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Larry

Food Safety Is A Top Priority For Local Food Bank

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is a member of Feeding America, the national association of food banks. Feeding America food banks are held to a high standards for service, food quality and transparency. We use the same standards as the corporate food industry because food banks realize that low-income people deserve food that meets the same standards as the grocery industry demands.

Food banks have been working with the food industry to demonstrate how we can work in tandem to save food from being wasted. Feeding America collaborated with several major grocery chains as they developed systems that would significantly reduce the amount of food waste in their stores.  Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, SaveMart and other chains established procedures where perishable food items would be pulled from the retail display while the food was still at a high level of quality. In some instances, meat could be frozen or other steps could be taken to extend the useful life of the food. As the grocery industry developed this system, they worked with Feeding America food banks so we could be an effective partner in accepting and distributing the grocery donations they were able to provide.

As the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano set up procedures to accept these donations, we focused on our building structure and developing our training plans. The Food Bank either picks the donations up in our refrigerated trucks or has member agencies directly pick food up from stores. We provide the agencies that pick the food up with thermometers so they can verify the proper temperature of the food and we provide them with thermal blankets to properly transport the food to the agency refrigerators. All the people involved in this effort receive ServSafe® training, so they are properly trained in safe food handling methods. Because we take these steps and because we handle food properly, millions of pounds of valuable food has become available to the people we serve.

Constantly improving the food safety standards of the Food Bank is a constant part of our culture. Part of our contract with Feeding America requires that our warehouse pass a third-party sanitation and safety audit.  AIB International is a food safety audit firm that has been doing training and food safety compliance work for over one hundred years (they began as the American Institute of Baking). With their advice, we developed a thick binder full of processes and protocols that have become part of every decision we make in our warehouse. The procedures our truck drivers and warehouse workers follow insure that the food we distribute is safe.  We take great pride that our audit score (on a scale of 1000 with 700 being a passing grade) was 935. I was pleased that the reaction our warehouse employees had after receiving the good news was to start thinking of how we could improve. We work to get better because it is the right thing to do for the people we serve.

March’s Focus On Nutrition Is A Chance To Educate People On Food Choices

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month, which focuses on educating people to make informed food choices and creating comprehensive dietary habits. Struggling families in Contra Costa and Solano counties often aren’t able to select healthy options. Many turn to less expensive foods that are higher in fat, salt, calories and sugar, which can contribute to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is committed to providing nutrition to local families that otherwise might be out of reach.

We all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but not everyone is able to afford nature’s nutritionally-packed food. This is why the Food Bank distributes a million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each month. In fact, our second biggest distribution program is our Community Produce Program, which focuses solely on produce.

Twice a month through the Community Produce Program, the Food Bank’s customized trucks serve as mobile farmers’ markets. The difference between Community Produce Program and a farmers’ market? The produce is free and up to 20 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are given to each qualifying household at each distribution.

In order to help low-income children have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and establish healthy eating habits at an early age, the Food Bank created the Farm 2 Kids program. We partner with after-school programs in low-income areas in eligible school districts.  Every week during the school year 9,000 children receive a three to five pound bag of produce to take home. Sometimes it is the only food they have for dinner.

For the 1 out of 4 children who struggle with hunger every day, school can serve as a place where they can count on receiving the food they need to learn and thrive. The School Pantry Program provides nutritious, nonperishable food to students attending qualified low-income schools. The School Pantries are located on school grounds and run by a school staff member.  This way food can be given out discreetly to avoid any embarrassment that many students already experience during high school years.

The office manager of one high school realized a girl at school was not eating anything except for the free lunch she received at school.  When she spoke with this girl, the student explained that her dad has diabetes and they spend all of their money on buying him special foods.  Sometimes there is just not enough for her brothers and sisters.  She is now able to pick out the foods her family can eat like brown rice, canned vegetables without salt and low-sugar cereals.  This is a nutrition need that the Food Bank would not be able to identify on our own.  Through these strategic partnerships the Food Bank is able to help students of all ages in a way that provides the nutrition they need and helps them to be ready to learn.

In addition to these specific programs that address the nutritional needs of people in our community, the Food Bank also offers nutrition support in the form of recipes and education. We strive to educate clients and volunteers at partnering agencies about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, small servings and nutritionally balanced meals. Budget-friendly recipes and cooking tips are provided at distributions, in newsletters and on our website. These resources help individuals turn the ingredients they receive from the Food Bank into delicious and nutritious meals.

Although March marks National Nutrition Month, our mission here at the Food Bank is to supply families with healthy food year round.

Changes Helped To Grow, Improve Food Program

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Most of the changes that have taken place at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano have come about in a natural evolutionary process.  We have grown into an organization that wants to provide our clients with not just food, but healthy and nutritious food.

Our initial focus on providing healthier food started with selecting better nutritional options when purchasing food from our suppliers. We started purchasing fruit packed in juice without added sugar, reduced-sodium canned vegetables, peanut butter without added sugar and canned tuna packed in water, rather than oil. The cost of food is always a concern to us and the agencies we serve, but we also realize that short-term savings decisions we make can have long-term health impacts on those who eat the food we provide.

Our nutritional efforts further expanded when we started working with the California Association of Food Banks to obtain donations of unmarketable but wholesome fresh produce.  We started receiving oranges, apples, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions and more.  This produce is not marketable for a number of reasons, but it is full of nutrients and is a valuable resource to the individuals we serve.  This supply of fresh produce became vital as we built distribution programs like Food for Children, Farm 2 Kids and the Community Produce Program. We have found that people do want to eat well, as they know it will improve their overall health.

Unfortunately, low-income people often have trouble getting the fresh produce they need, as it can often be expensive and difficult to obtain. We know we are making a difference when we send a truck load of fresh produce to low-income schools and local health clinics. Now over half of the food we distribute annually is fresh produce. To add more value to the produce we provide, we started offering recipe ideas and nutrition information at distributions and in newsletters. With this information, our clients can turn the ingredients we provide into healthy meals.

To get a general nutritional overview of the food we were distributing, we began evaluating the percentage of food that we would consider “good” (cookies, soda and sweets are not considered “good”). We developed a standard that had some subjective judgments, but we have stayed consistent to the standard we set, giving us a good evaluation tool.  Over the years, we have seen our standard of “poor food” decline from 7% of the total food we distribute to now be approximately 2%.  With the Food Bank purchasing healthier nonperishable food and the increase in fresh produce that we distribute, it is clear that the focus is not just on the quantity of food, but the quality of food as well. When individuals eat healthier, our entire society wins.

Food Bank Marks 40 Years Of Service

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: In 1975 Linda Locke worked in the Contra Costa County Social Service Department.  When she was not able to sign a client up for food stamps because of missing paperwork, she would refer the person to the food room in a local faith community.   Volunteers in those food rooms would provide the person in need with a three-day package of food to get by. Linda soon discovered that the food room inventory would run short before the end of the month.  Being a resourceful type, Linda worked with her department, faith communities, food donors and obtained the loan of a trailer from Safeway.  Using county trucks and two desks in a county office, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano was born.  Little did I suspect when I began working for the organization in March of 1976 that I would be writing an article today that celebrates the 40th anniversary of an incredible idea.

Beginning with the storage trailer and two staff members (I was the truck driver) we distributed just over 30,000 pounds of food to the food pantries in our first year.  I would not have believed that forty years later we would have seventy people on our staff, 88,000 hours of volunteer time and would distribute twenty-million pounds of food in our community each year.  I would not have guessed that half the food we give out would go through direct service programs, where we bring food to church parking lots or health clinics.  Serving Contra Costa and Solano Counties, we provide food to a large geographic area. We continue to improve the service we provide to nearly two-hundred nonprofit agencies.  It is essential for us to make the food we provide easily accessible to the people in need. With half of the food we distribute being fresh fruit and vegetables, it’s critical that we distribute the perishable produce in a quick and efficient manner so individuals can benefit from the added nutrition.

The first fundraising effort we made was applying for a grant from the Presbyterian Church to buy food for the pantries we served.  Today we continue raising money so we can provide food, including fresh produce, to the people we serve.  Through the generous support of many significant donors, we have a matching fund up to $100,000 for those who make a donation to honor and acknowledge our forty years of nourishing our community.  It is a different world than it was forty years ago, but hunger is still part of our community and people need food every day. These financial contributions to honor our forty years of service will help our neighbors in need.

Senior Food Program Expands Reach

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Did you know more than half of the households served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano have had to choose between paying for medicine/medical care or food? For seniors living solely on social security this is especially true. Through the Senior Food Program, people 55 and over receive nutritionally balanced bags of food so they may not have to make those tough decisions.

Thanks to community support the Food Bank can help ease the burden for senior citizens.

The canned goods, bread and produce seniors are able to receive have a market value of approximately $50 per month and allow them to stretch their budgets to pay for medicine, rent, utilities and other necessities.

Since 2010, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has seen a 90% increase in the number of people we serve through the Senior Food Program. One of the ways we have been able to reach more seniors is by increasing the number of low-income senior housing complexes we provide food to.

Many low-income seniors who reside in senior housing are unable to travel to food distribution sites due to health issues and a lack of transportation.

If a senior housing complex can provide someone to pick up the food at the Food Bank warehouses in either Concord or Fairfield, Food Bank staff will help them load their vehicle.  The food is then taken back to the complex and volunteers, usually a few of residents along with their service coordinator, bag it in the common room. This provides an opportunity for the seniors to enjoy some social time while they are working and doing something useful for their fellow residents.

Those who are able can come down and get their groceries when the bags are ready, and for those who aren’t, their bags are delivered to them. We are happy to provide this service twice a month to the many low-income seniors who are unable to travel to an open distribution site.

In 2014, we added two new senior food distribution sites in Solano County, Heritage Commons in Dixon and Woodcreek Senior Commons in Fairfield.  They join Vacaville Senior Manor which has been with the food bank several years.  In Contra Costa County, Berrellessa Palms in Martinez joined the food bank in 2014 along with Golden Oak Manor in Oakley, Sycamore Place in Danville, and Columbia Park Manor in Pittsburg.

Beginning in February, 2015 Senior Manor Apartments in Fairfield will add additional seniors to the Senior Food Program at the Food Bank.  We are happy to provide this service twice a month to the many low- income seniors who are unable to travel to an open distribution site.

Learn how you can help seniors at www.foodbankccs.org/seniorhunger.

Seniors Should Not Have To Chose Between Food And Medicine

 

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Can you imagine living in your car in your retirement?  That’s a reality Dollie, a 73 year old woman from Fairfield, faced recently. In poor health and with very limited income, Dollie could no longer keep up with the rising costs of her food, gas, medications, and rent, and she faced some desperate choices.

At an age when many working Americans are planning their retirement vacations, or spending more time with their grandchildren, Dollie was homeless. She worked all her life, but her limited income and health benefits provided through our safety net programs for seniors were simply inadequate.

Dollie found help and shared her story with the National Senior Citizens Law Center who gave the Food Bank permission to retell her story. It is important for these types of stories to be told as many of our seniors don’t have enough to make ends meet.

With their limited income, more than half of the households served by the Food Bank have had to choose between paying for medicine, medical care, or food.

In fact, 1 in 7 of all people 65 and over are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Supplemental Poverty Measure. That’s 6.4 million of our parents and grandparents struggling daily to put food on the table, pay rent and afford the medical care they need.

According to a report released by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, from the start of the recession in 2007 to 2012, the number of older people threatened by hunger has jumped 49 percent.

No senior should have to choose between food and the medicine they need.

With your help, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is able to provide groceries to more than 3,000 senior households each month through the Senior Food Program. Seniors 55 and over receive nutritionally balanced bags of food so they may not have to make those tough decisions.

For more information on how you can help the Food Bank provide nutrition to seniors, please visit www.foodbankccs.org/seniorhunger. To find a Senior Food Program site near you, visit http://www.foodbankccs.org/get-help/senior-food-program.html or call 855-309-FOOD.

 

 

Holiday Donations Exceed Food Bank’s 6 Million Meal Goal

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: We want to thank everyone for the incredible community support during the holidays, helping the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano exceed our six million meal goal. The community donated over 600,000 pounds of food and enough funds to provide over 8,500,000 meals throughout the year! So many groups contributed, including shoppers at local grocery stores, banks, credit unions, Scouts, realtors, schools and county employees.

Some of the grocery stores we work with put together bags of food that give us our most-needed food (tuna, peanut butter, pasta and pasta sauce).  They priced these bags at $10 or so and made it an easy donation for a shopper who wanted to make a difference.  The Safeway stores in Solano County, for example, donated nearly 19,000 pounds of food this last holiday season, because Safeway made it easy for their shoppers to give.

Families like Angel and Lisa have already benefited from the fantastic community support during the holidays. Lisa is on dialysis and needed help with groceries. They attended a distribution at a Food Bank partner agency where they received a turkey and groceries for the holidays. Thanks to you, Angel spent the holidays with family and “ate lots of food!”

The number of people the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides food to has increased more than 25% in the last two years. In fact, one in eight residents now relies on the Food Bank. Hunger exists in every corner of our community and affects people of all ages, ethnicities, education levels and employment status. The economy may be getting better, but for far too many in our community that has not yet translated into an income level that can keep food on the table.

Last year, the Food Bank provided the equivalent of 16 million meals to your neighbors in need; more than half of the food was fresh produce. With the help we received during the holidays, we can project another year of meeting the high need.

To help feed a neighbor in need, contact the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano at www.foodbankccs.org or 855-309-FOOD.

Survey Shows CalFresh Clients Want Healthy Choices

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Access and affordability of nutritious food items are two common and significant obstacles for many people in our region. CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps, increases access by giving recipients monthly benefits to purchase groceries.

Recipients of CalFresh are limited to only purchasing food with the benefits they receive. They cannot buy soap, toilet paper or toothpaste. Debates have been going on for some time about limiting the type purchases being made with CalFresh benefits; for example, no soda. A recent survey by California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) took the time to ask recipients their thoughts on this debate. The survey showed that recipients think CalFresh helps them eat healthfully. At the Food Bank we hear from countless recipients who share that CalFresh allows their grocery dollars to go further. We are told, simply being able to get milk is a huge relief.

According to CFPA, eighty percent of those surveyed indicated that they were aware that sugary drinks are bad for your health and eighty-seven percent of the parents surveyed think it is important to limit how many sweetened beverages their children consume. However, when I think that for the price of one gallon of milk, four to five 2-liter sodas could be purchased instead, I realize it is not easy for these families to make the healthier purchases.

Interestingly, nearly two thirds of the CalFresh recipients surveyed said they would be in favor of limiting beverage purchases if that action was taken at the same time an increase in benefits was implemented. If they had more benefits they could afford healthier options such as 100% juice and milk rather than soda.

I believe this survey shows us that we need to continue to look at proposed changes to CalFresh from the point of view of the millions of Californians who are struggling to make ends meet and trying to lead healthy, productive lives.

If anyone is interested in learning more about CalFresh or needs help applying for benefits, please contact the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano toll-free at 855-309-FOOD.

Food Bank Supplements Where Social Security Doesn’t Provide

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Whenever I think about the 3,000 people the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides food to through our Senior Food Program, I know that part of the reason they need food is because they depend on the Social Security program.  We now understand that Social Security is not supposed to be the sole source of income for a retired person, but many retirees thought it was their retirement plan.  If you look at the total number of retirees receiving Social Security, it is only 38% of the total income those people receive.  Of the entire group, 52% of married couples and 74% of unmarried individuals have over 50% of their income coming from Social Security.  When you consider that group of people, 22% of the married people and 47% of the individuals get 90% of their income from Social Security.  There is a wide range in how much people depend on Social Security with some depending on the program a great deal.

The reason people need to come to the Senior Food Program is because the average Social Security payment is $1,294 per month.  If an individual was getting 90% of their income from Social Security they would have a total income of less than $17,000 a year and a married couple would earn just over $31,000.  Where can they find an apartment they can afford?  Where do they cut their cost when medical issues hit them with copay costs?

Even people who live in subsidized housing face these challenges.  Even people who pay on a sliding scale can pay $800 a month.  In talking to someone we partner with at a subsidized senior residence, she reminded me that most of the people they serve are unmarried (more widows than widowers).  She spoke about one person who only had $20 for her food budget after she met all her living expenses.  Several of the people who live in their residence had made retirement plans but lost most of what they had set aside when the market crashed.  People who had lived in the community their whole lives saw their income fall so that they were no longer able to pay taxes and maintenance costs on their home.  The plans they made failed because of circumstances beyond their control.  Now they are trying to live on what Social Security provides.

The area people can cut costs is the food they buy, so the Senior Food Program makes a real difference in their lives.  We do not provide all the food a person needs, but seniors receive bread, fruit, vegetables and canned food.  Twice a month we are able to help people get just a little bit more.  Senior citizens are proud people who do not want to take charity.  People have worked their whole lives to be independent, but their world has changed.  Social Security does not give people enough income to buy the healthy food a senior deserves.

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.