Author Archive

Larry

Help Make Holidays a Little Brighter for Those in Need

Every year during the holiday season, we are especially thankful for all of our caring supporters who have joined the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in our fight against hunger.  The holiday spirit means people are willing to donate money, food or time to make a difference.  County employees in both Solano and Contra Costa collect money to help the Food Bank’s work by doing bake sales or “a cream pie in the department head’s face” fundraisers.  Golf tournaments and food collections at holiday parties benefit the Food Bank.  Donations are given during “Sing Along Messiah” events.  Food and money are raised in Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith communities.  Businesses collect food and money, schools join the effort, the whole community comes together to make a difference.

 

The story of need in the community is more prominent during the holidays.  News stories during this time help us see that most of the people who need food are not that different than us.  People who come to the Food Bank have had unfortunate circumstances take place that mean they need help.  Because of the generosity of the community, the Food Bank can make a difference.

 

The community trusts us to provide food to our neighbors in need during the holidays and all year long.  Thanks to our generous community, we are gathering food from those who want to give and are distributing it to partner agencies and directly to people who need help.  Together we are making the holidays a little brighter for people in need right here in our community.

 

To learn more about how you can make a difference this holiday season, visit our holiday ways to help page.

Budget Cuts Hurt Low-Income Households

Editorial originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Passing the Federal budget takes away one piece of chaos from the “perfect storm” striking low-income people, but it certainly doesn’t end the challenges they face. Those who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits may be surprised on November 1 when the benefits they receive go down. A family of four will see a 5% decline in the $668 monthly CalFresh benefit they receive, losing $36 each month and over $400 annually.

This is extremely frustrating for us who are trying to help low-income people get food because the CalFresh reduction is a political decision. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) increased the CalFresh benefits people receive. This increase helped get more food to low-income people, and helped stimulate the economy because those dollars were spent in grocery stores every month. In 2010 Congress passed bills to end this stimulus early because a decision was made that there were more important places to use the funds. Little publicity came out about this action, so people who are depending on CalFresh benefits to feed their children will be surprised when they receive less help in November.

The more frustrating part is that Congress is also considering a proposal to reduce expenditures on the CalFresh program by $40 billion over the next ten years. This doesn’t make sense when the Food Bank is providing food to more people than we ever have before. As the cost of living continues to go up, people have a difficult time making ends meet, even if they have a working individual in their family. As recent events around the Federal budget show, difficult political decisions are being made. The Food Bank must continue to speak up for the people we serve.

Helping Prevent Childhood Hunger in Solano, Contra Costa Counties

Originally published in the Vacaville Reporter: Teachers know it’s difficult to educate a hungry child. Day-to-day, hungry students cannot focus and are not learning. Long term, students who do not eat well develop health problems caused by poor nutrition. To help students be healthy and ready to learn, the school lunch program makes sure every child in public school has a meal available to them every school day.

In order to continue this important program, a summer lunch program exists so that children can continue to get food year round. But budget cuts mean few schools actually have a summer school program, so children do not come to school each day causing participation in the summer lunch program to drop significantly. Both Contra Costa and Solano County school districts have responded in creative ways to continue providing meals to eligible children. Vacaville schools, for example, have a mobile lunch truck that takes meals to low-income housing areas, making it easy for children to get the food they need. While these systems help, overall results are a good news/bad news situation.

On the positive side, Contra Costa County has the 9th highest participation rate in the state of children who receive free and reduced price lunches continuing on the summer lunch program. Solano County does well too, having the 13th highest rate. The negative side is that Contra Costa only has 17 percent of the children participating and Solano only has 12 percent. Because of the suburban nature of our communities, we need to have a “place” where those in need can go to get the food they need. Schools are a common area where people trust those helping educate and care for their children. Investing in our schools provides a place to care for our children, both educationally and nutritionally.

Learn more about child hunger and ways you can help at www.foodbankccs.org/childhunger.

 

Getting to the Heart of Poverty Problem

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter – I am incredibly proud of the work the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano does. We are currently distributing more than 16 million pounds of food a year to approximately 149,000 people each month, and through our Community Produce Program will distribute an additional 2 million pounds of fresh produce this year, making a total of 8 million pounds.

But when I take a step back, I realize that the fact we are serving nearly 50 percent more people than we were serving six years ago demonstrates a real problem. The need for food is an indicator of larger problems we need to deal with as a community.

What gives me hope is that I see agencies and people who provide assistance coming together to work on the issues we face. Government agencies, nonprofits, schools, and foundations are part of the Solano Safety Net that is working to see how we can best combine our efforts to help our community.

At a recent meeting, we talked about the fact that the recidivism rate for parolees is 70 percent. The sheriff knows that part of that is because 40 percent of the inmates in county jail read at a fourth-grade level. They are released into a community where they have no support system and have little chance of getting a job.

Although the 70 percent rate is high, there is not yet enough public support to make a change.

We all need to collaborate to strengthen the safety net, making sure that food, shelter and services are there for people who need help.

We can also work on the bigger issues, recognizing that education and job training prevent people from needing to access the safety net.

When the community creates systems that help people provide for themselves, the safety net will be the short-term response it should be.

For ways you can help strengthen the safety net, contact Lisa Sherrill, lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

Seniors Choose Between Groceries and Medicine

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: After a lifetime of work, many seniors are living on fixed incomes that often force them to choose between paying for health care or buying groceries. Because seniors often need medication to maintain their health, many elderly Americans must choose between medicine and the foods they need to stay healthy.

Limited mobility and dependence on outside assistance makes seniors particularly vulnerable to hunger. Food insecurity among this vulnerable population is especially troublesome because they have unique nutritional needs and may require special diets for medical conditions.

According to Hunger in America 2010, among client households with seniors, 30 percent have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides groceries twice a month to seniors right in their own communities and partners with other nonprofit organizations to get food to those seniors that need it most.

One of the first direct distributions the Food Bank established was the Senior Food Program. Beginning with 50 recipients, we have grown the Senior Food Program to 3,300 seniors at 28 sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties. Last year, more than 1.3 million pounds of food went to the senior citizens who participate in this program.

Senior hunger is of particular importance in Contra Costa and Solano counties, where so many seniors rely on the Food Bank each month to put food on their tables.

As our elected officials make decisions about state and federal budgets, it’s important that our community know that many of our seniors right here in Contra Costa and Solano counties rely on both federal nutrition programs and food banks to get by each month.

To learn more about how you can help, please visit www.foodbankccs.org/seniorhunger.

State of the Union Message Hits Home

In this politically charged time, the State of the Union address represents different things to different people. Depending on the analysis you hear, it either represents a statement of values or an overt political document.

From my point of view, I am pleased that the president acknowledged the issues low-income people face in our society. I agree with the president that it is not right that people who work should have to come to food banks to get enough food for their families. As good as the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is at providing food to low-income people, we should not be seen as our nation’s first response to hunger.

When I began with the Food Bank in 1976, we were supporting a group of charitable food pantries that provided emergency help to people having difficulty receiving government assistance. Through the years, food banks throughout the country have moved from this partnership distribution model to becoming direct service providers themselves.

Food Bank direct distribution such as the Community Produce Program, Senior Food Program, or Farm to Kids provides millions of pounds of food directly to those in need. Our service is no longer solely for emergencies; we are now providing supplemental food directly to those who need help because, otherwise, the cost of living may mean going without groceries.

I hope the State of the Union address is the start of a conversation about how we help poor people in our country on a larger scale.

Half the people we serve have a working individual in the family, so the discussion about raising the minimum wage needs to take place.

We are providing 9,000 low-income children with fresh produce every week, so I would like to push President Obama to carry out his pledge to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015. We can be better as a society. I think the time is now.

 

Charity Could Tumble Over Fiscal Cliff

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano receives nearly half of its funding from individuals. We live in a generous community where people support the cost-effective work we do.

 The Food Bank is concerned that one of the options discussed in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations has been to limit the tax deductions people can take when they donate to nonprofit organizations such as the Food Bank. Donating to faith communities and nonprofit organizations is part of our social culture, but I worry that the support people provide will be limited if the tax deduction changes.

 As an example of the changes being debated, the recently passed compromise bill enacted Congress by restored a deduction that allowed those over 70 1/2 years old to donate IRA funds they must withdraw. The restored law says that if a donation of more than $100,000 is made directly to a nonprofit organization before Feb. 1, the roll-over is tax-deductible. After that, this option will not be available, so the tax-deductible motivation will be gone.

 Other options under consideration have focused on limiting the total amount of deductible donations people can give or limiting the amount people can deduct based on their income. I understand the budget issues our country faces, but anything that discourages people from giving to charitable organizations raises concerns.

 Nonprofit organizations do incredible work with limited funds. Faith communities and nonprofits are able to respond to concerns in local communities with speed and focus. We are able to carry out the work donors want to see done because we can directly respond to those who give us the funds we need. The issues we are facing today make collaboration between nonprofits and government necessary. This is not the time to limit the ability of the community to support organizations addressing the issues they see in the community.

To learn more about how you can help take action against these changes, contact Lisa Sherrill at the Food Bank: (925) 676-7543 ext. 206 or e-maillsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

 

 

We Couldn’t Do it Without Our Volunteers

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Because of support from a generous community, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has been able to increase the amount of food we distribute to people at risk of hunger.

We receive financial support from individuals and corporations, which helps us fuel our trucks and keep the lights on. We also have an outpouring of support with community food drives that add variety to the bulk items we purchase.

One of the most essential pieces of the support puzzle is the volunteer force that has answered the call to serve.

More than 50,000 volunteer hours are given to us each year — the equivalent of 25 additional staff members. Volunteers serve on our Board of Directors, help with office and fund development tasks, and help sort food. They help with food distributions and touch every program we run.

We have volunteers who hold doctoral degrees and volunteers who are developmentally disabled. Volunteers come with their Scout groups, their faith communities, their service clubs and their fellow workers. Some volunteers come once a year, some are here every week (or more).

Volunteers are important to us because they become our best advocates in the community. Volunteers have hands-on experience with our work, so they can speak with authority about what we do. They see us gather food, they see how effectively the Food Bank operates, and they see the people we serve.

Volunteers do hands-on work and know the commitment we have, as an organization, to our mission.

The Food Bank could not survive without the time and energy volunteers give.

Special Program Sees to Nutrition Needs of Seniors

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: I remember reading a quote from a political leader that said you can best evaluate a society by how well it takes care of its children and its elderly. From my experience with Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano programs, I am convinced our society can do better. The huge number of children and senior citizens coming to us for food assistance says that our social programs are not doing what they should.

One of the first direct distributions the Food Bank established was the Senior Food Program. In the early 1980s, it was obvious that Social Security benefits were not adequate to support an individual in the Bay Area. Seniors had to make difficult decisions about housing, medical care and the basics of life. When stories started coming back to us about people eating less to save money, we knew we should try to make a difference with the food donations available to us.

Beginning with 50 people, we have grown the Senior Food Program to 3,300 seniors at 28 sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties. Last year, more than 1.3 million pounds of food went to the senior citizens who participate in this program.

We are also working with those who are part of the Senior Food Program because they may be eligible to receive Cal Fresh (formerly food stamps) benefits. The people this program serves recognize that their health depends on their diet. If they are going to avoid significant medical costs, good food is important to their health.

I am grateful the community support we receive allows the Food Bank to make a difference in the lives of senior citizens.

If you are a senior who could use food assistance, or know someone who can, please go to www.foodbankccs.org/get-help/senior-food-program.html or call (toll free) (855) 309-3663.

 

Looking Forward to New Projects

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Starting the New Year is a time to reflect on what we have done in the past and what we hope to do in the future. At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, the New Year is more a check-in time for us because we are already implementing a three-year strategic plan. So the New Year is a time to reflect on where we will go as an organization in the coming year as we think about the exciting events that will take place.

Our most immediate accomplishment is that, within the next two months, we will begin Phase 2 of our Community Produce Program, starting produce distribution in Solano County and Western Contra Costa County. Two trucks full of fresh produce will be on the road five afternoons each week, bringing healthy food to low-income people.

We will also see our vision of working collaboratively with Solano and Contra Costa counties take a step forward in the work we do with CalFresh (the new name for food stamps) outreach. Grant funds have allowed us to add a person to our staff who can build on our solid working relationship, and we hope to be able to do preliminary enrollment for CalFresh participants online, making it easier for eligibility workers to enroll people in the program.

Finally, we will continue to work on our advocacy efforts. Because of the role we play in directly feeding people in need, we bring hands-on knowledge to any discussion about hunger in our community.

In tight budget times, the voices of those in need must be part of the conversation when decisions are made. Cuts made to programs that provide assistance to low-income people have a profound social impact. Elected officials need to understand that budget cuts are not just numbers, they affect people.

Stay in touch with the Food Bank by joining our online community and receiving occasional e-news related to you area(s) of interest at www.foodbankccs.org.