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Healthy Eating Habits Best Thing For Children

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Whether the information comes to you from statistical studies or just from taking a look around, it is obvious that the United States is facing an obesity epidemic.

The facts are overwhelming; we have the second-highest obesity rate in the world and spend more than $190 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. If you think the battle over healthcare is a major issue today, imagine what is going to happen as obesity and other diet-related illnesses increase the need for high-cost medical services.

As with so many of the issues we face as a society, the answer is fairly straightforward, but is difficult to implement because it requires us to think and plan long term. It will require us to change patterns that have developed over decades.

For more than a generation, our diet has deteriorated as we’ve replaced fresh food with prepared ready-to-serve meals and fast food.We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

This situation will not turn around overnight, but the conversation around the importance of improving our diets has at least begun and some progress has been made in our children’s school cafeterias.

The nutrition standards of school meals were updated in 2012 under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act. These improved standards require more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains and less sodium, fat and sugar in school lunches.

A survey done by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 72 percent of parents support strong nutritional standards for school meals. Another study published in Childhood Obesity, found that 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students like the more nutritious school meals.

Kids are being exposed to healthier food in their school lunches and they are gaining first-hand knowledge that healthy food can taste good.

Most of the children we serve at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano receive free or reduced costs lunches; making the meals they receive at school an important part of their diet.

By providing students healthier food on a regular basis, they are learning that fruits, vegetables and whole grains are an important part of a wholesome diet.

Furthermore, they are developing patterns that will fight obesity and other health-related illnesses.

We are doing the right thing when we feed our children well; we are setting them up to be healthy and successful.

A healthy school lunch is one of the best investments we make in the future of our society.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord. Email: info@foodbankccs.org

March’s Focus On Nutrition Is A Chance To Educate People On Food Choices

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month, which focuses on educating people to make informed food choices and creating comprehensive dietary habits. Struggling families in Contra Costa and Solano counties often aren’t able to select healthy options. Many turn to less expensive foods that are higher in fat, salt, calories and sugar, which can contribute to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is committed to providing nutrition to local families that otherwise might be out of reach.

We all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but not everyone is able to afford nature’s nutritionally-packed food. This is why the Food Bank distributes a million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each month. In fact, our second biggest distribution program is our Community Produce Program, which focuses solely on produce.

Twice a month through the Community Produce Program, the Food Bank’s customized trucks serve as mobile farmers’ markets. The difference between Community Produce Program and a farmers’ market? The produce is free and up to 20 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are given to each qualifying household at each distribution.

In order to help low-income children have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and establish healthy eating habits at an early age, the Food Bank created the Farm 2 Kids program. We partner with after-school programs in low-income areas in eligible school districts.  Every week during the school year 9,000 children receive a three to five pound bag of produce to take home. Sometimes it is the only food they have for dinner.

For the 1 out of 4 children who struggle with hunger every day, school can serve as a place where they can count on receiving the food they need to learn and thrive. The School Pantry Program provides nutritious, nonperishable food to students attending qualified low-income schools. The School Pantries are located on school grounds and run by a school staff member.  This way food can be given out discreetly to avoid any embarrassment that many students already experience during high school years.

The office manager of one high school realized a girl at school was not eating anything except for the free lunch she received at school.  When she spoke with this girl, the student explained that her dad has diabetes and they spend all of their money on buying him special foods.  Sometimes there is just not enough for her brothers and sisters.  She is now able to pick out the foods her family can eat like brown rice, canned vegetables without salt and low-sugar cereals.  This is a nutrition need that the Food Bank would not be able to identify on our own.  Through these strategic partnerships the Food Bank is able to help students of all ages in a way that provides the nutrition they need and helps them to be ready to learn.

In addition to these specific programs that address the nutritional needs of people in our community, the Food Bank also offers nutrition support in the form of recipes and education. We strive to educate clients and volunteers at partnering agencies about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, small servings and nutritionally balanced meals. Budget-friendly recipes and cooking tips are provided at distributions, in newsletters and on our website. These resources help individuals turn the ingredients they receive from the Food Bank into delicious and nutritious meals.

Although March marks National Nutrition Month, our mission here at the Food Bank is to supply families with healthy food year round.

Changes Helped To Grow, Improve Food Program

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Most of the changes that have taken place at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano have come about in a natural evolutionary process.  We have grown into an organization that wants to provide our clients with not just food, but healthy and nutritious food.

Our initial focus on providing healthier food started with selecting better nutritional options when purchasing food from our suppliers. We started purchasing fruit packed in juice without added sugar, reduced-sodium canned vegetables, peanut butter without added sugar and canned tuna packed in water, rather than oil. The cost of food is always a concern to us and the agencies we serve, but we also realize that short-term savings decisions we make can have long-term health impacts on those who eat the food we provide.

Our nutritional efforts further expanded when we started working with the California Association of Food Banks to obtain donations of unmarketable but wholesome fresh produce.  We started receiving oranges, apples, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions and more.  This produce is not marketable for a number of reasons, but it is full of nutrients and is a valuable resource to the individuals we serve.  This supply of fresh produce became vital as we built distribution programs like Food for Children, Farm 2 Kids and the Community Produce Program. We have found that people do want to eat well, as they know it will improve their overall health.

Unfortunately, low-income people often have trouble getting the fresh produce they need, as it can often be expensive and difficult to obtain. We know we are making a difference when we send a truck load of fresh produce to low-income schools and local health clinics. Now over half of the food we distribute annually is fresh produce. To add more value to the produce we provide, we started offering recipe ideas and nutrition information at distributions and in newsletters. With this information, our clients can turn the ingredients we provide into healthy meals.

To get a general nutritional overview of the food we were distributing, we began evaluating the percentage of food that we would consider “good” (cookies, soda and sweets are not considered “good”). We developed a standard that had some subjective judgments, but we have stayed consistent to the standard we set, giving us a good evaluation tool.  Over the years, we have seen our standard of “poor food” decline from 7% of the total food we distribute to now be approximately 2%.  With the Food Bank purchasing healthier nonperishable food and the increase in fresh produce that we distribute, it is clear that the focus is not just on the quantity of food, but the quality of food as well. When individuals eat healthier, our entire society wins.

Senior Food Program Expands Reach

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Did you know more than half of the households served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano have had to choose between paying for medicine/medical care or food? For seniors living solely on social security this is especially true. Through the Senior Food Program, people 55 and over receive nutritionally balanced bags of food so they may not have to make those tough decisions.

Thanks to community support the Food Bank can help ease the burden for senior citizens.

The canned goods, bread and produce seniors are able to receive have a market value of approximately $50 per month and allow them to stretch their budgets to pay for medicine, rent, utilities and other necessities.

Since 2010, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has seen a 90% increase in the number of people we serve through the Senior Food Program. One of the ways we have been able to reach more seniors is by increasing the number of low-income senior housing complexes we provide food to.

Many low-income seniors who reside in senior housing are unable to travel to food distribution sites due to health issues and a lack of transportation.

If a senior housing complex can provide someone to pick up the food at the Food Bank warehouses in either Concord or Fairfield, Food Bank staff will help them load their vehicle.  The food is then taken back to the complex and volunteers, usually a few of residents along with their service coordinator, bag it in the common room. This provides an opportunity for the seniors to enjoy some social time while they are working and doing something useful for their fellow residents.

Those who are able can come down and get their groceries when the bags are ready, and for those who aren’t, their bags are delivered to them. We are happy to provide this service twice a month to the many low-income seniors who are unable to travel to an open distribution site.

In 2014, we added two new senior food distribution sites in Solano County, Heritage Commons in Dixon and Woodcreek Senior Commons in Fairfield.  They join Vacaville Senior Manor which has been with the food bank several years.  In Contra Costa County, Berrellessa Palms in Martinez joined the food bank in 2014 along with Golden Oak Manor in Oakley, Sycamore Place in Danville, and Columbia Park Manor in Pittsburg.

Beginning in February, 2015 Senior Manor Apartments in Fairfield will add additional seniors to the Senior Food Program at the Food Bank.  We are happy to provide this service twice a month to the many low- income seniors who are unable to travel to an open distribution site.

Learn how you can help seniors at www.foodbankccs.org/seniorhunger.

Seniors Should Not Have To Chose Between Food And Medicine

 

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Can you imagine living in your car in your retirement?  That’s a reality Dollie, a 73 year old woman from Fairfield, faced recently. In poor health and with very limited income, Dollie could no longer keep up with the rising costs of her food, gas, medications, and rent, and she faced some desperate choices.

At an age when many working Americans are planning their retirement vacations, or spending more time with their grandchildren, Dollie was homeless. She worked all her life, but her limited income and health benefits provided through our safety net programs for seniors were simply inadequate.

Dollie found help and shared her story with the National Senior Citizens Law Center who gave the Food Bank permission to retell her story. It is important for these types of stories to be told as many of our seniors don’t have enough to make ends meet.

With their limited income, more than half of the households served by the Food Bank have had to choose between paying for medicine, medical care, or food.

In fact, 1 in 7 of all people 65 and over are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Supplemental Poverty Measure. That’s 6.4 million of our parents and grandparents struggling daily to put food on the table, pay rent and afford the medical care they need.

According to a report released by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, from the start of the recession in 2007 to 2012, the number of older people threatened by hunger has jumped 49 percent.

No senior should have to choose between food and the medicine they need.

With your help, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is able to provide groceries to more than 3,000 senior households each month through the Senior Food Program. Seniors 55 and over receive nutritionally balanced bags of food so they may not have to make those tough decisions.

For more information on how you can help the Food Bank provide nutrition to seniors, please visit www.foodbankccs.org/seniorhunger. To find a Senior Food Program site near you, visit http://www.foodbankccs.org/get-help/senior-food-program.html or call 855-309-FOOD.

 

 

Food Bank Supplements Where Social Security Doesn’t Provide

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Whenever I think about the 3,000 people the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides food to through our Senior Food Program, I know that part of the reason they need food is because they depend on the Social Security program.  We now understand that Social Security is not supposed to be the sole source of income for a retired person, but many retirees thought it was their retirement plan.  If you look at the total number of retirees receiving Social Security, it is only 38% of the total income those people receive.  Of the entire group, 52% of married couples and 74% of unmarried individuals have over 50% of their income coming from Social Security.  When you consider that group of people, 22% of the married people and 47% of the individuals get 90% of their income from Social Security.  There is a wide range in how much people depend on Social Security with some depending on the program a great deal.

The reason people need to come to the Senior Food Program is because the average Social Security payment is $1,294 per month.  If an individual was getting 90% of their income from Social Security they would have a total income of less than $17,000 a year and a married couple would earn just over $31,000.  Where can they find an apartment they can afford?  Where do they cut their cost when medical issues hit them with copay costs?

Even people who live in subsidized housing face these challenges.  Even people who pay on a sliding scale can pay $800 a month.  In talking to someone we partner with at a subsidized senior residence, she reminded me that most of the people they serve are unmarried (more widows than widowers).  She spoke about one person who only had $20 for her food budget after she met all her living expenses.  Several of the people who live in their residence had made retirement plans but lost most of what they had set aside when the market crashed.  People who had lived in the community their whole lives saw their income fall so that they were no longer able to pay taxes and maintenance costs on their home.  The plans they made failed because of circumstances beyond their control.  Now they are trying to live on what Social Security provides.

The area people can cut costs is the food they buy, so the Senior Food Program makes a real difference in their lives.  We do not provide all the food a person needs, but seniors receive bread, fruit, vegetables and canned food.  Twice a month we are able to help people get just a little bit more.  Senior citizens are proud people who do not want to take charity.  People have worked their whole lives to be independent, but their world has changed.  Social Security does not give people enough income to buy the healthy food a senior deserves.

Food Bank Marks 40th Year Of Battling Hunger

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The end of the calendar year is always a time to reflect on what has been accomplished in the year that is coming to a close and plan for the coming year.

The year 2015 is special for those of us at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano because it is the 40th anniversary of the year we were incorporated, so we look back to when we began as we plan for where we hope to go.

In 1975 the Food Bank started as two employees trying to provide more food to emergency food pantries.

The pantries provided short-term help to people who were waiting to obtain assistance from government aid programs. In our first year we provided more than 30,000 pounds of food through the agencies we served.

Now, 40 years later, through direct distribution and partner agencies like emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofit partners the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provided more than 20 million pounds of food, the most food we have ever distributed.

We had another significant milestone last year with half the food we distributed being fresh produce.

Because of our partnership with the California Association of Food Banks, we have access to millions of pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables that are not marketable to the mainstream, but are still nutritious. In order to get this fresh food to those in need, we have established direct service programs like the Community Produce Program and Farm 2 Kids.

We celebrate the fact we have such a positive impact on low-income people’s lives, both economically and nutritionally.

We are extremely positive about the good work we do and the nutritious food we are able to distribute, but we are concerned that one in eight people living in Contra Costa and Solano counties rely on the Food Bank to get by day to day.

We know it is a positive thing we can provide food every day because people need the help we give. But in the coming years I hope we can work toward the Food Bank again becoming an emergency resource instead of an essential part of the support system for people in need.

It is not acceptable that people should be hungry in an affluent food-rich society like ours.

The Food Bank is proud of what we are able to do every day, providing healthy food to people in need. As long as people are hungry, we still have work to do.

But going forward we need to be part of the conversation about why people need food and what we can do as a society to make sure everyone has the nutrition they need no matter what the economy or life situation.

If you would like to help the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano there are many ways to donate. For every $1 you donate, the Food Bank can distribute two meals to those in need. Donate online at http://www.foodbankccs.org/give-help/donate.html or mail a check to Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, P.O. Box 6324 Concord, CA 94524. All donations to the Food Bank are tax deductible.

You could also become a pledge donor and fight hunger regularly throughout the year by having your donation automatically deducted from your bank account or credit card. Your gift goes directly to the Food Bank, where it is put to work immediately to help feed hungry children and needy adults. Plus it saves time, paper and postage further stretching your donation.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord. Email: info@foodbankccs.org

Food Bank Aims To Make Those Tough Decisions Go Away

We all make choices every day about how we spend our money.  Do we own a house or do we rent an apartment?  Do we depend on public transportation or do we own a car?  How nice a car?  Are we able to go out to dinner?  Are we able to travel?  These questions are about how we use our expendable income, money in excess of what we need to meet our basic living expenses.  The people served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano don’t have many choices about expendable income because they may not even have it. We see people who have to choose between heating their home and having food to eat, there’s nothing extra.

Senior citizens receiving Social Security know about this struggle.  The current average monthly benefit for a Social Security recipient is $1,294 per month, an annual income of $15,528.  If I look at what rental and utility costs are for an individual receiving Social Security, those costs in California will eat up most of their monthly income.  So how do they pay for medical costs, operating a car (assuming they can afford to own one) or public transportation?  Sometimes they go without.

Food is an area where people can make decisions to save some money.  Pasta and rice are pretty cheap.  I have had people tell me they dilute milk to make it go further.  You can make decisions when you choose groceries that save money.  People can’t bargain with their landlord or ask the utility company to cut their rates because they are in difficult financial circumstances.  People who face difficult decisions can save money as they go through the grocery store, or skip a meal here and there.

Unfortunately, the decisions people make that save them money short term cost them over time.  If they cannot feed their children well, the kids don’t succeed in school.  If people are not eating well themselves, they harm their health.  Good nutrition is medicine; people who do not eat well suffer both physically and mentally.  All we know about nutrition and its impact on health tells us we need to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.  We need to get exercise and drink water.  People know what they should do to preserve their health, no matter what their income.

But if you are poor, vegetables look very expensive compared to a fast food meal.  If you are a single parent bringing tired and cranky children home from day care, the drive through window looks good.  It is also a cheap meal that puts food into a hungry child’s stomach.  What decision would I make at the end of the month when I know my rent is due and the utility bill will be coming to me in a few days?  For the people we serve, we hope with the help they get from the Food Bank they don’t have to make as many of those tough decisions.

Your support makes the holidays better for families like Marla’s

marla williamsMonopoly money, something I remember thinking as a young child standing impatiently by my mother’s side, watching her tear paper coupons out of a book and hand them to the cashier. I was too young to understand anything different about the poverty my brothers and I grew up in. Not long ago, I found myself in a similar situation. A few years back, instead of waking up Christmas morning excited about opening presents like most children, my oldest daughter Lilia ran into my room and jumped on my bed exclaiming to the world that she knew it was Christmas because Santa had come and filled up the kitchen with food. That was my epiphany. I’m Marla Williams and this is the window into the life of a struggling family. A mother determined to break the cycle of poverty. A woman fueled by the love of my family, my community, my education, and leadership.

Our family has faced some challenges in the past few years. In July 2008, I held a job in the mortgage industry that paid fairly well. Two years later, I was laid off. Michael, my husband, is a veteran who has served two tours in Iraq. He was enrolled at Los Medanos College working on his associate’s degree at that time and employed full-time making minimum wage. Through the discouragement of the situation, the children had to adapt suddenly to several new changes at once. They went from a life that was comfortable to a life that left them struggling. They have slept in the backseat in the early hours of morning while I worked a second job throwing newspapers out of the car window to make ends meet.

My daughters, Lilia and Toria, know what it is to be hungry and go without. It is their love that keeps my husband and I motivated. I decided to seek out help within my community. I went to social services to see what programs I might qualify for to temporarily better our situation. After the frustration of being told we make too much money for some forms of assistance, I discovered that we could get help with groceries and fresh produce from the Food Bank.

After taking career training courses, I am helping my family change our circumstances, the holidays this year will look different for my girls. Michael is no longer working at a minimum wage job, however money is still tight. The Food Bank is the glue that holds struggling families together when we have expenses like a $900.00 car repair and there isn’t enough money left over to buy groceries. I went to the local pantry to pick up groceries just this morning so we can make it until his next payday this Friday.

I’m a dedicated individual when it comes to making our communities more resourceful for families in need. I believe in the power one individual can have to change not only their circumstances for the better but for the community around them as well. My family is on our way to no longer needing support from the Food Bank, but many like us are still in need of a helping hand. I will continue to fight to save community programs that are so vital to hundreds of families facing financial challenges in this economy.

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.