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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.

 

West Contra Costa and Solano Produce Sites Needed

Our Community Produce Program is expanding into West Contra Costa and Solano counties come early 2013.  This program provides free produce to low income individuals and families.  The Food Bank will distribute fresh fruits and vegetables directly off of a beverage-style truck at one hour distributions throughout the region.  We are currently looking for community organizations to partner with in these areas.  Some factors we must consider are:

  • Is the organization in a high-need area?
  • Is there a good-sized and well-lit parking lot?
  • Will the organization provide volunteers during the one hour distribution?
  • Will the organization aid in publicizing the program?

If you think that your organization would be a good match, fill out the form below and we will contact you shortly.

The Community Produce Program is People Friendly

Guest post by ambassador Cecelia Williams: As a Food Bank Ambassador, I distributed information for the new Community Produce Program being offered at Antioch High School.  During the high school registration days we reached out to people to publicize free healthy fruits and vegetables on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.  This program is particularly attractive because of the simplicity of qualification.  There are no applications or forms to fill out, and no documentation of any sort needed.  It is run on the honor system and an income chart.  Only two questions are asked: 1) How many people are in your household? and 2) Is your income below this level?  If the person qualifies, he/she signs her name and proceeds down the line to fill his/her bags with fresh healthy fruits and vegetables.  This program is definitely people friendly.

Saturday, August 11 was a great day.  It was the first distribution day at Antioch High School and I had the opportunity to help out.  It was nice meeting Cassie, Will, Matt, and Corinne.  The site is right across from the high school.  I enjoyed “meeting and greeting” everyone as they came to pick up food.  I tried to make it a happy day and a welcome experience for the people that came out on this hot morning.  There were several familiar faces from the Antioch High School registration day, and I gave them an extra big hello and glad to see them.

An informational white board with pictures of food available that day, as well as the upcoming dates was displayed to people while they waited in line to sign in.  I thought it was a nice touch that the item was named in both Spanish and English on the picture, as many of the people were Spanish speaking.

I had met a high school staff volunteer that week named Irma.  She was interested in disseminating information and in volunteering.  It was a wonderful surprise to see that Irma came to help that Saturday morning.

I helped people fill their bags in order to keep the line moving.  I also invited people to help themselves to a little more because we were told there was plenty of fresh produce for everyone.  Not having worked the program before, I was a bit worried about running out of food, which absolutely did not happen.  Everyone went home with bags full.  What a great feeling.

One lady said to me (in Spanish), “Thank you for helping us.”  I responded, “Each of us needs a little help now and then.”

My goal as an ambassador or in any of my volunteer work is to make a small, but positive difference for at least one person.  This world is made up of many people…one person at a time.  I am just one individual, so improving the world is a daunting thought, but helping one person, and then another, and then another….that I CAN do.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano staff really had the site organized and ready to go.  The ease with which the program flowed was awesome.  It was a good day and it was certainly my pleasure to help.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program, email volunteerhelpdesk@foodbankccs.org or call Sharon at (925) 676-7543 extension 209.

Farm 2 Kids Program Recognized by Kaiser

Guest post by Food Bank Grants Coordinator Don McCall – Farm 2 Kids provides 3-5 pounds of nutritious produce every week to low-income children in after school programs. The program not only received a very generous $25,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente Napa-Solano this year, but the program was also honored with a second runner-up award in their First Annual Officer Jim Capoot Community Project of the Year Award.

The Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Department for the Napa-Solano area has been providing support in the form of grants for the Solano County distributions of our Farm 2 Kids Program since 2008. This year we received an additional honor for the program along with an additional $500. The Officer Jim Capoot Community Project of the Year Award is named in honor of the slain Vallejo police officer who lost his life last November in the line of duty. The award acknowledges organizations making an impact in the community and helping change the lives of underserved populations. The award was won by On the Move, a nonprofit agency working with the underserved in Napa.

The Leaven, a Fairfield agency that tutors children and is one of the Food Bank’s partner  agencies received the first runner-up award. The winners were selected from the 38 area nonprofit organizations who had already won big by receiving generous grants for their programs from Kaiser Napa-Solano.

Building Community, Sharing Food

During the summer months, many think of sun, vacation and playtime, but at the Food Bank we are thinking of ways to meet the ongoing need for food in our community. Food drives are an important part of the food we provide, but during the summer, food donations are dramatically down compared to during the holiday season. In an exciting new effort to bring in a steady supply of food all year, we are embarking on a new project called the Contra Costa & Solano Food Project (CCSFP).

The Food Project is a donor drive, not a traditional food drive. Rather than asking for one-time contributions of food, volunteers enlist their neighbors to become long-term food donors. People commit to giving a small amount of food every two months, which provides our Food Bank with a year-round supply of food and provides the donors with the ongoing satisfaction of making a real difference.

Our key volunteers to the CCSFP are the Neighborhood Coordinators that enroll their neighborhood often asking friends and acquaintances that live close by. The Neighborhood Coordinators (NCs) can choose to involve a few houses, a whole street, or several blocks. The Food Project begins when the NC takes a supply of information cards and green Food Project bags to neighbors to explain the program and invites them to join in helping to provide food for hungry people in their community (we’ll show you how!).

The Food Project was created in January 2009, by a small group of Ashland, Oregon residents. They realized that many of their neighbors wanted to help fight hunger in their community, so they created a simple, door-to-door food collection system to make it easy for everyone to participate. They had three goals:

1. To provide a regular supply of food that would help feed hungry neighbors all year round.

2. To create new neighborhood connections and strengthen their community

3. To serve as a model for other communities

The volunteers promised to stop by their selected neighborhood homes every 2 months, pick up the food and take it directly to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. The project started with a core group of 10 volunteers picking up food and netted 600 pounds of food. One year later, there were over 150 Neighborhood Coordinators. By December 2010, the collection was over 28,000 lbs in one day! And this quantity of food still comes in on the 2nd Saturday of every other month.

It is now our turn to join in the Food Project movement as it spreads into California and soon across the nation. The Contra Costa & Solano Food Project needs you to make this grassroots effort a success. Whether you’re interested in donating food, collecting it, or helping build community in other ways, we invite you to join us as we form our neighborhoods for our first pickup day of August 11th. Learn more and get started by filling out a contact form on the Food Project website, or call Joan Tomasini at 925.676.7543, extension 208 or email jtomasini@foodbankccs.org. Together we are building community by sharing food!

If I Couldn’t Grab a Midnight Snack

Guest post by Jenay Ross, Print and Digital Journalism major//Music Industry minor, University of Southern California: Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were homeless? What it would be like if you didn’t have the same bed to sleep in every night or if you didn’t have a fridge to go through to search for a snack?

I think about it every time I feed the hungry.

Tonight I volunteered for Mission Solano’s Nomadic Shelter Program hosted by the Rockville Presbyterian Church in Fairfield. It was the most put-together food line I had ever volunteered at.

I don’t mean in terms of how organized it was, but how special everything looked. Instead of paper plates and plastic utensils, they used real plates and silverware placed on nice table cloths with candle center pieces.

The clients, or “guests,” arrived by bus shortly after 6:15PM, clean from their showers back at Mission Solano and ready for a filling meal.

Tonight’s meal consisted of glazed ham, green beans, mashed potatoes. bread, salad and a variety of cakes.

As if their “thank yous weren’t enough to warm my heart, every face had gratefulness written all over it. I even had the pleasure of having a conversation with a few of them about my own experiences at other food lines and my journalism endeavors.

One thing that blew me away was how helpful the clients were. They didn’t just congregate somewhere else while the volunteers cleaned up. They started breaking down tables, putting away chairs and even mopped up the floor while the volunteers did the dishes.

My favorite moment of the night was when a lovely young man was playing the church’s piano and started singing while some of the others laughed and danced.

Now the people are being tucked away at the church for a good night’s rest with a roof over their heads.

No one should ever go hungry and sometimes it’s up to us, the more fortunate souls, to be there for them.

Editor’s Note: Mission Solano is a Food Bank Partner Agency. To learn more about our agencies visit: http://www.foodbankccs.org/get-help/member-agencies.html

Farmers’ Markets for All

By Heidi Kliner, AmeriCorps VISTA: There is a common misconception that farmers’ markets are just for the privileged due to the idea that farmers’ markets are significantly more expensive than grocery stores, but many studies have shown that farmers’ market prices are not much higher than supermarket prices, with many of the fresh, seasonal produce being comparable or even less expensive than the same items in the supermarket, and with the added benefit of better quality and a boost for local business and community.  In truth, farmers’ markets can be a great way for low-income individuals and families to access healthy food, especially if they have CalFresh (aka Food Stamps)!

The way it works is someone with CalFresh goes to the information booth and tells the market manager he or she wants to use their EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card.  The market manager then swipes the card on a POS machine for the amount the person plans on spending at the market, and then gives tokens, each worth a dollar, which can be used at the different vendor stands like cash.  These tokens can be used to purchase produce, dairy products, baked items, meat, seafood, and even plants for growing one’s own food.

Tips for saving money when using your EBT card at the market:

  • Ask about incentive programs for people using EBT.  For example, all the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association markets this year have the Market Match program, where someone spending at least ten dollars in tokens at the market will receive five extra dollar tokens to be used for produce.
  • Split up some of the shopping based on price.  If some of the items like the meat or baked goods seem more expensive than in the grocery store, consider splitting up your shopping by buying all your fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market and your other items at the store.
  • Shop later in the day.  Vendors may discount their items near the end of the market day in order to get rid of it.
  • Buy a plant.  If you have a yard or a porch you can use for growing food, purchasing a plant at the market can be a low cost way of having several fruits or vegetables throughout the season (just be sure to look into whether your market is currently selling edible plants).

Fresh Produce Where It's Needed Most

The other day I visited a school in Richmond as part of my regular visits to the 79 schools we serve through the Farm 2 Kids program. As the Program Coordinator it is my job to make sure everything is going smoothly at the schools’ weekly produce distributions and look for other ways the Food Bank can help.

This is an area hard it by the effects of the recession and as I drove through the neighborhood that fact was made apparent by the amount of foreclosure signs I saw.  Kristina, the After School Program Manager showed me where they pass out bags of produce to the kids as their parents pick them up at the end of the day.  Families were helping themselves to oranges, potatoes, and yams and the kids seemed more than happy to help their parents carry the food home.  When I talked further with Kristina she explained to me that parents are taking this produce not as a luxury, but as a necessity.  “We have so many families that are moving in with their extended families to save money so we have new kids at the school all the time.  Parents are losing their homes and their jobs and having to rent rooms to get by.  This food is something they really need.”  She went on to explain that in times of crisis, people see the school as a safe place they can go for resources.  She loves being able to provide healthy food as another resource for them because she knows they need it.  The extra help the Food Bank provides helps them stretch the few dollars they do have to provide for their children.

The Farm 2 Kids program provides 3-5 pounds of produce to after school programs each week.  Over 9,000 low-income children regularly receive fresh fruits and vegetables through the program.  To find out more about Farm 2 Kids visit our page or donate to support the program.