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Neighbor To Neighbor, Community Food Drives Make An Impact

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Nearly twenty five years ago, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano began working with a local television station to set up a holiday food drive in collaboration with the other Feeding America food banks in the Bay Area.  The General Manager of the station was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea and suggested that we approach the homeowners association at Blackhawk, the community where he lived.  Blackhawk was one of the first planned communities with upscale homes built around golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools. Sports personalities and business leaders owned homes in a gated community that had a limited number of entrance and exit gates.  We were lucky enough to find volunteers within the homeowners association who felt this collection effort resonated with social responsibility beliefs that came from their faith community.  We worked with them to take their ideas and grew food collections that make a significant contribution to our work.

Today, ten gated communities (including Rancho Solano in Fairfield) have similar drives where neighbors ask neighbors to help us feed those in need.  Volunteers come to our warehouse in October to staple flyers to grocery bags that are specific to each individual community.  Volunteers from each community go door to door leaving the bag with their neighbors.  On the day of the food collection, we set up our plywood sleighs with food barrels placed inside.  As people drive out the gate, their neighbors happily accept the bag of groceries right from the car.  We also place return envelopes in the bag and many individuals also give us a financial donation as well.  Communities vary in how much they provide, but the larger communities can give as much as 10,000 pounds of food and $25,000, making a significant contribution to feeding those in need.

These gated community drives are making a difference in people’s lives. People like Grace, 73, of Vacaville. Grace was married, owned a house, worked part time and lived comfortably with her husband until she retired at 62. Then everything changed when her husband passed away in 1999.  The house they owned needed repairs her husband used to be able to do and it needed a new roof. She couldn’t afford to fix it up. When she finally sold it to buy a smaller condominium, “I barely broke even,” she said. Now her only income is her Social Security, which leaves her about $400 after utilities, mortgage and homeowners association fees.

It was on a trip to a Food Bank partner agency, Vacaville Storehouse, a year and a half ago that Grace discovered she could get groceries to stretch her pantry and refrigerator. Bread and meat she divides into portions to freeze help stretch her grocery budget. “I could never do as well as I do with proteins without being blessed by the Vacaville Storehouse,” Grace tells us.

The food and funds collected by neighbors in their gated communities support people like Grace every day.

Season Of Caring Is Also Season Of Friendly Competition

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: This week kicks off the annual Counties Care Holiday Food Fight. This friendly competition between employees of Solano and Contra Costa counties is a way of sharing the holiday spirit with the people in need the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano serves. County employees volunteer their time in creative ways raising funds for the Food Bank so help can be there during the holiday season and beyond.

Twelve years ago, Contra Costa County employees decided to do a food collection in the County Administrators office.  They raised 1600 pounds of food and felt incredibly positive about what they had accomplished.  They felt so positive that the next year they threw the challenge out to other county departments setting up a friendly competition to see which department could be most generous.  Incredibly creative ideas were shared within the county employee community about how to help more.  Departments offered dress down days for employees who donated and some departments competed to see who got to throw a shaving cream pie into the department head’s face.

As the employees learned more about the Food Bank’s efficiencies, they realized that raising money was more effective than raising food.  The “food drive” became a “fund drive” that gives the Food Bank the money it needs to acquire the fresh produce that has become such an essential part of our work.  The organizers also knew that the Food Bank serves both Solano and Contra Costa counties, so the friendly competition grew to be a contest between the two counties to see which could raise the most funds per employee.  So within each county individual departments compete with other departments to see which can be the most giving.  The prize for the county competition is the Big Apple trophy (going back to the time a huge donation of apples helped bring a victory for a Board of Supervisors member).  This year, Solano County has held the Big Apple trophy for two years in a row, but Contra Costa wants it back!

There are two victories that come out of this competition.  People who are part of the county employee community, in both Solano and Contra Costa counties have fun.  They work together for something that benefits the greater community, no matter which department they work for.  More important, their accomplishments allow the Food Bank to provide help to people in need in both counties.  The Counties Care Holiday Food Fight has raised over $1.1 million for the Food Bank.  More than twenty million pounds of food went to people in need in our community last year because people—like the county employees — care.

Thankful For Help At Thanksgiving And Throughout The Holidays

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: One in eight residents now relies on the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and during the holidays we work with our more than 180 partner agencies to bring additional hope and relief to our neighbors struggling with hunger.  This Thanksgiving and Holiday season we will provide food for over 14,000 meals and about 30,000 grocery baskets to your neighbors in need. Thanks to amazing community support through monetary donations and food drives, we can make the holidays more hopeful for children, families and seniors who struggle to put food on their tables.

We have a tradition going back longer than I can remember coordinating food drives with Safeway.  Obviously, there is no better place to do a food drive than a grocery store.  Years ago, Safeway let us place barrels in stores and we did all we could to urge people to donate.  Other corporate sponsors helped us purchase colorful wraps to go around the barrels.  We put the types of food we most wanted on the barrel wraps and on flyers.  Volunteer groups passed the flyers out to shoppers as they went into the stores.  Those efforts produced thousands of pounds of food donated by a generous community.

For the last five years, NBC Bay Area has partnered with Safeway to help stock the shelves of local food banks. In addition to providing on air promotion, the station enlists hundreds of volunteers – including NBC Bay Area anchors and reporters helping at their own neighborhood Safeway Stores –to encourage shoppers to donate food items. NBC Bay Area is once again teaming up with Safeway Stores for a one-day food drive on Saturday, November 22, kicking off a month-long effort to fight hunger with Bay Area Food Banks, a collaboration of seven food banks serving over 780,000 local residents each month. The “Help Us End Hunger” food drive will take place at 155 Safeway locations throughout the Bay Area making it easy for community members to participate and help feed their neighbors in need.

To make the donation process easier, a specially produced shopping bag filled with items that food banks need the most will be available for $10 at all local Safeway stores. Items include pasta and sauce, canned vegetables and important protein items like peanut butter and canned tuna. Once collected, the bags will be delivered to food banks for distribution to needy families. The bags will be available for Safeway shoppers to purchase now through December 25.

The holiday season is the time everyone can help their neighbors in need.  NBC Bay Area, Safeway, Kiwanis clubs, scout troops, other community organizations and the entire community helps make a difference, each in their individual way.

We thank NBC Bay Area and Safeway for bringing attention to the severity of local hunger and for creating a simple way for anyone in our community to help a family in need. The Food Bank and our partners are feeding people in every neighborhood and you can donate to make a difference in the lives of people in your community.

 

Scouts Help Feed Families In Need This Holiday Season

The generous support from the community makes the work of Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano possible.  What we ask is quite straightforward; we need people to donate food, give volunteer time or donate money.  By combining those three things together, in different amounts from different people, we distributed over twenty million pounds of food to people in need last year. The amazing thing for me is the creative ways people find to tie their personal style to helping us in our work.

For example, part of being a Boy Scout is doing a “good turn”.   Boy Scouts know that they have a responsibility to improve their community, so the national organization endorses the Scouting for Food drive.  Scout troops reach out to their neighbors, placing door hangers on people’s front doors.  They come back the following week, picking up bags of food the community wants to share.  Scouting for Food is an incredible one-day effort, brings the Food Bank over 130,000 pounds of food.  Coming in the middle of November, this donated food gives us a perfect start providing food donations to the charities preparing to distribute holiday baskets.

Behind the volunteer work the Scout troops are doing, the Food Bank provides the support they need to succeed.  Scout troops pick up the food donations with their parents on Saturday, November 15 and they return it to a central location (usually a church or school parking lot) where the Food Bank has placed bins to collect the food.  Scout troops are at those locations as well, overseeing the consolidation of the donations.  Food comes in to these collections sites all day, and then the Food Bank trucks pick food up and bring it back to our warehouse.

Scouting for Food brings in more than three trailer loads of food which we need to distribute quickly.  Volunteers from corporations, service clubs, faith communities (and even some Scout troops) come to our warehouse to help sort the donations we have received.  Volunteers sort the food into seventeen different categories, putting things like peanut butter, tuna, canned fruit and canned vegetables in separate boxes.  With this sorting done, Food Bank partner agencies receive the food they need to help the people they feed during the holidays.

The effort involved in getting the food from Scouting for Food into the hands of hungry people is done mostly by volunteers.  Volunteer Scouts collect the food and we help by transporting what they have raised.  Community volunteers come to our warehouse to sort the food.  Staff members roll bins of unsorted food into the sorting room so volunteers can prepare it for the volunteer-run agencies that provide food to those in need. These incredible volunteers enable us to supply millions of pounds of donated food to a community in need.

 

 

Community Partnerships Provide Vital Holiday Meals

During the holiday season, people think of gifts, food and family.  Families gather together with the holiday meal being a main part of the celebration.  It is also a time we give presents to each other, sharing with others to show we care for our family and friends.  But the holidays are an especially difficult time for the families served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  People who need help from us throughout the year struggle as they try to make the holidays a special time for their family.

We at the Food Bank are lucky we live in a community that wants to help.  The Food Bank has been working for nearly forty years to make the holidays a happier time for the families we serve in our community.  We begin our planning in August by purchasing the food we will need for the holiday baskets put together by the agencies we serve.  We work with local food pantries and soup kitchens to determine who they will serve and what they will need from us during the holidays.  We are able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables as well as canned food and turkeys at no cost to the agency.  We raise money so we can buy grocery gift certificates that allow families with limited cooking facilities to obtain the food they need for their holiday meal.  Working with the pantries and soup kitchens in our community, we helped provide 14,000 meals to people last year, and more than 26,600 baskets went to families in need.

The holiday time is the busiest of all at the Food Bank, but we are able to do this work because the community gives.  We have collection barrels in local grocery stores.  Businesses and schools organize food drives.  Scout troops, faith communities, swim teams and motorcycle riders from our local refineries collect food and raise funds.  The number of drives increases every year, but we have nearly 800 locations where people can donate food to their neighbors.  We must receive this community support because we need to distribute over 1.7 million pounds of food and over 900 turkeys during the holiday season.

You have helped make the holiday brighter for the families we serve every year because the community gives generously.  Our committed volunteers help to sort and box the donated food we receive so that the generosity of the community during the holiday season continues to provide for the people we serve into the new year.  Because the community gives so generously, we are able to make a difference in the holiday season and throughout the year.

Proof of Community Care is Clear in the Audit

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: In spite of what we think when we hear the word, having an audit done is not a negative thing.  As a charitable organization, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano knows we should have outside experts evaluate the way we manage our financial affairs.  We want those we ask to give us food and money to know that we are doing the work they want to support.  Our audits show community members that we are accomplishing the important work people want to see done.

As we are doing the final review of our audit for 2014, it is very helpful to me to look at what we have accomplished.   We establish goals each year and June 30 is when we stop the clock and look at how we have done.   In the last fiscal year, we distributed over 20 million pounds of food and half of those pounds were fresh produce.  Our administrative and fund development costs are less than 4% of our budget.  We have reason to be proud we are running an efficient organization that is meeting the needs of hungry people in our community.

But when I consider where the support comes from that makes our work possible, I am even more proud of the work we do.  If I look at a random list of contacts I have had in the past few months, I see amazing community connections.  We receive support from Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, League of Women Voters, Valero, Shell, Tesoro, Chevron, Janssen, Safeway, Whole Foods, Genentech, and Walmart.

The Food Bank gets help from Solano and Contra Costa County employees, Contra Costa Bar Association (and a bunch of law firms), Realtors in Motion, the County Library, St. Mary’s College, Prophet, the Rossmoor Harvest Festival and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church’s crab feed.  Food, money and volunteers come from Stanley Middle School, Hercules Middle School, Valhalla School, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Pacific Service Credit Union, Bloomingdales and Forma Gym.

We also receive over half our financial support from individuals.  Some people donate once a year, some people donate every month.  People ask friends to give money to the Food Bank instead of buying them birthday or wedding gifts.  Parents bring their children to the Food Bank warehouse so they can give us the money they raised in their neighborhood.  There is a sense of community that comes from helping each other.

Our audit is a time we look at what we have done, and it shows me that we are part of a community that cares for their neighbors.  When we put together efforts to provide food to those in need, we know that we can count on the strong support provided by our community.  We are able to make a difference because we are part of a community that knows they can work with the Food Bank to get healthy food to their neighbors in need.

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.

Annual Report Change Shows Growth of Food Bank, Local Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Someone was going through some old materials they found in storage and brought me an annual report from 1998, sixteen years ago. Annual reports and financial audits are snapshots in time that define how an organization is providing service in the community, so it was pretty astounding to see where we were then versus where we are now.

I was amazed at how much we have grown as an organization. In 1998, we had 32 employees; today we have 63. (Eleven of the people who worked for us in 1998 still are with us today.) We have been able to increase our services because the support we receive from the community has increased significantly. As an example, in 1998 the support we receive from individuals was one million dollars and we now receive five million dollars annually.

The Food Bank needs that increased support because we have expanded our work to meet the need in ways we never dreamed we would be doing in 1998. At that time, we had our Senior Food Program, Food Assistance Program and Food for Children program as the only direct service we provided in the community. Because of the collaborative work of food banks through the California Association of Food Banks, we now have access to supply of fresh produce through packing sheds in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys that’s only limited by the amount of support we receive to purchase it. Because this fresh food is available to us, we established the Farm 2 Kids program that distributes food to students in low-income schools. In the past two years, we developed the Community Produce Program that takes fresh produce to over fifty distribution sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties. I would have been surprised in 1998 to know that someday we would provide over ten million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables in one year to low-income people in our community.

The reason we must keep focused on our work is because the need continues to grow. We were serving 58,000 people a month is 1998 and have seen that number increase to 149,000 today. At some of our Food Assistance Program sites for example, we have seen the number of people coming increase fourfold. We are sending two trucks filled with food to some of the sites we serve because nearly 600 people come for the food we give. With our increased efficiency, staff and community support, we are able to meet that high demand and outreach to those who may not know help with food is available.

I am proud of the programs we have maintained and strengthened, as well as the new programs we have initiated. Everything we do, from distributing more fresh produce to helping enroll people in CalFresh is dedicated to getting food to those in need. Our supporters should be proud as well. Because of them, we are able to be of service to the increased number of people who need us.

Public Works to Provide Food

public works

The Contra Costa County Public Works Department decided to host a food and money drive to help the Food Bank kick off the summer – a time when need is high, but donated food runs low. This county department collects money for the Food Bank during the holidays but they feel it is important to collect food and money at other times of the year. Congratulations on a fantastic drive of 463 pounds of food and over $1,300 which equates to 3,010 meals!

A Fairy Tale Food Drive

Employees of the Disney store at Sun Valley Mall were inspired to hold a food drive after volunteering at the Food Bank and learning about the need for food in their community. So far they have collected a fantastic 418 pounds of food which equates to 334 meals. The employees are continuing to collect food throughout 2014 for those in need in our community.

Before we brought them a collection barrel, they built a fairy tale can castle.
disney can castle