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Community Produce Program: Realities from the Frontlines

William asked if he could have extra produce because “I don’t have enough food.”  A senior citizen said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.  It really helps me stretch my social security.”  A family of four with three children came up to the table and asked if they could pick up produce.  “I’m really hungry, we don’t have food at home,” said the young girl. We hear this from young people to seniors and everyone in-between.

These are a few of the many folks who come to the Community Produce Program for the Food Bank’s twice-monthly fresh produce distribution.  Five days a week, clients thank us for the produce and often mention this is their only access to fresh produce.  First timers are often surprised at the quality, variety and quantity of the produce.  Many tell us they have not had persimmons or apples in a long time.  One client was happy to see the persimmons, telling us he had not had one since he came to this country six years ago.

Thanks to support from the National Dairy Council the Food Bank is able to help a lot of working folks who simply do not make enough money to feed their families.  But more important than providing folks with enough food is providing them with the right food.  In partnership with Feeding America the National Dairy Council has developed a list of “Foods to Encourage” for food banks around the country to use as a guide to build healthier communities.  Creating a program that distributes nothing but fresh produce ensures our clients are receiving the most nutrient-rich food possible.

In addition to providing fresh produce, the Community Produce Program also includes a nutrition education component.  Many of these same clients tell us they like the nutrition information provided in the recipes and the engaging nutrition questions we ask.  Some try the recipes and let us know how they came out.  Many clients also learn something new about the featured produce, often being reminded to sauté, bake, or eat the fruits and vegetables whole.  For more information about the Community Produce Program or the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano please visit www.foodbankccs.org.

El Cerrito Neighborhood Takes on Hunger one Green Bag at a Time

By Neil Zarchin, Food Bank Grants Coordinator: The Neighborhood Food Project was launched in Ashland, Oregon in 2009, and has since expanded to many parts of the country.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is one of the first Food Banks to adapt the program to a county-wide operation rather than to support just one food pantry.  Our Neighborhood Food Project is a donor drive more than a food drive because instead of asking for one-time contributions of food, our volunteer Neighborhood Coordinators enlist their neighbors to become long-term Food Donors by leaving a bag of food on their porches for pickup every two months.  Here’s the story of a new Neighborhood Food Project in West Contra Costa County that is following the classic Ashland model  and doing a great job!

In February 2013, residents of a quiet corner of El Cerrito in West Contra Costa County decided to be among the first to participate.  A neighborhood organization already existed, so when the idea was proposed the infrastructure for the project was already in place. There is some concern for privacy, so the neighborhood won’t be named.

The idea was first brought up at a Holiday block party. Having already used the neighborhood email list to promote the Letter Carriers’ Food Drive, it was an easy step to transfer to the protocol of the NFP.

An email asking for a Neighborhood Coordinator went out to neighbors on the email group list and Dee, stepped up to the task.  She received training and the necessary materials from the Food Bank and then in March, she sent out an email to the group of neighbors explaining the incredibly easy program of neighbors leaving a bag of food on their porches every two months for Dee to collect for the Food Bank.  As each household emailed her to join , she left an empty, reusable Food Project bag on their porch containing extra informational flyers to give out to other neighbors who might not be in the email group. By the Pickup Day in April, a dozen families had already enrolled for their area’s inaugural collection. All twelve families who signed up participated (a couple of reminder emails were sent) and a 100% collection participation was achieved!

On the first pickup on Saturday, April 13th , as Dee walked the neighborhood collecting the bags from her neighbors’ porches in her radio flyer wagon, a few more neighbors approached her and she signed them up on the spot for the next Pickup Day in mid-June.  The neighborhood area also expanded from the one major street to neighbors living on adjacent streets.  By the second pick up, the number of food donors almost doubled! And even though one family forgot to put out their bag on that June morning (Dee did collect it later), another gentleman seeing her pulling a little red wagon filled with green bags of food down his street, not only stopped her to sign up for the next collection in mid-August, but also spontaneously took the empty food bank bag given him for the next collection, ran into his house shortly reemerging with his bag of food donation for that morning’s collection too.

And of course as the number of neighbors sign up and participate, the amount of food donated by her neighborhood, collected and delivered to the Contra Costa food by Dee, is increasing. She takes a few pictures of their food collection as it’s received by Joan Tomasini at the Food Bank warehouse on Pickup Days and emails them along with thanks to her amazing neighbors and they are gratified to know and see that they are helping so much to provide healthy food for people in need on a regular basis.

Just imagine how much food the hungry could have if every neighborhood did what these folks do.  As Dee, says, who knew that giving needed food donations on a regular bi-monthly neighborhood donor system could be so easy and be such a source of satisfaction and pleasure for all involved.

One more thing – the first collection back in April was 173 lbs., June was 243, August up to 314 – great progress!!

To join the Food Project or learn more, visit www.ccsfoodproject.org.

48 Hunger-Fighters Begin Year-Long Term of Service

Last month, Berkeley Adams began her term of service as an Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps volunteer at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. She joins the largest class of hunger volunteers in the program’s history with 114 individuals in the incoming class across the country.

The Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corp program, part of AmeriCorps, has more than doubled in size in just one year, jumping from 55 to 114 participants and expanding from 16 to 30 states. Incoming VISTAs (Volunteers In Service To America) have been recruited from 43 cities in 23 states, with recruitment ongoing. The VISTAs will work across 57 cities in 30 states for a one year term. They range in age from 21 to 44. In contrast, the first volunteer class in 2011 had 47 members.

Started in 2010, the objective of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps is to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations nationwide to enable more eligible individuals and families to fight hunger while empowering them to achieve long-term financial security. Volunteers also work to provide technical assistance to food pantry and soup kitchen operators, assist in fundraising and volunteer recruitment efforts, and work to increase access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP) formerly called food stamps.

One of the largest barriers low-income residents face in receiving nutritional food is lack of access, both in terms of getting enrolled for CalFresh benefits and using them in the right places. Berkeley will be on the front lines of doing each across the two counties the Food Bank serves. She’ll be implementing the use of tablets for CalFresh Outreach and training volunteers and agencies on how to use the new technology so clients can fill out online applications. She will also help connect clients to Farmers Markets so they can shop for fresh, locally grown produce with their benefits.

 We are thrilled to welcome Berkeley to our organization. This program will enable us to really focus on our capacity building efforts in CalFresh and client access to fresh produce, in order to make a lasting, long-term impact in ending hunger not just in this region, but across the nation.

Hunger-Fighter Finishes Year of Service

 This month, Heidi Kleiner completed her term of service as an Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps volunteer at Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

 Heidi made a significant contribution to Food Bank by recruiting, training, and organizing a specialized group of volunteers to help low-income individuals and families sign up for CalFresh, also known as SNAP nationwide.  She undertook the training of volunteers as well as partner agencies on how they could help their clients apply for benefits.  She has connected CalFresh clients with local farmer’s markets and helped them understand how they can utilize their EBT cards to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.  Heidi is part of a class of 36 Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps volunteers spanning 14 states and 18 regions with volunteers collectively completing nearly 75,000 hours of service.

The Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps is an AmeriCorps VISTA project, sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Walmart Foundation, the ConAgra Foundation and managed by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. The VISTA volunteers work in both rural and urban areas.

Little Faces

Today I was reminded why I work for the Food Bank.  During my normal Sunday grocery shopping trip, I heard someone say “That woman just pushed a whole shopping cart of groceries out the door!”  Within seconds, several employees ran after her.  I was near the front door and it was easy to see the commotion.  An old van was parked just outside the front door.  The mattress tied to the top indicated the family was homeless. A man sat in the drivers seat and two little wide-eyed kids watched  as mom and the cart of groceries was escorted back into the store. As they walked past me the mom repeated “I’ll pay!  I’ll pay!” At this point I continued shopping.  A few minutes later I overheard a clerk say that when they ran her credit card, it was denied. Fortunately for this family, she was allowed to leave without prosecution. I was grateful that the staff recognized a family in crisis.

I looked for the family in the parking lot but they were gone.  I wanted to tell them about the Food Bank resources like Food for Children and the partner agencies with emergency food pantries like the Bay Area Crisis Nursery (for her small children) and the family homeless shelter. I hope I see them again.  I also hope they reach out to help, because it is available.

What a sad reminder about the necessity of the Food Bank and other nonprofit agencies. I don’t think I will forget this family and the little scared faces peering out the van windows. Although this scene will haunt me, I am happy that I was at Safeway when this happened. This was a highly motivating experience.  This is why I work at the Food Bank.

If you know someone in need of food assistance, please visit www.foodbankccs.org or call 1.855.309.FOOD

Kathy Gleason
Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager
Food Bank of contra Costa and Solano

Kraft Rolls Out a ‘Farmers’-Market-On-Wheels’ for the Food Bank

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is fighting hunger one mile at a time with the gift of a new Kraft Mobile Pantry truck.  The refrigerated vehicle will hit the road to bring a fresh produce to low-income areas in the community, expanding the reach of the Food Bank while delivering fresh fruit and vegetables.

 This truck is part of a nationwide fleet being rolled out by Kraft Foods Foundation (now known as Mondelēz International Foundation) and Feeding America, to reach those hardest hit with food insecurity. The mobile pantry will be used as part of the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program to expand the service area to West Contra Costa and Solano county to bring approximately 20 pounds per person of four to seven types of produce to three distribution sites per day serving 50-200 people, depending upon the site and location, at a time when the need has never been greater.

 Here in Contra Costa and Solano counties, 1 in 4 of our neighbors face food insecurity.  We’re seeing more residents reaching out for food assistance than ever before.   The Kraft Mobile Pantry could not come at a better time to help us increase the number of clients and areas we are able to reach.

 Fighting hunger is not new for Kraft.  The company has partnered with Feeding America for decades to do just that.  The mobile pantry program is one of many programs making a difference in communities where the company’s employees live and work.

Special Program Sees to Nutrition Needs of Seniors

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: I remember reading a quote from a political leader that said you can best evaluate a society by how well it takes care of its children and its elderly. From my experience with Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano programs, I am convinced our society can do better. The huge number of children and senior citizens coming to us for food assistance says that our social programs are not doing what they should.

One of the first direct distributions the Food Bank established was the Senior Food Program. In the early 1980s, it was obvious that Social Security benefits were not adequate to support an individual in the Bay Area. Seniors had to make difficult decisions about housing, medical care and the basics of life. When stories started coming back to us about people eating less to save money, we knew we should try to make a difference with the food donations available to us.

Beginning with 50 people, we have grown the Senior Food Program to 3,300 seniors at 28 sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties. Last year, more than 1.3 million pounds of food went to the senior citizens who participate in this program.

We are also working with those who are part of the Senior Food Program because they may be eligible to receive Cal Fresh (formerly food stamps) benefits. The people this program serves recognize that their health depends on their diet. If they are going to avoid significant medical costs, good food is important to their health.

I am grateful the community support we receive allows the Food Bank to make a difference in the lives of senior citizens.

If you are a senior who could use food assistance, or know someone who can, please go to www.foodbankccs.org/get-help/senior-food-program.html or call (toll free) (855) 309-3663.

 

Looking Forward to New Projects

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Starting the New Year is a time to reflect on what we have done in the past and what we hope to do in the future. At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, the New Year is more a check-in time for us because we are already implementing a three-year strategic plan. So the New Year is a time to reflect on where we will go as an organization in the coming year as we think about the exciting events that will take place.

Our most immediate accomplishment is that, within the next two months, we will begin Phase 2 of our Community Produce Program, starting produce distribution in Solano County and Western Contra Costa County. Two trucks full of fresh produce will be on the road five afternoons each week, bringing healthy food to low-income people.

We will also see our vision of working collaboratively with Solano and Contra Costa counties take a step forward in the work we do with CalFresh (the new name for food stamps) outreach. Grant funds have allowed us to add a person to our staff who can build on our solid working relationship, and we hope to be able to do preliminary enrollment for CalFresh participants online, making it easier for eligibility workers to enroll people in the program.

Finally, we will continue to work on our advocacy efforts. Because of the role we play in directly feeding people in need, we bring hands-on knowledge to any discussion about hunger in our community.

In tight budget times, the voices of those in need must be part of the conversation when decisions are made. Cuts made to programs that provide assistance to low-income people have a profound social impact. Elected officials need to understand that budget cuts are not just numbers, they affect people.

Stay in touch with the Food Bank by joining our online community and receiving occasional e-news related to you area(s) of interest at www.foodbankccs.org.

Helping Put Healthy Food on the Table

Juan Orozco teamed up with Liliana Sandoval from the San Francisco and Marin Food Bank

By Juan Orozco, CalFresh Outreach Coordinator for Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano: In an effort to educate and raise public awareness about CalFresh, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is partnering with other Bay Area food banks to provide CalFresh Outreach at the San Francisco Mexican Consulate.  The goal is to increase participation in federal food assistance programs, thereby helping to reduce food insecurity for people struggling to make ends meet.  Studies have shown one of the primary reasons why low–income households who qualify for CalFresh are not participating in the program is lack of eligibility information.  In collaboration with the San Francisco Mexican Consulate we hope that we can encourage more legal immigrants to apply for the nutrition benefits of CalFresh.  CalFresh helps millions of Americans in need to put nutritious food on their table.

If you would like to learn more about CalFresh eligibility or need assistance with the application process, please visit www.foodbankccs.org/calfresh.

Taking Schools to the Next Level: School Pantries Feed the Minds of Tomorrow

Fall is generally a time of great excitement for school-age kids; it means a new year with a new teacher, new friends, and new beginnings.  Schools serve as so much more than a place where a child learns math or geography, but as a center and safe gathering place for the community surrounding it.  For the 1 out of 4 children who struggle with hunger every day, it can also serve as a place where you can they can count on receiving the food they need to learn and thrive.  The Food Bank has fostered partnerships with schools over the past five years, creating the Farm 2 Kids program that provides five pounds of fresh produce to over 9,000 children at 80 sites each week.  To take these partnerships even further, the Food Bank created a School Pantry program that provides shelf-stable food to high school students in need.

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 represents a need that the Food Bank would not be able to identify on their own.  Through these strategic partnerships the Food Bank is able to help students of all ages in a way that makes them confident, happy and ready to learn.

The Food Bank is able to maintain programs like school pantries and Farm 2 Kids with support from a generous community. Find out how to donate on our website.