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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.

USF Grad Students Distribute Food

Guest post by Adrienne Sommer-Locey – I don’t know what I was expecting when my team signed up to bag food for the Vallejo distribution with Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Times are tough, and friendly faces can be hard to find; you never know what you will encounter at an assistance program. With an open heart and willing mind, my community service team and I carpooled to Vallejo to share our talents and learn from our experience.

Upon our arrival at the Community Center in Vallejo, we hopped out of the car and met the other volunteers, a team of high school students. There was a little separation between the two groups in the beginning as we introduced ourselves and signed in, but as soon as the truck with food pulled up there was work to do and no time to be shy! In the blink of an eye, tables were put out, pallets were set up, and an assembly line was formed. We all had our marching orders as to what goes in each bag, and instantly got to work with all the hustle we could muster.

In our Undergraduate program, we studied classical management techniques, the history of the evolution of organizational structures, and beyond. Learning these facts by rote will drill the concepts into your head, but the experience at the food bank brought it to life! We were constantly seeking the “one best way” a la Frederick Taylor, testing to see how to make the flow of the product move more efficiently. We specialized in our tasks and the products we handled as Adam Smith suggested in the Wealth of Nations and which Ford perfected in the automobile industry. We employed friendly peer pressure to goad each other on in a sort of reversed “soldiering” to go faster and be a stronger team member. Each person played their part, and the work was done in record time.

Once the bags were created, we shifted gears and got ready to meet the people who would be receiving them. Some of us took the role of greeting people and distributing bags, others took a role of maintaining the bags and keeping the supply chain rolling. I was part of the latter group, but I got an opportunity to meet and talk to the recipients as well. The most difficult realization was that the people we were helping were just like me. This was not some remote group in foreign lands suffering from malnutrition like you see in ads on TV. These are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, our friends. The truth is the face of poverty is our face, and their struggles are no more remote from us than our own shadow.

It can crush your spirit to see so many people struggling to get by day to day. Instead of a painful confrontation however, the work was done with a generous heart, the food gladly given and received, and everyone, including the recipients, was friendly and positive,. They were happy for the relief, and we were happy to assist them. There was no pity or resentment, just a real sense of compassion and gratitude. It felt good not just to do for others, but to be a part of a team working for a positive goal. My day at the Vallejo food bank was unforgettable; an experience I hope to repeat and share with many others.

Schools See Increased Need

We all know that the economy continues to flounder and despite reports of economic recovery, there are still many families that are struggling to put food on the table.  We see this first-hand when more people come to our distributions and sign up for CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps).  Another indicator of this disheartening trend is the increasing number of school children who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.  This number is of particular interest to me as I coordinate the Farm 2 Kids program, a program that provides free produce to children in low-income after school programs.  As I keep a close eye on these statistics I am noticing that sadly more schools are becoming eligible for Farm 2 Kids and of those that are eligible, their percentages are getting higher and higher.  This has been a glaring signal that the economy is hitting our children harder than anyone else.

Today, 1 in 4 American children are at risk of hunger.  It is because of this trend that the Food Bank is now expanding service at the very neediest schools to provide produce for all children, not just those in the after school program.   Hungry children cannot focus and be successful in school, much less grow to be healthy adults. For that reason the Food Bank hopes to continue expanding its service to schools to combat this issue.  For more information regarding free-reduced lunch percentages here is an article with details.  Visit our website to find out more about the Farm 2 Kids program.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

From Hunger to Health

While a movement toward healthy eating has been building for some time, with the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, the trend is gaining national attention.  Because diabetes and obesity are on the rise, more and more Americans are beginning to educate themselves on making healthier food choices.   As families struggle to put healthy food on the table we began asking ourselves, what is the role of the Food Bank?  We know our goal in serving over 132,000 people each month is not simply to fill bellies but must also provide good nutrition.

The Food Bank now evaluates the nutritional value of each item we purchase, looking in detail at sugar and salt content, as well as the vitamins and minerals it contains.  Our Senior Food Program serves low-income people over the age of 55, so we buy low-sodium or no sodium canned vegetables.  For the Food for Children program that serves kids ages 4-5, we opt for canned fruit in 100% juice, not syrup.  We also avoid overly processed foods. Instead, we choose whole food items like beans, rice, and lentils.  We also provide the same options to our pantries and soup kitchens giving them more whole grain choices like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat pasta.

Our focus has shifted toward more fresh fruits and vegetables that provide our clients the nutritional balance they need.  In that vein, we have rapidly expanded the Farm 2 Kids program that provides fresh produce to low income school children.  Distributing fresh produce has increased so significantly over the last few years that 1/3 of the food now distributed by the Food Bank is fresh fruits and vegetables.