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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.

4 Stars for the Food Bank

For the third consecutive year, the Food Bank has been awarded the highest rating (Four Stars) by America’s premier independent evaluator on nonprofit organizations, Charity Navigator.

In a July 1 letter to Executive Director Larry Sly, Charity Navigator CEO Ken Berger wrote, “We are proud to announce Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has earned our third consecutive 4-star rating for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances. Only 13% of the charities we rate have received at least 3 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America. This “exceptional” designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”

No. of Stars

Qualitative Rating Description
  Exceptional Exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause.

It Is Holiday Food Drive Time!

As we approach the end of August, the volume of food drive food we have to sort/box and distribute is greatly reduced. We always worry that we will have to cancel volunteer groups in September and October. But more importantly, is the question “Will we have the variety and volume of nonperishable food we need to feed our community”?

Along comes mid-September and the requests for holiday barrels. The phones start ringing, the emails and faxes starting arriving and we start working fast and furious. Yes, we do look forward to the holidays every year. When you look at August and see all of our barrels in the racks and then you look at November and December and all of the barrels are full just waiting to be sorted and the food distributed, you know your hard work was all worth it! We receive many thank you notes from those we help and to read the letters and go to a food distribution and see the smiles is the confirmation that we as a community are making a difference and ARE “Working to end hunger”.

August 2011

What we wish for every holiday season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For everything you need to host your own food drive, visit the food drive section of our site.

Health and Wellness at the Food Bank

If the key to successfully helping others is to take care of yourself then the Food Bank staff has a bit of work cut out for them.

When we are not busy making sure that the food we order from our distributors is low in sodium, fat and sugar, the Nutrition and Wellness committees have stepped up their efforts to make some positive health changes for the staff.

The first task at hand for the Nutrition committee was to improve the nutrition content of the snack items found in our vending machines. The goal of attaining a 50/50 mix of healthier snack options versus non healthy was an easy  task to accomplish with our current vending machine operator who was more than happy to supply us with an array of healthier alternatives that meet the Fit Pick criteria. Fit Pick™ nutritional criteria are based on the recommendations of the: American Heart Association, 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Thanks to the nutrition committee, we now have super yummy snacks that are baked instead of fried, lower in sugar, fat and salt.

Fit Pick™ products are lower in fat and sugar with criteria for adults of 35-10-35 which means no more than:

35% of total calories from fat

10% of calories from saturated fat

35% of total product weight from sugar

Generally speaking, our health is a mirror of our daily habits and with that in mind the Wellness committee will encourage sedentary staff to move just a little bit more every day. Whether it’s standing up at their desks , taking  15 minute walks in the morning and afternoon,  taking the stairs faster or two at a time there is always something more that can be done to burn a few extra calories that don’t require a gym membership or special equipment.

To help us with our healthy ambitions please keep us in mind if you know someone who would like to donate an unused or under-used Elliptical machine that Food Bank staff will use during breaks. Maybe it’s currently serving as a clothes rack instead of its intended purpose as exercise equipment.

So if anyone out there has or knows of someone who has an Elliptical that they would like to donate to the food bank staff to help encourage a healthier lifestyle or “Healthstyle” please feel free to contact Veronica Wimer at vwimer@foodbankccs.org or 925-677-7012.

Food Bank Participates in Nutrition Study

Guest post by Lindsay Johnson, Food Bank Program Director: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is one of six California food banks currently working with researchers from UC Berkeley who are documenting current nutrition-related policies and practices in relation to the provision of foods to low income families through emergency food services. This research is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Healthy Eating Research, 2010-2011.

In recent years, it has become apparent that many families rely on emergency food services for more than a few days each month, and there is concern about the healthfulness of food provided through emergency food pantries in light of the obesity epidemic and concerns about diet-related chronic disease. The emergency food system has been based on the distribution of shelf stable, low/no cost food for years. This food is frequently highly processed and contains large amounts of salt and sugar.

There are 3 components to the study. All Feeding America food banks were invited to participate in a national online survey in March assessing current organizational policies regarding the nutritional quality of the food provided. Six food banks, including Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, will have their food inventory data analyzed for the period 2007-2010 to evaluate whether actual foods received and distributed have changed during this period. As part of this second component, the research team will conduct short interviews with the Executive Directors of the Food Banks and key staff members regarding the provision of healthy foods. The third component will include food pantry visits at the end of May to five emergency food pantries at each of the six food banks for a total of 30 pantry visits. At the pantry visits, the pantry director will be interviewed, and a survey team will conduct a short interviewer-administered questionnaire with 15 randomly selected clients regarding their food preferences and pantry experiences.

Participating in this survey will provide the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano with client and pantry feedback, as well as giving us the opportunity to see how we compare with our peers with regard to providing nutritious food. This study will help us assess how effective and extensive our increased distribution of produce has been throughout the communities we serve. Information provided will help us with future decisions regarding the improvement of nutrition provided by the emergency food system.