make our work possible.

Like every other non-profit organization in our community, we need your help.  Whether you want to help the Food Bank, a homeless shelter or an education program at your local school, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an excellent reminder of how much your help is needed.   Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most moving statements ever made about the society we hope we will all see one day.   Everyone should be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin or any other factor.  By volunteering and giving back to our society, we help move ourselves closer to that goal.  When we give, we enrich ourselves because we understand the problems others face and what we can do to make a difference.  When we give back, we honor Dr. King’s memory.

Circumstances Can Change In An Instant

Originally posted on thereporter.com: Recently, I received a letter from a financial donor who apologized for her family’s minimal donations during the last year. She told me her story and I realized how easily circumstances can change. Her husband was laid off in December 2010 after 35 years in his job as his company closed down the entire division where he worked.  He has been looking for work with little success for three years, leading her to believe businesses prefer hiring younger people rather than those who bring hands-on experience to a position.  As an optimistic person, she is happy they are getting by and recognizes that there are many others in worse positions than her family.  Because of that optimism and her concern for other people in need, she recommended that her credit union direct part of their charitable giving to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

I also had a conversation with one of the senior citizens we serve through our Senior Food Program.  He retired when he was 62 from a job he hated yet held for nearly forty years to support his family. He had a small retirement package from his employer and had saved enough money so that he could get by.  As a retired man, he spent a good deal of time hanging out with his friends at a small restaurant, drinking coffee and sharing stories of their service in World War II.  He became friends with the restaurant owner so it felt like a good idea when he was offered an opportunity to invest in the business.  He and his friends were always there and the place seemed really busy.  He didn’t realize that the owner was covering cash flow issues by not paying payroll tax.  When the IRS closed the business down, the gentleman had to demonstrate his lack of financial resources and his lack of hands-on management in order to avoid further penalties.  He lost his savings and had to sell his condo in order to make things right.  He was lucky enough to get into subsidized housing after spending several years in the terrible places that qualify as low-income housing in our community.  He is now just getting by on Social Security, a $300 a month pension and the food he receives from the Food Bank’s Senior Food Program.

The power of circumstance and coincidence speak with force.  People have bad things happen, or sometimes make a mistake in judgment.  It can be a fine line between a comfortable life and needing help from the Food Bank. Hearing stories like these, I more fully understand how necessary it is to have a safety net because it could be any of us needing help at some point in our lives.

We Are Better When We Care For Those In Need

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano faces an enormous task every year distributing 20 million pounds of food to people in need.

We want to do our work effectively, so we need well-trained professional staff.

We need a warehouse that meets food-safety standards, inventory systems and trucks. We need boxes, shrink wrap, pallets and forklifts.

We pay handling and transportation fees for the fresh produce we distribute. While the average cost of produce is only ten cents a pound it becomes a significant amount when you multiply it by the 10 million pounds of produce we distribute.

We are committed to being effective in the work we do, and provide four dollars of food for every dollar we spend.

Our management and fund development costs are 4 percent. We know we are an organization that is well run and meets an important need.

In order to keep providing healthy food to people in need, we must ask community members to invest in the work we do. Asking people to help pay our operating costs is something we continue to do because people generally do not give unless they are asked.

The Food Bank receives less than 10 percent of our operating revenue from the government, but a bigger percentage of our support comes from corporations, foundations, service clubs and faith communities. But most of the money that supports our work comes from individuals.

Nearly half our operating revenue comes from people in the community who believe it is not acceptable for people to be hungry. They understand that money given to the Food Bank provides fresh produce to low-income senior citizens through our Senior Food Program.

They see fresh produce distributed from our trucks at our Community Produce Program sites throughout Solano and Contra Costa counties. They see us distribute food to nearly 200 non-profit organizations that provide food to those in need.

People know they can make a difference in their community by making a tax deductible donation to the Food Bank’s work.

As the year comes to a close and people consider the taxes they will pay, I hope they consider the good they can do with donations to causes that matter to them.

There is a strong non-profit community in Solano and Contra Costa counties that provides food, shelter, counseling, education, and other services to our neighbors in need.

People should be deliberate about where they give (Charity Navigator is a great tool that evaluates non-profit organizations) but they should give to causes that matter to them.

In a time when resources for non-profits continue to shrink, it is critical that the community step forward to help make a difference.

We are a society that cares for each other and we can make a difference for our neighbors who need help.

We are better when we care for those who need our help.

To donate to the food bank online, visit http://www.foodbankccs.org/give-help/donate.html. You can also learn how to become a pledge donor at the website. Or you may consider making a gift to the Food Bank as a tribute or memorial to a loved one. You can donate online or mail a check to Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, P.O. Box 6324 Concord, CA 94524. And you can have your gifts matched as many companies match employee donations made to organizations like the Food Bank. This doubles the donation and doubles the impact. Or you could start a unique donation page in less than 10 clicks to raise much-needed funds with the help of your family and friends. Include the personalized link in your emails, social media and event invitations for a fun and easy way to invite others to support the Food Bank and make a big difference. You can even start teams to have a friendly competition with friends and coworkers. Learn More about Custom Fund Drives at: http://www.foodbankccs.org/holidays.

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

Food Bank Marks 40th Year Of Battling Hunger

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The end of the calendar year is always a time to reflect on what has been accomplished in the year that is coming to a close and plan for the coming year.

The year 2015 is special for those of us at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano because it is the 40th anniversary of the year we were incorporated, so we look back to when we began as we plan for where we hope to go.

In 1975 the Food Bank started as two employees trying to provide more food to emergency food pantries.

The pantries provided short-term help to people who were waiting to obtain assistance from government aid programs. In our first year we provided more than 30,000 pounds of food through the agencies we served.

Now, 40 years later, through direct distribution and partner agencies like emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofit partners the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provided more than 20 million pounds of food, the most food we have ever distributed.

We had another significant milestone last year with half the food we distributed being fresh produce.

Because of our partnership with the California Association of Food Banks, we have access to millions of pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables that are not marketable to the mainstream, but are still nutritious. In order to get this fresh food to those in need, we have established direct service programs like the Community Produce Program and Farm 2 Kids.

We celebrate the fact we have such a positive impact on low-income people’s lives, both economically and nutritionally.

We are extremely positive about the good work we do and the nutritious food we are able to distribute, but we are concerned that one in eight people living in Contra Costa and Solano counties rely on the Food Bank to get by day to day.

We know it is a positive thing we can provide food every day because people need the help we give. But in the coming years I hope we can work toward the Food Bank again becoming an emergency resource instead of an essential part of the support system for people in need.

It is not acceptable that people should be hungry in an affluent food-rich society like ours.

The Food Bank is proud of what we are able to do every day, providing healthy food to people in need. As long as people are hungry, we still have work to do.

But going forward we need to be part of the conversation about why people need food and what we can do as a society to make sure everyone has the nutrition they need no matter what the economy or life situation.

If you would like to help the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano there are many ways to donate. For every $1 you donate, the Food Bank can distribute two meals to those in need. Donate online at http://www.foodbankccs.org/give-help/donate.html or mail a check to Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, P.O. Box 6324 Concord, CA 94524. All donations to the Food Bank are tax deductible.

You could also become a pledge donor and fight hunger regularly throughout the year by having your donation automatically deducted from your bank account or credit card. Your gift goes directly to the Food Bank, where it is put to work immediately to help feed hungry children and needy adults. Plus it saves time, paper and postage further stretching your donation.

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

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.