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Drought A Source Of Concern For Food Bank Clients

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Since the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides over ten million pounds of fresh produce each year to people in need, we are extremely concerned about the impact the drought is having, and will have, on our mission.

Not only is California’s water supply decreasing, but the cost of fuel is increasing. These two factors make for the perfect storm for a hike in the cost of providing healthy produce to people in need.

As members of the California Association of Food Banks, we have access to an enormous supply of fresh produce from the agricultural community.

Over the years, we have increased the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that we provide to the point where it now accounts for more than half of our total annual pounds of food distributed.

Our Farm to Kids program brings produce to after-school programs in low-income schools.

Our Community Produce Program brings fresh produce to clinics, schools and churches in low-income communities throughout Solano and Contra Costa counties.

Produce is also available to the nearly 200 nonprofit agencies we partner with, so they can provide nutritional assistance to the people they serve.

On the positive side, we are still able to receive the fresh produce that we need. The California Association of Food Banks is able to offer us 10 to 12 different produce items on a consistent basis. But we constantly have to make choices about the food we receive, based on increasing costs that are often related to the drought.

When we began receiving produce, we had to match what alternative markets were paying, generally around five cents a pound. Many of our costs now begin at six to seven cents a pound. Some items can cost us 10 to 14 cents a pound. Celery, for instance, is now priced out of our range at 20 cents a pound.

Our ability to help people in our community is also impacted when fuel prices go up, as they are currently.

We are lucky that our warehouses are so close to agricultural resources, but we need to make choices about how far we are willing to transport certain items.

Apples are available to us for four to five cents a pound, but they must be transported from Yakima, Washington. In order to receive a 34,000-pound load of apples, it costs us nearly $1,300.

A 42,000-pound load of potatoes from Tulelake, Calif., costs more than $1,400 to ship. We have hard-working staff members who always take these factors into consideration when purchasing the produce we need.

We have built an effective system of food distribution that we are committed to maintaining, so we must continue to balance the rising cost of food and transportation.

We are encouraged that healthy produce is still available, but we know that we need to raise more money to offset these price increases. We are thankful for our generous donors who provide financial support.

Like us, they also believe that our entire society benefits when everyone has access to good nutrition.

Food Banks Across Region Prepare For Disasters

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: When we think about disaster response in California, we recognize the threat of fire, drought and tsunamis, but our main concern is earthquakes.

With the 6.0 magnitude Napa earthquake that took place last year, and the small earthquakes that have hit the area more recently, we are constantly being reminded that we need to be prepared. When we watch the news about the earthquakes in Nepal, we are reminded of the devastation these natural disasters can bring to a region.

This is why the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is committed to preparing for the role we will play for any disaster in our community.

The first time local food banks responded to a major disaster was after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The food banks in the Bay Area banded together to help the food bank that was serving Watsonville. They were overwhelmed by the damage in their community. We had an incredible response from a generous community that enabled us to accept disaster donations from Feeding America, the national food bank network. We stored those donations for the people in Santa Cruz County and helped meter the flow into their food bank.

After Loma Prieta, with the support from the San Francisco Foundation, we worked with consultants to develop a comprehensive disaster plan for the Food Bank. We developed a business continuity plan to assure that the Food Bank can continue to provide service in our local community. But as we looked at this local plan, we realized that we needed to have a regional plan for disaster response in the Bay Area.

We had to think about where would we look for help if a disaster limited our ability to assist our local communities. We also needed to consider what we would do if the food bank in Alameda or San Francisco were not able to operate.

All of the food banks are already dealing with the crisis of hunger in local communities on a daily basis. The need for food will obviously get significantly worse where a disaster occurs, but the food banks in areas that escape harm will still need to meet the daily needs of feeding members in their communities.

The Bay Area food banks developed a memorandum of understanding among one another that outlines what we would do to assist each other when a disaster occurs. We also keep that commitment alive by continuing training for table top exercises to practice how our mutual support will play out.

There is no question that another major earthquake will happen in the Bay Area. Roads will be damaged, electrical and water systems disrupted and property damage will occur. From our experience with Loma Prieta and other disasters, we know that people pull together in time of need.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is prepared to help other Bay Area food banks when a disaster occurs, while we continue to help our local community too.

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.

 

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.

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.