Blog

Archive for ‘ News ’

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.

Water Situation Affects Fresh Fruits, Vegetable Availability for Those in Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The drought we are currently experiencing raises serious questions about how we use a finite resource.  The Mediterranean climate we enjoy means that we have long summers where no rain falls.  In normal years, the snow that falls in the Sierra Nevada mountains has been our reservoir and provides the water we need in the summer.  Much of the water is needed for agriculture because California has some of the most productive soil in the world.  Our water system works well as long as snow falls in the mountains, but when a drought takes place, competition begins for the limited water available.

Residential consumers are urged to limit the amount of water they use.  We may have green lawns and swimming pools, but many homes have drip irrigation, low-water landscaping, low-flow toilets and other technology to make effective use of the water they use.  There are debates about how you compute the numbers, but urban water use is less than 20% of the total consumed in California.  One third of the water used in the state goes for environmental purposes; making sure rivers have adequate fresh water to support a healthy environment.  More than half the water the state consumes is used for agricultural purposes.

Residential consumers often wish that water could be saved in the agricultural and environmental areas.  Some people argue that using “environmental” water to preserve fish should take second place to water for agriculture.  The looming battle over the bypass tunnels proposed to move fresh water from rivers above the San Joaquin/Sacramento delta raises concerns about the impact that action would have on the environment of our local area.  If we decide that environmental and urban uses are most important, what does that mean for agriculture?

Agriculture is a major part of California’s economy.  California farms and ranches generate over $42 billion worth of revenue.  Of that revenue, over $18 billion is food we export to other countries.  Over 11% of the food produced in the United States comes from California, and over half the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in California.  Our climate and our water make a major contribution to California’s economy and the nation’s food supply.

The work of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is possible to a certain extent because we are located in California. Because food grown in California sometimes does not meet marketing standards, the Food Bank can reclaim that food, allowing us to provide fresh produce to people in need in our community.  Because of the drought, some of the crops we received in past years are not available to us currently, plus everything we receive costs more. Fresh fruits and vegetable prices will go up an estimated 6% in the coming months according to the federal government.  In order to get the food we need, we depend on agriculture, and agriculture depends on water. Difficult decisions need to be made both by government and at home as we decide how we can best use the water on which we all depend, so people of all income levels have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Aon Global Service Day at the Food Bank

By Rachel A. Sisson of Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corporation:  The San Ramon office of Aon eSolutions and Aon Fire Protection Engineering volunteered with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano on June 12, 2014 as part of their Global Service Day. Global Service Day is Aon’s annual day of volunteerism where colleagues across the world unite in service to strengthen the diverse communities in which we live and work. This year, Aon’s efforts once again focused on empowering people and strengthening communities at risk through a wide variety of service projects, in support of hundreds of wonderful charitable partners. Approximately 9,000 Aon colleagues in 50 countries donated more than 30,000 hours of service on Global Service Day.

Here are some of the other projects Aon participated in on Global Day of Service.

 The San Ramon offices of Aon spent part of their Global Service Day volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.     The San Ramon offices of Aon spent part of their Global Service Day volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

A Conversation With Congressman John Garamendi

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: With the support of a generous community, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano was able to provide over eight million pounds of fresh produce to people in need last year. As food banks across the country continue to increase the services we provide, our members of congress have had to make some tough choices including cutting funds to federal nutrition programs.

In Contra Costa and Solano counties, over 200,000 people are food insecure and of that population, nearly half do not qualify for federal nutrition assistance meaning that they need to turn to the food bank and our partner agencies. And of those that do qualify for assistance, it is still not enough to make ends meet.

As an organization on the front lines of hunger, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano feels that we need to help inform our elected officials about the impact their decisions have on the low-income people we serve.

We had a chance to sit down with Congressman John Garamendi recently to discuss these very issues that our communities are facing. Being from a district that is a major agricultural area and as a pear rancher, Congressman Garamendi knows the issues we face when we try to access to fresh produce.

He asked how we felt about the compromise in the recently passed Farm Bill; whether the increase we will see in the amount of food we receive from the US Department of Agriculture will make up for the cuts in the CalFresh (food stamp) program. We expressed our gratitude at having additional food to provide to the people we serve, but it is not enough to offset the significant cuts in the CalFresh program. In fact, we continue to reach out to the people who receive food from us so we can enroll them in CalFresh. The CalFresh is the best way to get people the food they need to feed their families. The Food Bank is an important supplement to the CalFresh program, but Congressman Garamendi knows we cannot replace a program that provides essential food to families in need.

Congressman Garamendi told us a story about his daughter, a kindergarten teacher, who took her class on a field trip to a community garden. As the class was getting back on the bus, they realized one child was not with them, so his daughter ran back to the garden where she found the child sitting under a trellis of hanging cucumbers. The child was about halfway through eating the cucumber he had in his hand, but he also had his pockets full of other cucumbers he had picked. The boy was filling his stomach with a cucumber in the garden, but he made sure he had others to take home to share with his brother at home.

The Food Bank has enough food to make sure people do not go completely without, but it is not enough to solve the persistent issue of hunger. By giving our elected officials important information about the need in their community, we hope they can pass laws that will allow us to help each other meet the basic need for food. We can learn from the boy in the cucumber patch. Even in a difficult time, he thought to take care of his own needs and those of his brother as well.

How the Drought Could Effect the Food Bank’s Ability to Provide Food to People in Need in Our Community

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Those of us at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano are proud that we have been able to increase the amount of food we distribute to people in need in our community. We serve over 149,000 people each month, and our job is to provide them as much food as we can. We also try to give them the healthiest food we can, so we have dramatically increased the amount of fresh produce we distribute. Last year we gave away eight million pounds of produce as part of the eighteen million pounds of food we distributed, and we are on track to give out ten million pounds of produce this year.

Our plans depend on the excess produced by California agriculture however, so we are very concerned about the effect the drought will have on the produce available to us. Food comes to us from the produce producing areas in our state, so we worry about how much cauliflower and broccoli will be grown in the Salinas Valley. Carrots, onions and potatoes may not be available to us if growers can’t get water. Fruit trees may only receive enough water to keep the tree alive, not enough to allow it to produce fruit.

The decisions being made about how we allocate the water available to us will have an impact on everyone. We will all pay more for food because less will be produced at a higher cost. We also see that the increasing international demand for food driving up the cost of both fresh and canned food. The Food Bank depends on California agriculture and we fear that this is a year we will have less food at an increased cost as we try to help those in need.

The Food Bank and Good Nutrition

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month which causes us to reflect on the changes that have occurred at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano over the past several years. Our first priority is to see that people have enough to eat; everyone needs enough calories. But people who lack money should not have to get by on food that is empty calories; we all deserve good nutrition. So the Food Bank focuses on buying food that helps us meet that goal. The canned fruit we purchase is packed in juice, without additional sugar. We buy low-salt vegetables. Whole wheat pasta and rolled oats provide good nutrition as well as filling you up.

We have made the most significant changes in the area of nutrition with our Community Produce Program. We will distribute nearly three million pounds of fresh produce to people in our community this year. People are able to take home approximately 25 pounds of fresh produce twice a month. In addition, we have a nutritionist at the distribution sites offering people educational materials and recipes. The Community Produce Program hopes to provide people food and help them understand how best to stretch their limited dollars.

People understand that their health is related to the food they eat. But people with limited budgets constantly have to decide if fast food (incredibly cheap and convenient) is a better choice than fresh food. We are currently doing a study to see whether people change their patterns and eat more fruit and vegetables because the Community Produce Program made fresh produce part of their normal meals. I think the message is very clear that what we eat determines our health. National Nutrition Month gives us an opportunity to show that message applies to everyone.

A Local Business, Filling an Important Role in Our Local Economy

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted a recent mixer for the local Chamber of Commerce and it reminded me of the many roles the Food Bank plays in the community. I often focus on the “non-profit” side of our status as a non-profit corporation, downplaying our role as a local business. But when we gather with other local businesses in Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo, I realize that we are like many other small businesses in our community.

We employ more than 60 people in Solano and Contra Costa counties. We own a warehouse in Concord and lease 30,000 square feet of warehouse space in Fairfield. We have bobtails and tractor trailer trucks that deliver millions of pounds of food to agencies in our community. While we do not pay business or property taxes because of our non-profit status, we pay DMV fees, sales tax, Social Security taxes, Worker’s Comp, etc. We provide health insurance for our employees.

As a local business, we consume fuel (lots of fuel), we buy boxes to store donated food, and we buy bags for produce. We buy office supplies, pallet jacks and forklifts. We contract with a payroll service, a janitorial service and firms that provide training to our staff. We have a Board of Directors that approves a budget and sets operating goals. We provide them with monthly dashboard reports to track our progress.

We are members of the Chamber of Commerce because we are a locally-based food distribution business. The only thing that makes us different is that our business is providing food to other non-profit organizations or directly to people in need. Because of our mission, we have non-profit status, but we are a local business, filling an important role in our local economy.

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.

Food Bank Director Larry Sly Honored for Hunger-Relief Efforts

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter – Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Executive Director Larry Sly has been awarded the 2013  Fellowship by Feeding America for leadership, local and national impacts and commitment to hunger-relief, it was announced Wednesday.

The annual award from the Food Bank’s national network honors the ideals of the late John van Hengel, a soup kitchen volunteer and community activist credited with founding the nation’s first food bank in 1967.

“There are so many excellent leaders in the food bank movement who have won this award before me, so I am understandably humbled and honored to be among them this year,” Sly said in a prepared statement.

Under Sly’s leadership the Food Bank has developed several comprehensive programs designed to distribute more food efficiently and with as little waste as possible.

His latest efforts involve working with local growers to get produce to low-income neighborhoods.

Sly began at the food bank in 1976 as one of two employees as a truck driver. Since then the Food Bank has grown to a 35,000 square-foot warehouse in Concord and a 40,000 square-foot warehouse in Fairfield with a fleet of trucks.

Fast Food Stamps

Should Food Stamp recipients be able to use their benefits to buy fast food? The program now known as CalFresh in California (and SNAP federally) was initiated during the depression to help end hunger and encourage domestic consumption of agricultural commodities.[1] The goal of the program is “to alleviate hunger and malnutrition … by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation” as stated in the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended (P.L. 108-269).[2] A record 45.8 million Americans used the program in August according to USDA that number represents an 8.1% increase over the previous year. [3]

Even though the name changed last year and benefits have been received on a electronic debit card system since the 1990’s, the term “food stamps” has remained the commonly known name of CalFresh. As the new name implies, people are encouraged to purchase fresh, healthy food items with their benefits, but are allowed to purchase any food items found in a grocery store except hot food, alcohol, cigarettes, pet food and household items. Benefits can also be used at many farmers markets. And in California benefits can be used at restaurants by people who can’t cook for themselves such as homeless, elderly, and the disabled. Should it be ok then for all recipients to use their benefits at fast food places where the food quality and nutritional value is surely less than what they could get at the grocery store or fares market? A certain fast food company was recently lobbying for just that in several states.[4] Share your thoughts with us but please remember to keep it respectful.