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Working To Reach All Children With Nutritional Meals

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: As some families are packing for their summer vacations, others are worried about how they are going to put enough food on the table for their children. During the school year, over 65,000 low-income children in Contra Costa and Solano counties receive free or subsidized lunches.

Students receive their mid-day meals through the National School Lunch Program. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many schools have breakfast and snack programs as well.

These programs benefit children, parents and even teachers, as it is difficult to teach hungry students.  Children (and adults) lack focus and energy when their bodies are not being fueled properly, making it hard to learn and retain information.

The USDA also runs the Summer Lunch Program, which provides funding and food so schools can continue providing lunch over the summer break.   Unfortunately, in most districts, while there may be a Summer Lunch Program, there aren’t summer school programs in session to draw children to the school grounds.

The creative minds in each district’s food service program have come up with ways to continue providing food to hungry kids over the summer.  Some schools have mobile food trucks that go to parks in low-income areas where children gather and they provide them with meals.  Other schools provide meals at public libraries, where children often spend their summer days.  School districts want to reach students at these common summertime gathering areas, so they can provide the children with healthy lunches. These methods help, but they aren’t reaching all the children in need.

One of the challenges that schools face is that, in some neighborhoods, parents do not want their children walking alone to a summer meal site.  Because of USDA regulations, a parent that accompanies a child to a distribution site is not able to eat a meal.  In many cases, if the child has a little sibling that is too young to attend school, they also have to go without food. In some cases, parents and siblings are not even allowed to sit with the student while the student eats their lunch. Obviously these regulations discourage, rather than encourage, participation in the Summer Lunch Program.

We all know how important it is for children to receive proper nutrition on a consistent basis. Their bodies and brains are developing and food is essential.  Skipping meals on a regular basis can have long-term detrimental effects.

To encourage an increase in participation in the Summer Lunch Program, the Food Bank is working on a demonstration project this summer. It is funded by the Y&H Soda Foundation, an organization that supports nonprofit organizations committed to the well-being of the underserved. This project will allow us to pay for meals that parents and siblings eat when they bring their school-age child to a Summer Lunch Program site.  If we can show that the Summer Lunch Program can be a positive family meal, we hope to initiate a broader discussion about the benefits Summer Lunch can give when we help provide food to families in need.

Working To Ensure Food Programs Reach All Those In Need

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has direct food distribution programs and we work with nearly 200 nonprofit agencies that feed people in our local communities. The Food Bank is committed to fighting hunger and more than likely you have witnessed our efforts firsthand. There is a good chance that you have seen the food donation barrels around town. And perhaps you have seen a Food Bank banner at a community event or have seen the delivery trucks on the road? You might have even seen us in action if you have come to one of our two warehouses to drop-off donations or volunteer your time. It might be surprising to learn that one of the most important ways the Food Bank helps the hungry individuals in our society doesn’t take place in the public’s eye. Advocating for food and hunger related issues and policies are a crucial part of helping those we serve.

The national organization that we are affiliated with, Feeding America, partners with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to bring food banks and advocates together in Washington DC each year.  It is a chance for us to communicate with our elected representatives, so they understand the food issues we see in our communities.  We are grateful that in Solano and Contra Costa counties, our elected officials have a good understanding of what causes hunger.  It is important that we share real-life stories with these policy-makers about the people we see. They, in turn, can help others understand the challenges people face trying to get assistance from federal food programs.

In some instances, we advocate for programs that directly impact our ability to provide food.  The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides the Food Bank with food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  We receive millions of pounds of food as well as administrative funds that allow us to provide food to the agencies we serve. We also provide this food directly to people who come to our Food Assistance Program.

The Food Bank realizes we need to help carry the message to elected officials that there are many Californians that legitimately experience food insecurity. The CalFresh program provides benefits to eligible low-income Californians. CalFresh is the first line of defense against hunger, providing food assistance to low-income children, seniors and disabled individuals.  Because so many people need food assistance, this program is a significant part of the budget and Congress often looks to cut programs like CalFresh.

The Food Bank recognizes that our distribution programs only address part of the public need and that the behind-the-scenes work we do to influence public policy is vital.  There is no doubt that the Food Bank plays a significant role in helping people in need, as we distributed 20-million pounds of food just in the last year.  However, people also rely on CalFresh, school lunch, Meals on Wheels and TEFAP.  We need to do our part to ensure that all these programs get the appropriate funding, so the most basic of needs, such as providing your body nourishment, can be a reality for all.

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.

Senate Must Include “America Gives More Act” in Tax Legislation

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The United States Senate has the opportunity to provide a powerful boost to charitable organizations working to improve lives and strengthen communities all across the country. In July 2014 the House of Representatives approved the America Gives More Act, landmark legislation that would make three major charitable giving incentives (including donations of food inventory) permanent and reliable for donors of both food and funds.

Here is why the legislation is so important to our Food Bank and our community:  the America Gives More Act would help the farmers, restaurants, retailers, and food manufacturers we work with donate more excess food to those in need. Up until now, the charitable giving provisions in the tax code have been repeatedly extended on a short-term, often erratic basis that limits their impact, as donors cannot consistently rely on the certainty of receiving tax benefits for their generous donations. This is certainly true for small businesses that are relying on the food donation tax deduction to provide a needed incentive to help them establish a regular donation program with food banks. The uncertainty they face with the tax code has a tremendous impact on the amount of food we can bring in to the Food Bank, and in turn, get out to those in need.

In addition, the America Gives Back Act has much needed expansions of the food donation deduction that would allow farmers and ranchers to take the same tax deduction when donating food – a much needed improvement.  Our Food Bank is now distributing 10 million pounds of fresh produce every year – and we anticipate this legislation would help us increase that amount.

The impact of the America Gives More Act on our mission—and those we serve—would be significant. With over 70 billion pounds of wholesome excess food wasted each year, we have a critical opportunity to give food banks and food donors a powerful tool to donate more food.

The U.S. Senate now has the opportunity to include the America Gives More Act in tax legislation that’s expected to be voted on after the election. Doing so would have a significant and positive impact on millions of individuals and families in every community who benefit from the programs and services provided by charitable organizations across the country. To contact your senator and ask them to support this legislation, call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Join Effort for a Glimpse of What Those in Need Endure

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working to end hunger in our community.  As so often happens, a straightforward idea becomes incredibly complicated when we look at all we need to do to reach that goal.  We know that our main purpose is to provide food to people in need in our community.  We recently participated in a national hunger study with other food banks that are part of Feeding America, the national food bank network.  It’s no great surprise that the study confirms low-income people face an incredibly difficult time providing healthy food for their families.  The people we serve face more difficult circumstances because the Bay Area is an expensive place to live.  People do not have room to negotiate housing or fuel costs, so food is often the area where people scrimp to save money.

Our job at the Food Bank is to make as much healthy food as possible available to low-income people in our community.  We have been able to dramatically increase the amount of fresh produce we provide through our Community Produce Program.  Through this program and our other distribution efforts, half the 21 million pounds of food we distributed last year was fresh produce.  Because we make healthy food easily accessible in low-income neighborhoods, we are having a positive effect on the lives of our neighbors in need.

But hunger in our community cannot be solved solely by the Food Bank.  We have a responsibility to educate the community about the need around us.  In the suburbs, hunger is not as visible as in urban centers.  Those who live in nice housing developments only drive through low-income neighborhoods, and that is probably on a freeway.  So we are asking people during Hunger Action Month in September to slow down and consider what it is like to not have the money you need for food.  During the week of September 15, I ask people to join me living on the amount the average Cal Fresh (food stamp) recipient receives for their food each day, $4.50.  It’s not totally sharing the experience a Cal Fresh recipient lives because I can use my spices and cleaning supplies. I’m not living the life a low-income individual faces every day, but living on the Cal Fresh budget helps me understand the tough decisions low-income people make.

If you can only spend $4.50 a day you realize how expensive fresh fruits and vegetables are.  Processed foods are significantly cheaper, so you ignore the huge amounts of sodium you are consuming and the poor nutrition the packaged food provides.  High fructose corn syrup tastes good and is a cheap part of the packaged food we buy.  Low-income people are trying to make healthy food choices, but they are doing that on a budget of $4.50 each day.  Please join me the week of September 15 so we can better understand the lives our low-income neighbors live.

 

Ending Hunger Requires a Community Effort

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: In order to end hunger, there needs to be a movement that says hunger is not acceptable.  Social change is a gradual curve, but movements change the way we see things as a society.  While we are far from perfect in every area, we have seen significant progress in many areas:  women’s issues, racial issues, LGBT issues.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working with our partner food banks in our national network, Feeding America, to create a movement that says the existence of hungry people in our community is not acceptable.  The month of September is Hunger Action Month, and we are trying to motivate people to take action against hunger.  Hunger Action Month is built around “Go Orange”.  Why orange? Orange is the official color of hunger relief and makes a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. We want people to talk to their neighbors, talk to their faith congregation, talk to the people they play cards with about the issue of hunger.  We need to understand that hunger is no more acceptable than racism, sexism or homophobia.  Social change begins with events that begin conversations among people who care.

Help Contra Costa and Solano counties Turn Orange for Hunger Relief during Hunger Action Month this September! This is a great way to mobilize everyone in our community — in America — to take action in the fight against domestic hunger, generating strong and sustainable engagement.  We see Hunger Action Month as a way for the community to come together to take action to end hunger.

We have a vision that someday soon there will not be hungry people in our community.  Social change will take place and we will not accept hunger.  We will understand that hungry children don’t learn.  We will recognize that people who don’t eat a healthy diet have poor health.  We will understand that there is enough food for everyone and there is no reason for hunger to exist in our community.  I look forward to the future when people think it was a strange and different time when hunger was tolerated.

Growth in Donations Meets Growing Need for Service

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Over the last two years, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has seen a 26% increase in the number of people we serve, due to people struggling from the recession and an increase in programs available through the Food Bank. The significant increase of produce available to the Food Bank has been a dramatic change in the type and amount of food we distribute allowing people to more easily receive nutritious produce in the areas where they live.  At the same time, the increases we have seen in donations of perishable food at the retail level have grown significantly to meet the need as well.

The Food Bank has transformed over recent years from providing emergency help at the end of the month when food and funds have run out, to becoming a support system to help families make ends meet. Improving the nutritional value of food available to people through the Food Bank and our partner agencies has and will continue to help meet this need. Last year, 50% of what we distributed was fresh produce which is often too expensive for people facing economic challenges.

The California Association of Food Banks understood how marketing orders keep cosmetically imperfect produce from being sold; they also found that there was a secondary market for that produce.  Growers got paid a small amount for unmarketable produce when it was sold for animal feed or juice.  By appealing to growers to help us feed those in need, we got access to oranges at the same price the juice people were paying.   We showed the growers that we did not interfere with their markets and we made a difference in the lives of thousands of people in need.  The persuasive work of food banks convinced the apple growers, pear growers, and potato and onion growers that they should donate too.  We will continue to work on increasing the amount of fresh produce available to us because it is now more than half the food we give out.

The work of Feeding America, our national network, has increased both the quality and amount of food available to us from retail stores.  The grocery industry recently made a major operational change, with Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and Save Mart stores agreeing to donate food to Feeding America food banks.  The grocery industry is justly concerned about the liability they would face if food donations they made were improperly handled, so Feeding America worked for years with the grocery industry to develop standards Feeding America food banks meet for safe food handling.  All food banks and the agencies they serve undergo Serve Safe food safety training.  In addition to this training, we provide the agencies with which we partner freezer blankets and scales so they can properly record the donations they pick up from local stores.

The stores that donate to us are able to be greener by eliminating the waste they would have produced.  When meat is coming to its “sell by” date, the store freezes the meat until it is picked up by one of the properly trained agencies that work with our Feeding America food bank.  We have developed a system that has member agencies serving stores as often as they have food donations available.   In this way, local stores are following the lead their national headquarters has developed with Feeding America.  On a local level we get the high-quality food we so desperately need while our local grocery stores are eliminating waste while they work to help feed their neighbors in need.

Thanks to this significant growth in donations of fresh produce and retail donations of perishable food items we are able to provide and excellent source of nutrition to the increased number of people we serve.

Ready and Willing to Speak About Fighting Hunger

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As often sited, public speaking is the most common fear.  People have anxiety attacks when they think of making a speech to an audience, large or small.  When I became Executive Director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I had to learn to speak before groups to help us build the community of support that is necessary to our work.  The fact I have become as comfortable as I am when I speak to people about the Food Bank’s work is because I believe so strongly in what we do.

When I try to persuade people to join us in our work I am not selling them a vision, I am offering them an opportunity to make a difference.  I believe that people understand there is no reason in a society as rich as ours that anyone should be hungry.  With so much evidence of the need for hunger relief and stories we hear in the lines of our distributions, we see the problem often. We also know there is a solution.

It is my job to share the stories of our clients and explain to as many people as possible how they can help.  I speak to faith communities, service clubs, schools, and businesses.  I have talked to people in office suites and in factories.  In my experience, if people understand that they can help by volunteering and giving food or money, they are happy to do so.  Our task at the Food Bank is to reach out to those who can help so they understand how that can make a difference.

One of the ways we reached out to our supporters was organizing a wine and food event at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3.  G V Cellars provided their space and provided a great deal on wine because they believe in our mission. MagPies Catering also went above and beyond with the delicious food they provided at a reduced cost.  Westbound 80 performed classic rock music, and also donated to the cause. Not only did this event help us generate revenue to support our work, but, as importantly, it helped us connect with the people who make our work possible.

The Community Produce Program truck was set up at the event to show how much fresh produce their donation can provide.  A display showing the huge amount of healthy food we are able to purchase with $100 surprised and delighted guest.  When people understand how the Food Bank works, and understand how effective we are with their donations, I believe they will continue to help us feed those in need in our community.  It is my job to help people understand, so please, invite me to your next club meeting, service group or class. Either through Facebook, Twitter, or face-to-face, we will continue to tell our story so people understand how they can help.

 

Community Members are Connected in a Variety of Ways to Our Efforts to Feed People

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter:  Nearly four decades ago, when I started working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano I didn’t realize how large a role the organization would play in the community. As the years have passed, the Food Bank has become a well-recognized resource for helping those in need in the community. Because of that recognition, people lend their support to our mission to end hunger.

Community members are connected in a variety of ways to our efforts to feed people. For those who have the time to do hands-on work, we ask volunteers to sort food, bag produce and assist with our remote distributions. Distributing nearly twenty million pounds of food means we need to address logistical issues, including trucking, food storage and running efficient distribution programs. For all these tasks, we depend on volunteers.

We also rely on volunteers to help us obtain the food we need. Food drives are organized year round because hunger exists year round. Our food drives range from the major effort organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers every May or the Boy Scouts each November to food collections done by individuals. Gardeners grow extra vegetables in their back yard to share with their neighbors in need. Businesses organize food collections as a way to give back to their community. We receive over a million pounds of food every year from a generous community, while we engage people in helping end hunger.

We are also lucky that a generous community helps us raise the money we need to distribute the food we gather. Gathering the support we need also goes from large to small, with the total effort being important to our work. We organize events like golf tournaments, motorcycle runs, or Uncorked, a food and wine afternoon at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3. Events like Uncorked bring people together to help the Food Bank, creating a sense of community around a common cause. Giving to charitable causes is an important part of many people’s lives, and they know the Food Bank plays an important role in improving our community.

Many people learn the habit of giving early in life. I talked to someone yesterday who shared the story of their nine year old daughter who sold wrist bands to her friends to raise money to buy food for the Food Bank. Her parents and grandparents matched the money she raised, helping her buy more food to bring to the Food Bank. When she brought the food to us, she saw how her donation became part of a bigger effort to help. Our work is possible because we connect with those in the community who want to see an end to hunger.

Food Bank Welcomes Assemblywoman Yamada Hunger Awareness Event – Learn If You Are Eligible to Receive Healthy Food Benefits

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano – the county’s trailblazer in hunger relief – is excited to welcome Assemblymember Mariko Yamada to Community Produce Program in Dixon on Wednesday, July 16.  Assemblymember Yamada will be volunteering at the site, helping to ensure that each person in need receives fresh fruits and vegetables to take home.

“California is on the mend, but far too many people are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Chair of the Assembly Aging and Long Term Care Committee.  “Through no fault of their own, working families, students and seniors face skyrocketing food prices because of the drought and the price tag for staying cool in scorching temperatures.

“I wish to thank the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for providing critical food programs that support the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Food insecurity is a daily reality for millions of Californians.  Children, the elderly, the disabled, and students are the faces of hunger amidst plenty.  The drought and summer bring added challenges to ensuring that our community’s nutritional needs are met.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano works to end hunger and increase access to nutritious food for low-income individuals and families. The Community Produce Program is just one of the ways that the Food Bank distributes food directly to people in need. Refrigerated trucks have been customized for the exclusive purpose of distributing fresh produce to communities in need. Clients will be able to pick-up an average of 20 pounds of produce, twice per month.

In addition to the strong leadership Assemblymember Yamada provides in the legislature, we are grateful for the hands-on help she is bringing to the people we serve,” said Larry Sly, Executive Director of the Food Bank.

Help the Hunger Awareness efforts and learn how to apply for food assistance by Clicking Here. Join the Yamada Volunteer Crew and post your hard work on social media with the #HashTags: #YamadaVolunteer #Yamada4HungerAction #[YourCounty]Volunteer on your social media accounts.