Author Archive

Larry

“Simply stated, SNAP works” – We Need to Continue to Invest in Our Future

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  Mathmatica Policy Research did a study that led them to conclude “simply stated, SNAP works”.  (The SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly known as the food stamp program and is known as CalFresh in California).  Mathmatica’s research demonstrated that because they participated in the program, children had significant improvements in their consistent access to food, also known as their “food security”.

The Mathmatica food security study surveyed 3000 families and compared the status of families newly-enrolled in the program with those who had been in the program for six or seven months.  In the initial part of the study, 37% of newly-enrolled families were food insecure, while those who had been on the program six months or more were at 27%.  When they checked the newly-enrolled group after six months they had seen their food insecurity decline from 37% to 25%.  This type of research shows the wisdom of feeding those in need in our community.

If an individual is food insecure they cannot find enough food or purchase enough food for themselves.  In a society as rich as ours, with huge agricultural surpluses, there is no reason an individual should be food insecure.  More importantly, there is no reason a child should be in that position.  Increases in SNAP/CalFresh that were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were eliminated in November of 2013.  After that, Congress cut $8 billion in funding for the program over the next ten years.  Because of these actions, average benefits for recipients will drop below $130 a month.  I know there are some people who can make that work, but I also know from my attempts to live on the average CalFresh budget for a week, that the benefits are not enough.   These budget cuts will have a negative impact on people’s ability to feed their children.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and he told me stories of receiving blocks of cheese and bags of sugar from the government.  I don’t think he was ever hungry, but he lived in a house where concern about the next meal was a part of their life.  He saved every scrap of leftovers until the day he died and his choices in the grocery store always were always based on price.  I think we are in danger that the budget decisions that are being made are creating a generation that will be as food insecure as those who lived through the Great Depression.

It’s frustrating that we are cutting a program that provides hungry people the ability to get food.  People are on the program for a short period of time (average of nine months) and research shows that the effects are positive, whether you measure improved nutrition or food security.  By giving people SNAP/CalFresh benefits, we are making sure that our children receive the food they need.  We are making an investment in the future of our society when we help hungry families.

Changing the Way We Eat, Beginning With Our Children

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Change is never easy. We all know people who tout their flexibility and their openness to change, but lock themselves up when change begins. (Other people of course, not us.) At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano it is interesting to watch this take place around a subject everyone knows needs to be addressed, improving the nutrition of our children.

Obesity has risen dramatically among younger people (and adults too) over the past twenty years meaning that diabetes and other diseases are becoming a major health problem for our society. The astronomical costs of treating those diseases, as well as the other problems we face as an obese society can be prevented by changing what we eat. Most of us recognize we eat too many fats, too much sugar, too many empty calories. In principle we all understand that we should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and more whole grains.

If we are going to take steps to implement these changes, one of the most effective ways is to start with our children through the school lunch program. By providing students with a healthy lunch, we can give them good food to eat once a day as well as helping to educate them about how good food tastes. Seems simple, right?

In fact, changing school lunches has become a major political issue. The School Nutrition Association, a lobbying group that focuses on school lunches has switched its position from supporting the changes recently implemented in nutrition standards to now asking for relief from those standards. There are anecdotes about the disruption the new standards have caused that raise legitimate concerns. Stories are told of schools in the Southwest having whole grain tortillas thrown away because they are not culturally acceptable. Applesauce is thrown away as are fresh fruit and vegetables. And of course, funding is not adequate for these districts to provide increasingly expensive healthy food.

On the other side, school districts in rural Georgia share stories of how they were able to move from fried chicken (a Southern staple) to herb-baked chicken that kids love. Locally grown grits are one of the most popular items for their school breakfast program. Here in our community, some school districts are purchasing fresh produce from local farms, providing healthy locally-grown food to their students.

But beyond these operational issues, on the political side, a group named the Coalition for Sustainable School Meals Programs has pushed Congress to designate pizza with tomato sauce as a vegetable. The goal of providing healthy food to our children gets complicated because providing school lunches is a multi-billion dollar program.

While a few people may defend the status quo of the school lunch program, most agree that change is necessary for the good of our children. For the sake of our health, we need to see a change in our individual diets, and that will only come about through education. We need to begin with our children.

Food Bank Offers Healthy Food Choices

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: It’s no great secret that the way we Americans eat is killing us. According to the Center for Disease Control, 35% of adults 21 years of age and older were obese in 2012. The percentage of adults who are overweight (which includes those who are obese) was 69%. The frightening fact is that even our children are obese, with 12% to 18% classified as obese depending on their age. Diabetes is also a significant problem nationwide with over $28 billion being spent on diabetes treatment in California in 2012.

These problems are caused by the diets we eat. Fast food, huge portions and enormous amounts of sugar lead to obesity and diabetes. If we want to address these health issues, people will need to change the way they eat. How to do this is a complicated question. There are those who would like to mandate what people eat. Some people want to begin with individuals who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits. New York City tried to ban the use of these funds to buy high-sugar drinks, but ran into resistance from soda manufacturers and some civil libertarians. The New York City plan to control what food recipients purchase was overruled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instead of mandating what people can or cannot eat, public health advocates want to generate change by making healthy food more economical and attractive. Along with programs that distribute fresh produce, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides access to recipes and a nutrition educator. We are also able to distribute coupons to the low-income individuals we serve so they can purchase fresh produce at farmers markets. The California Market Match Consortium was created to distribute funds obtained from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and private donors. We let the people we are helping enroll in the CalFresh program know that they can obtain Market Match coupons to use at the farmers markets. As a bonus, people receive $5 worth of bonus scrip for every $10 they spend at the farmers market. This program can grow through a $100 million allocation in the 2014 federal Farm Bill and a $2.75 million per year (for five years) Market Match Nutrition Incentive fund included in a California Assembly bill.

The Food Bank also distributes farmers market coupons to low-income senior citizens through our Senior Food Program. Funds from the California Department of Food and Agriculture provide us with $20 booklets of coupons that seniors can use at their local farmers market. Over 1600 of these coupon books go to the Senior Food program participants, helping them obtain healthy produce on a continuing basis. The Food Bank sees its responsibility as helping those who want to change what they eat. We will distribute over ten million pounds of fresh produce this year. Providing farmers markets coupons and giving people fresh produce also allows healthy change to take place. People want to eat well and they want to be healthy. The Food Bank wants to make that possible for the people we serve.

A Look at the Numbers, and the Individuals, Food Banks Around the Nation Help

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Feeding America, the national food bank network, recently released findings about the “missing meals” in each county in the United States. The Map the Meal Gap project was created, to learn more about the face of hunger at the local level. We now see that 1 in 7 people in the area are food insecure and that includes nearly 22,000 children in Solano County. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells us that 49 million people are in danger of hunger nationally. But as I considered those numbers, I was shocked when I saw that 1 in 5 children are in danger of hunger.

Hunger is a pervasive and solvable problem throughout the country. Studies like Map the Meal Gap 2014 (Meal Gap) allow Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano to continue to evaluate and adjust to the need in our area. With the extensive and revealing data provided, we will be armed with the information needed to work towards making sure everyone has enough to eat. The research data includes weekly food-budget shortfalls, demographics and poverty levels which help us determine the social issues in our area and work together as a community to find a solution.

The Meal Gap and USDA numbers say the same thing in many different ways: it is not acceptable for a country as rich as the United States to have children who do not get the food they need. Even one child going hungry is not ok. It does not make sense that hunger should be accepted, no matter the number.

Lori puts a face to those numbers. She is a food assistance participant in Fairfield. She describes her life before 3 years ago as having been “always married with children” and never having to worry about food or that type of thing. Three years ago she went through a very difficult divorce and found herself in financial trouble and needing to take care of her 2 children (now 12 and 14).

A nurse, she worked at the Public Authority with the elderly doing in-home support services, but she has been off work from there since August on disability – which means money is very tight.

The healthy vegetables, rice, cereal, apples, sweet potatoes and other staples she gets from the Food Bank are a huge nutritious boost to her and her children- and it means she can actually afford to buy meat on occasion. Simply being able to get milk (now quite expensive) is a huge relief.

Lori stresses that she appreciates every bit of the help she gets, and she feels it is teaching her kids how to share, be humble, conquer their fears and not be afraid to ask for help. She says their faces light up on days she picks up food, they are so excited to get the healthy yogurts, fruits and veggies she is able to bring home.

Lori hopes that people will see that there is little truth to the stereotypes about people taking advantage to the system. That those who get food, are like you and me, just in need of some help.

I am proud that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano can help our neighbors like Lori. We will distribute nearly 21 million pounds of food to our neighbors in need this fiscal year, and nearly half that food will be fresh produce. We recognize however that we are one part of the answer. Nutrition programs like CalFresh, school lunch and senior citizen feeding programs demonstrate that as a country know how to extend a helping hand when our neighbors need food. When we see that food is needed, people motivate our response, not numbers.

If you would like to learn more, a summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.

Program Today Helps Nonprofits Across the Region

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: I think we can all say we know the slight discomfort that comes between meals, so we can imagine what it would feel like to not be able to get the food you need when you want it. When people spend time learning about the issue of hunger and they understand that over 49 million Americans live in food insecure households, they realize this is a community problem we all need to work together to address.

By supporting the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano people can make a difference in the lives of hungry people in our community. People engage by donating food to us through our community food drives, volunteering at our warehouses or community events and helping to distribute food to people in need. People give their time and energy because they understand that the Food Bank is an effective organization, keeping our administrative and fund development costs to four cents out of every dollar. They also know that we can provide two meals for every dollar donated, showing a strong return because the community cares.

But it’s no great secret that an ongoing issue at every nonprofit organization is raising the money we must have to do our work. Less than 10% of our funding comes from the government; most comes from the community, with most of the community funds coming from individuals.

So many concerns face our community from hunger to environment and education to health. Given the need for all nonprofits to raise financial support, local foundations are working together through Give Local America to make a broad appeal for the support all nonprofits need. In order to be part of building a large community appeal, the Food Bank is participating in the Give Local America one-day fund raising effort on May 6. On a local basis, people can donate through the East Bay Community Foundation (eastbaygives.org) or through the Richmond Community Foundation (wegivecontracosta.org). At those sites, donors can give to the local charities that are participating in the drive. Other than credit card fees, all the money that is donated goes directly to the charity donors choose.

Give Local America came about in celebration of the 100th anniversary of community foundations in America and the vital role they have played developing and supporting local philanthropy. On May 6, 2014 from 12:00am – 11:59pm, you can check out real-time leaderboard to see how the Food Bank and any other favorite nonprofits are doing. Follow the conversation on Twitter and Facebook by using the #GiveLocalAmerica hashtag.

Give Local America is partnering with foundations and charities to increase the generosity of the community. We all believe people want to help make their community a better place to live. Supporting local nonprofits creates a stronger community for all our neighbors.

A Conversation With Congressman John Garamendi

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: With the support of a generous community, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano was able to provide over eight million pounds of fresh produce to people in need last year. As food banks across the country continue to increase the services we provide, our members of congress have had to make some tough choices including cutting funds to federal nutrition programs.

In Contra Costa and Solano counties, over 200,000 people are food insecure and of that population, nearly half do not qualify for federal nutrition assistance meaning that they need to turn to the food bank and our partner agencies. And of those that do qualify for assistance, it is still not enough to make ends meet.

As an organization on the front lines of hunger, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano feels that we need to help inform our elected officials about the impact their decisions have on the low-income people we serve.

We had a chance to sit down with Congressman John Garamendi recently to discuss these very issues that our communities are facing. Being from a district that is a major agricultural area and as a pear rancher, Congressman Garamendi knows the issues we face when we try to access to fresh produce.

He asked how we felt about the compromise in the recently passed Farm Bill; whether the increase we will see in the amount of food we receive from the US Department of Agriculture will make up for the cuts in the CalFresh (food stamp) program. We expressed our gratitude at having additional food to provide to the people we serve, but it is not enough to offset the significant cuts in the CalFresh program. In fact, we continue to reach out to the people who receive food from us so we can enroll them in CalFresh. The CalFresh is the best way to get people the food they need to feed their families. The Food Bank is an important supplement to the CalFresh program, but Congressman Garamendi knows we cannot replace a program that provides essential food to families in need.

Congressman Garamendi told us a story about his daughter, a kindergarten teacher, who took her class on a field trip to a community garden. As the class was getting back on the bus, they realized one child was not with them, so his daughter ran back to the garden where she found the child sitting under a trellis of hanging cucumbers. The child was about halfway through eating the cucumber he had in his hand, but he also had his pockets full of other cucumbers he had picked. The boy was filling his stomach with a cucumber in the garden, but he made sure he had others to take home to share with his brother at home.

The Food Bank has enough food to make sure people do not go completely without, but it is not enough to solve the persistent issue of hunger. By giving our elected officials important information about the need in their community, we hope they can pass laws that will allow us to help each other meet the basic need for food. We can learn from the boy in the cucumber patch. Even in a difficult time, he thought to take care of his own needs and those of his brother as well.

38 Years of Food Banking

cfcoalition 77

The Community Food Coalition 2 years after it was founded in 1977. Larry Sly is 3rd from the right.

I just celebrated my 38th year working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and so it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the changes I have seen. When I was hired, I was the second employee; the one and only truck driver. At that time the Food Bank was a trailer Safeway had loaned us to store canned food. Our job was to provide food to 17 food pantries that gave people an emergency three-day food supply. Individuals who tried to obtain government assistance programs like CalFresh (food stamps) often found that they had neglected to bring proper documentation, so the eligibility worker was able to use the community resource these food pantries represented to deal with a short term emergency.

We still provide food to pantries today, in addition to our direct service programs, but many programs now provide food to people on a regular basis. Even if people receive government support, they have difficult time getting by on a limited income. The first Food Bank direct program was what is now known as the Senior Food Program because we saw that people could not make ends meet on Social Security alone. The Food Assistance Program was set up to give surplus food from the US Department of Agriculture to low-income people. The availability of fresh produce allowed for the creation of the Farm 2 Kids program and the Community Produce Program.

Food Banking has changed as the need in the community changed. The government programs that provide financial assistance to people in need have greatly diminished. While we cannot make up the loss, we are able to make a difference for those at risk of hunger. We’d like to get back to a place where people only need food from us in an emergency, but until hunger is recognized as a national issue, the Food Bank will do all we can to help people get the nutritious food they need.

How the Drought Could Effect the Food Bank’s Ability to Provide Food to People in Need in Our Community

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Those of us at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano are proud that we have been able to increase the amount of food we distribute to people in need in our community. We serve over 149,000 people each month, and our job is to provide them as much food as we can. We also try to give them the healthiest food we can, so we have dramatically increased the amount of fresh produce we distribute. Last year we gave away eight million pounds of produce as part of the eighteen million pounds of food we distributed, and we are on track to give out ten million pounds of produce this year.

Our plans depend on the excess produced by California agriculture however, so we are very concerned about the effect the drought will have on the produce available to us. Food comes to us from the produce producing areas in our state, so we worry about how much cauliflower and broccoli will be grown in the Salinas Valley. Carrots, onions and potatoes may not be available to us if growers can’t get water. Fruit trees may only receive enough water to keep the tree alive, not enough to allow it to produce fruit.

The decisions being made about how we allocate the water available to us will have an impact on everyone. We will all pay more for food because less will be produced at a higher cost. We also see that the increasing international demand for food driving up the cost of both fresh and canned food. The Food Bank depends on California agriculture and we fear that this is a year we will have less food at an increased cost as we try to help those in need.

The Food Bank and Good Nutrition

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month which causes us to reflect on the changes that have occurred at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano over the past several years. Our first priority is to see that people have enough to eat; everyone needs enough calories. But people who lack money should not have to get by on food that is empty calories; we all deserve good nutrition. So the Food Bank focuses on buying food that helps us meet that goal. The canned fruit we purchase is packed in juice, without additional sugar. We buy low-salt vegetables. Whole wheat pasta and rolled oats provide good nutrition as well as filling you up.

We have made the most significant changes in the area of nutrition with our Community Produce Program. We will distribute nearly three million pounds of fresh produce to people in our community this year. People are able to take home approximately 25 pounds of fresh produce twice a month. In addition, we have a nutritionist at the distribution sites offering people educational materials and recipes. The Community Produce Program hopes to provide people food and help them understand how best to stretch their limited dollars.

People understand that their health is related to the food they eat. But people with limited budgets constantly have to decide if fast food (incredibly cheap and convenient) is a better choice than fresh food. We are currently doing a study to see whether people change their patterns and eat more fruit and vegetables because the Community Produce Program made fresh produce part of their normal meals. I think the message is very clear that what we eat determines our health. National Nutrition Month gives us an opportunity to show that message applies to everyone.

A Local Business, Filling an Important Role in Our Local Economy

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted a recent mixer for the local Chamber of Commerce and it reminded me of the many roles the Food Bank plays in the community. I often focus on the “non-profit” side of our status as a non-profit corporation, downplaying our role as a local business. But when we gather with other local businesses in Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo, I realize that we are like many other small businesses in our community.

We employ more than 60 people in Solano and Contra Costa counties. We own a warehouse in Concord and lease 30,000 square feet of warehouse space in Fairfield. We have bobtails and tractor trailer trucks that deliver millions of pounds of food to agencies in our community. While we do not pay business or property taxes because of our non-profit status, we pay DMV fees, sales tax, Social Security taxes, Worker’s Comp, etc. We provide health insurance for our employees.

As a local business, we consume fuel (lots of fuel), we buy boxes to store donated food, and we buy bags for produce. We buy office supplies, pallet jacks and forklifts. We contract with a payroll service, a janitorial service and firms that provide training to our staff. We have a Board of Directors that approves a budget and sets operating goals. We provide them with monthly dashboard reports to track our progress.

We are members of the Chamber of Commerce because we are a locally-based food distribution business. The only thing that makes us different is that our business is providing food to other non-profit organizations or directly to people in need. Because of our mission, we have non-profit status, but we are a local business, filling an important role in our local economy.