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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.

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.