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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.

Breaking the Cycle

Guest post by Food Bank friend Marla Williams: Monopoly 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.

Marla and her family

Marla and her family

Lilia loves to read and has a quiet and kind disposition. Victoria continuously will surprise people with a sense of humor often far beyond her age and is very prone to expressing her wit at random. Michael, my husband; is a former veteran who has served two tours in Iraq. Michael is currently enrolled at Los Medanos College working on his associate’s degree. Michael is also employed full time making minimum wage. 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.  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 their mother worked a second job throwing newspapers out of the car window to make ends meet. They’ve been without warm clothes for school until our family could afford them. Lilia and Toria know what it is to be hungry and go without. It is their love that keeps my husband and I motivated.

After being laid off, I got a job at a well known coffee company to help make ends meet.  I knew my family would need some additional assistance with food and finances. At that time I decided to seek out answers 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.

Today, after graduating Opportunity Junction (a partner agency of the Food Bank) and 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 these financial challenges in today’s economy.

Food Bank Has Developed Greatly Through the Years

Originally posted in The Vacaville ReporterThe Food Bank has moved a long way from providing emergency food to people every now and then to becoming a major part of the safety net.  Trying to end hunger means we have to be in this for the long haul because the end of hunger is not yet in sight. We have a sophisticated distribution system that provides over 60,000 pounds of food to low-income people in our community every working day.  In order to make this possible, we have developed a variety of ways to get food to the people we serve.

Many of the distribution systems we developed came about because the nature of the food available to us changed.  As the amount of processed food diminished and the amount of fresh produce increased, we had to move food more quickly.  The majority of the fresh produce we receive is the “less perishable” type (apples, oranges, potatoes, cauliflower, etc.) but it still needs to get to people quickly.  In order to make produce available to the 180 agencies we serve, the Food Bank established remote distribution sites where we meet local agencies in their community.  We meet agencies every week (twice a week in some communities)in a parking lot where we provide them the shelf stable items they order from a shopping list of available food, and give them access to bins of fresh produce.

While we are doing well providing more food for agencies to distribute to the community, we also bring the food directly to the people in need of help.  Our Farm 2 Kids program depends on a driver and truck making deliveries to after-school programs at low-income schools.  This program distributes enough fresh produce so each child can take home three to five pounds to share with their families each week during the school year.  We were granted  two trucks that are set up to be like a mobile farmer’s market and created the Community Produce Program  Those trucks go to over fifty sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties, making it possible for low-income people to receive over twenty pounds of fresh produce every other week – at no cost to them.

These programs work because the community wants to see people have the food they need to be healthy.  Volunteers bag produce in our warehouse so it is easier to distribute.  Volunteers come to the distribution sites and help prepare food bags so it is easy for people to obtain.  A generous community helps us cover the costs involved in proving people in need with millions of pounds of food each year.  Our work has changed, but what we can accomplish has improved significantly.  We are part of a community that does all they can to help their neighbors in need.

 

 

Easy DIY Reusable Bags

tshirt bagGuest post by Child Nutrition and Outreach Manager, Robert Brown: Food Bank Farm 2 Kids sites encourage taking home produce in reusable bags. Some of the after school program sites shared their ideas for obtaining bags:  Tiffany DuBose, at Lincoln Elementary retrieves bags from storefront recycle bins; The folks at Fair Oaks Elementary and Meadow Homes Elementary ask parents and teachers to donate bags; Sun Terrace buys T-Shirt bags at Smart and Final; Claudia Chan, at Wilson Elementary makes tote bags out of used T-Shirts.

Making a tote bag using old T-Shirts is a great idea!  Not only is this friendly to the environment, it is a good way for students to take ownership of their bags.  Erin Huffstetler, a freelance writer at About.com has given some easy-to-follow steps.

What will you need?

  1. An old t-shirt
  2. Thread
  3. A needle or sewing machine
  4. Sewing pins
  5. Scissors
  6. A large mixing bowl
  7. A pen or pencil

Instructions:

  1. Lay the t-shirt out on your work surface and smooth out any bumps or wrinkles. Then, cut off the sleeves, following the contour of the seam.
  2. Lay a mixing bowl over the neckline of the t-shirt, and trace around it. Then, cut along the line to create the opening for your tote bag.
  3. You should now be left with a t-shirt that resembles the one in the photo — pretty much your standard plastic grocery bag shape. To complete the tote bag, simply flip the shirt inside out; and sew the bottom opening shut.  (Retrieved March 31, 2014 from http://frugalliving.about.com/od/craftsgifts/ss/TShirt_Tote_Bag.htm)

Many thanks to all who shared their tips for obtaining bags.  A special thanks to Claudia Chan for sharing her wonderful idea with us, as well as a photo of the finished product (above).

Mildred Celebrates Her 97th Birthday with the Food Bank

By Meg Zentner, Senior Food Program Coordinator: Mildred was born on April 9, 1917 in Stockton. She spent her childhood in a tiny town outside Tracy and someplace called Fireball. Her father worked for Standard Oil and in 1929 when she was 12 the family moved to Brentwood, where she has lived ever since.

mildredShe has been married twice and has no children, but is very close to her nephew and his kids. Early in her first marriage she traveled around with her husband who was an agricultural state inspector. When he returned from the service at the end of WWII they bought a walnut farm in Brentwood from her father in-law where she has lived ever since. They farmed it together until her husband passed away. She worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross, and later ran the crafts program at the original Brentwood Senior Center. Mildred started volunteering at the Senior Food Program site in Brentwood 3 months after its inception in 1981 and has been there ever since. Mildred still drives and lives independently on her walnut farm. She is an awesome human being. As I told the volunteers at her birthday party today, “When I grow up I want to be just like Mil”.

To find out how you can make friends and have fun with the Food Bank, visit www.foodbankccs.org/gethelp.

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.