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38 Years of Food Banking

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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.

Farm Bill Passes in the House, Sent to the Senate for Vote Next Week

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Originally posted by our friends at Feeding America San Diego: After three years of negotiations, the House of Representatives has approved the Farm Bill by a vote of 251-166, with 15 members not voting on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

The Senate is expected to begin procedural moves this week so that a Senate vote on the Farm Bill will take place on Monday next week.

Highlights from the nutrition title include the following (all numbers are based on a ten-year budget):

  • $8.55 billion cut to SNAP by tightening the “Heat and Eat” policy, which would affect the following states:  California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • $205 million increase for TEFAP.  The TEFAP funding would be front loaded to provide greater resources in the initial three years of the bill, with an additional $50 million in FY2015, $40 million in FY2016, $20 million in FY2017, $15 million in FY2018 and FY2019, $16 million in FY2020, FY2021, and FY2022, and $17 million in FY2023.  The funding is indexed for food price inflation.  This funding also has the same transfer authority as TEFAP mandatory funding, allowing states to transfer up to 10% of the funding into TEFAP storage and distribution grants.
  • Establishes the Dairy Donation Program. If dairy prices fall below a specific price trigger for 5 consecutive months, USDA is authorized to begin a dairy purchase program, with the dairy products going to public and private nonprofit organizations, and with instructions for USDA to consult with nonprofits on the type of dairy products requested. While there is no set cost, this would provide additional commodities much like TEFAP bonus commodities do when prices are low enough to trigger USDA price support.
  • $250 million for states to pilot innovative programs help SNAP participants get back to work.
  • Clarifies allowable SNAP outreach activities (for example, forbids outreach workers from receiving rewards on a per-head basis for number of applications processed).
  • Improves SNAP access by allowing SNAP home delivery for homebound seniors and disabled participants.
  • Promotes access to nutritious food by tightening stocking requirements for SNAP retailers and testing new ways to use EBT cards (for example, swiping on a mobile device at a farmers’ market).
  • Improves SNAP integrity through new measures to combat trafficking of benefits by retailers and recipients and policy changes forbidding benefits for lottery winners and affluent college students.
  • Transitions the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) to a senior only program, allowing women and children currently participating in the program to remain on the caseload.
  • Protects SNAP nutrition education.

While, elements of this bill are positive, the cuts to SNAP are devastating for Californians and people in other states impacted by this cut. Please call Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and tell them “Vote NO on the Farm Bill. I oppose all SNAP cuts.” The number to use is the Capitol Switchboard:  (202)-224-3121.

Food Day Celebration

Post by Blanca Campos, Food Bank Nutrition Education Coordinator: Food Day is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies. It builds all year long and culminates on October 24.

Food Day aims to help people Eat Real. That means cutting back on sugar drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein. Food Day envisions shorter lines at fast-food drive-thrus—and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

Locally, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano partnered with the Pittsburg Unified School District, John Muir Health, Contra Costa Health Services, Kaiser Permanente and the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market to celebrate Food Day at Willow Cove Elementary.  The celebration included carrot salad tasting, nutrition information, recipes, and fresh produce giveaway (courtesy of the Food Bank).  Over 150 parents participated and received fresh produce during the event.

We’ll be celebrating Food Day at Rancho Medanos Jr. High today!

Were you involved in Food Day this year? If so, please tell us how.

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.

Growing Food to Build Community

Sometimes I think it can be easy for us to forget how fortunate many of us are and why we need organizations like the Food Bank. This week I had the pleasure of attending a three day conference in Tucson titled Closing the Hunger Gap. The conference was made up of three parts:

1. Visiting existing programs
2. Learning and brainstorming about issues relate to hunger relief including policy change and nutrition
3. Planning actions we will take over the next year to make a change

On day one I went with a group to see a school, soup kitchen, farm and home garden.

The school was amazing! Everyday the kids are involved in the operation of the school garden and sustainability program at the school. They grow fruits and veggies, raise chicken and tilapia, compost, collect rain water and host a farmers’ market. Incredible! The outcomes are just as amazing from increased attendance and parent involvement to better understanding of math and overall academic improvement. I encourage you to check out www.goManzo.com to see all the amazing work the school and community are doing.

At the soup kitchen I was again blown away and honestly I wasn’t expecting much here. Terrible I know but I thought I’ve seen soup.kitchen and know what good works they do. What could I possible learn here? Well, this soup kitchen not only feeds people everyday (except thanksgiving and Christmas – because “everyone else wants to do that”) but every afternoon they spend working on community organizing. They are working on keeping bus fares from increasing knowing the people they serve absolutely cannot afford even a five cent increase. A crossing guard was needed so families could safely cross the street to get their food and the community organizers at Casa Maria helped make that happen. It’s amazing how a group of community members can affect so much change. I think we forget the power we have.

Next stop on our tour was the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s farm. Community plots are available for families and groups. The food bank also grows food for their services, but the farm is more than that. It’s a place for the neighborhood to gather and to continue a tradition of farming that has been taking place there for thousands of years. One gentleman spoke about how he brings kids on probation to the farm and what a difference that make in their lives. The host potlucks and workshops. It’s an outdoor community center for that neighborhood.

Finally we went to the home of a man who is growing food in his front yard to provide for his family. The food bank helped by providing education and starter plants. Also he sells some of the produce on consignment at the food banks farmers market.

This blog post doesn’t do justice to what I saw last month. Amazing work being done in a community that not only needed help with food but also help remembering how to be a community. They are being given space to gather and learn as well as the tools to affect lasting change in their community. I think this is something we should all think on. 

Passage of $40 Billion SNAP Cut in House

The House passed a bill to cut $40 billion from SNAP (food stamps) yesterday. The measure narrowly passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Locally in Contra Costa and Solano counties:

1 in 4 people are struggling with hunger. (This is the percent of people living at 180% FPL.) The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is serving 50% more people since the start of the recession through their direct service programs and network of partner agencies. That number does not seem to be slowing down. The Food Assistance Program through which the Food Bank distributes federal commodities, the need is still continuing to grow and new people are needing help each month. Regular volunteers who serve each month and often multiple times a month are getting burned out and there is a lack of volunteers willing to commit to help with this program.

Already struggling to keep up with the demand, these farm bill cuts will flood food banks across the country with people needing assistance to feed their families.

From Feeding America:

Did you know that the proposed cuts to SNAP (food stamps) is more than the meals distributed by the entire nationwide network of food banks? Together, the SNAP meals lost in 2014 from the scheduled ARRA cuts and the proposed farm bill cuts (nearly 3.4 billion meals) would exceed the projected annual meal distribution by Feeding America food banks around the country (3.3 billion meals). Following a 46 percent increase in demand during the recession, food banks are already struggling to meet need in their communities and will be unable to make up the difference. Charity can’t make up for lost SNAP meals. Congress must protect SNAP in the farm bill. http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/advocacy-public-policy/policy-center/federal-anti-hunger-programs-and-policies/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-charity.aspx#

 

From recent SNAPclients:

Rosa and Ron

SNAP is the only source of food for Solano county seniors Rosa and Ron.  Their only source of income is Ron’s social security.  Most of that goes to pay their $1,120 rent, leaving them very little for other living expenses.  Often, they will forgo filling or refilling their prescriptions for diabetes and high blood pressure medication because they simply do not have the funds for it.  Without SNAP they simply would not have the funds to put food on the table.  They utilize the Food Bank’s Senior Food Program for additional food but that alone is not enough to feed them for the month.  Many months are even more trying when their disabled adult son lives with them for short periods of time.  Their son has a mental disability and is often homeless unless he lives with them.  Feeding two people on $190 month of CalFresh benefits, what is $6.30 per day or $3.15 per person per day is reduced further when their son is living with them.  Those benefits must now feed three adults at $2.11 per person each day.  Ron is a very proud man, having worked three jobs his entire life and it was difficult to accept the idea that he needed government benefits to feed his family.  Rosa and Ron are already living without medical necessities and doing all they can to survive, the SNAP benefit cuts would further negatively impact their already precarious lives.

Next steps:

The House and the Senate will confer and have to come up with some sort of compromise. Call your Representatives. Let them know SNAP cuts do nothing to fix what ails our country and economy.

Local Congressman Votes Against Increasing Hunger in America

Guest post from Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA): Today, Congressman John Garamendi, a rancher, pear farmer, and a Member of the House Agriculture Committee, voted against H.R. 3102, a partisan bill that would slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by nearly $40 billion, thereby denying food assistance to at least four million low-income Americans. The measure narrowly passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Congressman John Garamendi released the following statement:

“We live in the richest nation on earth, yet one in five American children go to bed hungry. Nearly 50 million Americans, including many of our friends and neighbors in Northern California, struggle to put food on the table – through no fault of their own. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays a vital role in feeding the hungry, preventing millions from slipping into destitution, and helping people get themselves back on their feet. Indeed, more than 9 in 10 Americans on SNAP are children, seniors, disabled, or already working.

“SNAP has been a bipartisan success story. As President Reagan said, ‘As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that’s one person too many, and something must be done about it.’ This week, bipartisan Senate Leaders Bob Dole and Tom Daschle wrote an op-ed urging Congress to ‘Stop playing politics with hunger’ and reject this bill. They also point out that ongoing improvements to regulate the program have kept fraud and abuse to an historic low of less than 2%. The bipartisan Farm Bill passed by the Senate this year continues these reforms.

“H.R. 3102 breaks with this bipartisan tradition. The bill throws a monkey wrench into the work requirements for SNAP recipients found in the 1990s Welfare Reform Law. It eliminates employment opportunities by cutting job training programs. The bill’s pernicious legislative text would encourage states to pocket the savings from taking food away from their most impoverished residents. H.R. 3102 would take away school breakfast and lunch for 210,000 children. The bill would eliminate food assistance for one in five veterans and hundreds of thousands of seniors, disabled people, and low-income working Americans. At a time when so many Americans are struggling to get by, these draconian cuts would plunge even more people into extreme poverty.

“This bill will also weaken our nation’s farm and rural economies and jeopardize any chance of passing a new farm bill to support our nation’s farmers, ranchers, food security, conservation, and rural communities.”
Facts on SNAP:

 

  • Every dollar spent on reducing hunger adds $1.70 to the economy
  • The number and percent of people who struggle with hunger (i.e. meet the USDA definition of “food insecure”) in California’s Third Congressional District counties: Solano: 64,360 (15.6%), Sacramento: 243,470(17.3%), Yolo: 35,100 (17.6%), Sutter: 19,000 (20.2%), Yuba: 15,290 (21.3%), Colusa: 4,210 (19.8%), Lake: 12,990 (20.2%), Glenn: 5,080 (18.1%).
  • The number and percent of children who struggle with hunger: Solano: 21,120 (20.7%), Sacramento: 86,390 (23.8%), Yolo: 10,960 (24.4%), Sutter: 8,110 (31.1%), Yuba: 6,910 (33%), Colusa: 2,120 (19.8%), Lake: 4,530 (32.7%), Glenn: 2,350 (29.7%)
  • The rate of fraud and abuse in SNAP is less than 2%.
  • By contrast, the rate of error and fraud in the federal income tax system equals about 15 % of taxes legally owed.  That is, about 15 % of the income taxes that are owed go unpaid.
  • The House bill eliminates food assistance for more than 170,000 veterans, or nearly one in five veterans. An estimated 3 million veterans and their families don’t get enough to eat each month.
  • One in five children (16 million) struggle with hunger, a record high.
  • 22 million of all SNAP recipients are children (45% of the total).
  • There are nearly 4 million people over age 60 who are enrolled in SNAP, with the typical senior household with an average income under $10,000
  • In 2011, SNAP lifted the incomes of more than 1 million women above the poverty line.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 American Indians and Alaskan natives struggled with hunger in 2008.
  • The average SNAP benefit equates to roughly $1.40 per person per meal
  • There are two million fewer jobs than at the start of the recession
  • SNAP currently has work requirements which can be waived by the states during times of high unemployment.  46 states – including almost every Republican Governor – have sought waivers in FY13 to provide SNAP for those looking for work and repeatedly over the last ten years.
  • SNAP recipients live in all areas of the country – about 40 percent live in urban areas, 40 percent in suburban areas, and 20 percent in rural areas.
  • Sources and Resources: Agriculture Committee Short Summary of the bill, LA Times Article by Senators Dole and Daschle, Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Feeding America, Agriculture Committee detailed summary, and Feed Our Vets.

Old School Savings

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: For today’s breakfast I made Jiffy corn muffins.  Jiffy is a basic muffin mix brand dating back to the 1930s that hasn’t changed much and is really inexpensive.  I was able to buy two boxes for $1.38 which yielded 12 large muffins after just adding in 2 eggs and some milk.  The kids will be able to eat the muffins for breakfast as well as an afternoon snack

Lunch today will be leftovers from last night.  My wonderful husband made chicken adobo and rice using another amazing deal from Safeway.  Chicken leg pieces were on sale for 99 cents/pound.  So this dinner and lunch will end up costing less than $10.

For dinner tonight I planned on making a pasta dish, but I will be working late and need to get my kids to different activities right around dinner time.  Wednesday is a night we usually eat out due to our busy schedules so we may resort to another super Safeway deal of frozen burritos that I got for 40 cents each.  I usually read ingredient labels very closely, but tonight we are probably going to trade off high-quality and healthy ingredients for cost and convenience.

Jill is participating in the Hunger Challenge with her husband and three children. Read her first two posts here. To learn more about the Challenge visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Hunger Challenge Slashes Budgets

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: I decided to take the Hunger Challenge and see what it is like to eat on $4.50 per day.  By taking the Hunger Challenge we are committing to eat all of our meals this week from a limited food budget comparable to that of a SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) recipient.  We are a family of five, so our total weekly budget is $112.50.  This is a pretty big reduction from what we normally spend on food.  I usually spend between $150-200/week on groceries, plus we eat out once or twice for dinner and my husband and I often eat out for lunch and grab coffee for a total of about $300/week on food.  

When we decided to do this challenge we sat down with our two older children to explain what we were doing this week and why.  We explained that there are many people in America (1 in 6) that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and that many of those people are children (1 in 4 people receiving emergency food are children).  By eating on a SNAP budget and blogging about it, we hope to raise awareness for people that may not know where their next meal is coming from.  We also thought that it would be good for them to learn more about budgeting and healthy eating. 

I am a working mom with three kids, so I often rely on prepared foods and/or take out to manage our busy schedules.  Knowing that I won’t be able to do that this week, I spent almost the entire day (Sunday), planning what we are going to eat, grocery shopping, and preparing food for the week.  I started out the day planning what we would eat for the entire week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) and estimating whether or not we could get it all within our SNAP budget.  I didn’t clip coupons, but did leverage the Safeway Just For U app which helped me save over 30% on my grocery bill which ended up costing $84.00.  We have a couple of items already in our house (milk, pears, sunbutter, rice, popcorn, spices) that we will use for our meals this week, so I wanted to try and be under the $112.50 budget.   I realized that the only way to make this budget work, was to not rely on pre-packaged convenience foods and to make more of our meals/snacks from scratch.  I then spent about three hours preparing food including home-made granola, granola bars, and banana chocolate chip muffins.  All of these foods will save us a significant amount of money, but did “cost” me a lot of time.   

I am hoping that this will be a good learning experience for the entire family and will help to raise awareness for those who are food insecure and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Day 2: Stretching your food

One of my tactics for living on a SNAP budget this week is to stretch our food.  This is something that my grandparents’ generation used to do a lot to make precious ingredients like meat go farther.

Our meal for dinner last night was stir-fried pork and green beans.  This is a pretty regular meal in our house, but to stretch it into two meals (dinner and next day’s lunch) I did two things: 1) added more green beans, and 2) served it with more rice. 

Knowing that we wanted to use this meal for lunch the next day, I made sure we didn’t  eat more than half for dinner.  Because of that I ate less than I normally would – assuming I would be fine given a late afternoon snack I had.  This morning I woke up before my alarm went off feeling hungry.  This was something I normally don’t feel and I realized it was probably due to controlling how much I ate last night to ensure we had enough for lunch today. 

This feeling of hunger gave me a moment to reflect on what we are doing with the Hunger Challenge and to remember the 149,000 people that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano serves each month.

 

It’s not too late to join the Hunger Challenge. To learn more and sign up, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Challenging Myself to Experience Hunger

Next week, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is joining with Feeding America to encourage people to take the Hunger (SNAP) Challenge  part of  Hunger Action Month. For one week, particpants will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps and known as CalFresh in California).

It is not too late to sign up! If you would like to participate, please fill out the form on our Hunger Action Month page.

Below is an update that was posted to LinkedIn by Ron Shaich, founder, chairman, & CEO at Panera Bread.

Panera Bread founder, chairman, & CEO Ron Shaich shops for groceries in preparation for the SNAP Challenge. (source)

Last week, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times entitled, “On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps.” The article sheds light on the reality of food insecurity in America – millions of families that “look like we are fine,” according to one man, but in reality, “live on the edge of poverty, skipping meals and rationing food.”

The families featured represent only a handful of the nearly 49 million people in America who, very simply, are hungry. We live in the “land of plenty,” and yet nearly 48 million people receive food stamps and 16 million children go to bed hungry.

Whether or not we talk about it, acknowledge it or pay attention to it, hunger is a serious and real problem in the United States.

And yet, despite everything I have learned about hunger and the various efforts I’ve undertaken to try to make a dent in the problem, I have never actually experienced hunger firsthand. I’m not talking about the hunger that comes after skipping a meal. I’m talking about not knowing when or where my next meal will come from on a regular basis. I’m talking about having to decide between paying for an unforeseen medical or housing expense versus buying food to feed my family for the month.

That’s why, as part of Hunger Action Month, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge. For one week, beginning Saturday, September 14, 2013, I will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps). I am also extending the challenge to Panera’s Societal Impact Steering Committee, the group responsible for helping Panera leverage its core competencies to help create real change and lasting solutions against hunger. Another partner of mine in this challenge will be Bob Aiken, the CEO of Feeding America.

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m nervous. As the SNAP Challenge week approaches, I feel a sense of fear about my budget, what kinds of food I’ll be able to afford, the impact that the Challenge will have on my work and ability to concentrate. However, as the CEO of a company that is committed to making a difference in our communities, it is critical that I understand this problem in a deep and personal way.

I am aware that this challenge only lasts one week. And I understand that many millions of people, including some of Panera’s own employees, have encountered more prolonged and painful bouts of food insecurity. My week is merely a simulation of what so many millions deal with every day. To be clear, I don’t mean to trivialize anyone else’s experience or claim mine as an authentic representation of what food insecurity looks like. Rather, my hope is to inspire other leaders – in business, government and the nonprofit world – to take on the challenge of food insecurity as their own. In the process, I also hope to inspire myself to continue to innovate and find new solutions to the problem of hunger.

Throughout my Challenge, I will be posting updates on LinkedIn. I will walk you through my shopping experience on the $31.50 weekly budget, my meals, my feelings, my energy level. I also hope to share information about the different solutions out there – from federal assistance to food pantries. And I’ll share insights gained from Panera team members taking part in the challenge.

If you feel inspired to take part in the challenge yourself, visit www.hungeractionmonth.org for more information. As ever, please share your experiences on the SNAP Challenge or with other Hunger Action Month activities in the comments section.

I’ll be back on September 14 to start sharing about my Challenge. As my friends at Feeding America say, Together We Can Solve Hunger™.

Join Mr. Shaich and get a sense of what life is like for those struggling to put food on the table with the average benefit for people who receive SNAP/CalFresh. Sign me up for the Hunger Challenge!

The original content of this post can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130909205336-25745675-challenging-myself-to-experience-hunger.