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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.

Fast Food Stamps

Should Food Stamp recipients be able to use their benefits to buy fast food? The program now known as CalFresh in California (and SNAP federally) was initiated during the depression to help end hunger and encourage domestic consumption of agricultural commodities.[1] The goal of the program is “to alleviate hunger and malnutrition … by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation” as stated in the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended (P.L. 108-269).[2] A record 45.8 million Americans used the program in August according to USDA that number represents an 8.1% increase over the previous year. [3]

Even though the name changed last year and benefits have been received on a electronic debit card system since the 1990’s, the term “food stamps” has remained the commonly known name of CalFresh. As the new name implies, people are encouraged to purchase fresh, healthy food items with their benefits, but are allowed to purchase any food items found in a grocery store except hot food, alcohol, cigarettes, pet food and household items. Benefits can also be used at many farmers markets. And in California benefits can be used at restaurants by people who can’t cook for themselves such as homeless, elderly, and the disabled. Should it be ok then for all recipients to use their benefits at fast food places where the food quality and nutritional value is surely less than what they could get at the grocery store or fares market? A certain fast food company was recently lobbying for just that in several states.[4] Share your thoughts with us but please remember to keep it respectful.

Gift Cards Galore!

Guest post by Kristy Osborn, Extra Helpings Coordinator. In the month of November, the Food Bank distributed a $15 Safeway gift card to each client in the Extra Helpings Food Program and will be doing the same at the end of December.  Each year, the Food Bank distributes gift cards in the program during these months in lieu of distributing turkeys or hams due to food safety, personal choice, and logistical reasons.   “By giving our clients a gift card instead of a turkey we are able to ensure that they will be able to get what they want because not everyone likes turkey or ham.  Also, it is a lot easier to transport 50 gift cards rather than 50 turkeys to a distribution site and there are no potential food safety issues. It’s just a win, win all around to do it this way,” explained the coordinator of the Extra Helpings Program.

The gift cards allow the clients to have the ability to pick out something special for themselves during the holidays.  For many of them, this is the only gift they may receive during the holiday season since some are estranged from their family and have few social outlets to make friends. One client expressed his appreciation and excitement regarding the gift cards saying, “Thank you sooo much!  I’m gonna get me a big turkey and make a feast with all the fixings for Thanksgiving.”  When the Extra Helpings Coordinator asked the client who was coming over the client responded, “No one since all my family lives on the east coast and I don’t have too many friends.  I’m just gonna cook a big Thanksgiving meal cause I like to cook and I deserve it!”

The Extra Helpings Program is a supplemental food program for people of all ages who are living with HIV/AIDS and are case managed through the Contra Costa County AIDS Program. Clients can receive food twice a month through this program and generally receive a box of nonperishable items (canned foods,  dry pasta/rice, cereal, peanut butter, etc.), a bag of produce, bread items, meat (chicken or beef), cheese and a gallon of milk each time they come to the distribution site.  The Extra Helpings program offers home delivery service for clients who are medically homebound and too weak to pick up their food. The Food Bank has been offering this program since 2006.

Agency Store Gives Help with Dignity

Guest post by Inventory Logistics Coordinator, Charisse Ross. The Vacaville Storehouse is a distribution center for food and clothing to needy families of Vacaville. The food is provided by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Food and clothing are given free of charge to those who are in need. Some members of our operations team stopped in for a visit and shared what they saw.

Filled bags of groceries ready for Storehouse patrons.

Their store front looks like a mini Target. Clients check in at the door and are asked if they have picked up groceries yet this month. The volunteer will verify in their computer whether or not the person came. If not, they go through the FAP (Food Assistance Program) qualifying process. If they have not received their FAP groceries yet, they are given a coupon that they exchange for the proper number of bags based on their family size. Whether they are picking up a FAP bag or not, they still get to shop in their “store”. They are given one empty grocery bag and they can fill it with whatever items they want (i.e. clothes, perishables and/or other non-food items). About 1500 bags of groceries are distributed every month.

Pastor Raymond Beaty is the Executive Director of the program. The white boxes behind him are cereal our purchasing manager helped them get.

They have an internship program with kids between 18 and 23 who have graduated from high school, but not sure of what they want to do next. They come from all over, even different countries and are housed by host families from their church. These kids take various different classes they provide plus they volunteer at the Storehouse every day. The Storehouse also goes out into troubled areas of their community and (using the same qualifying process) give out groceries. For instance, one location is a park where gang members might hang out. They show up with food to give out, the gang members go away and they have noticed kids coming out to play.

54 scarves knitted for the Storehouse by Food Bank employee, Charise, her friends and family.

The Vacaville storehouse is located at:
1146 E. Monte Vista Ave.

Vacaville, CA 95688

For more information please email Stephanie Johnson or visit their website.
Have you been to the Storehouse? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

Vacaville Storehouse

 

 

 

 

The Luxury Peanut Butter

As food costs have risen over the past few months the one item known as a staple in many households is quickly becoming a luxury. Peanut Butter, the kid friendly food that is such a great source of protein, has risen nearly 60% for the purchasing manager at the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano.

“Peanut butter prices have gone up 30 percent or more because hot weather in states like Texas and Georgia hurt this year’s peanut crop and because some farmers switched to more profitable crops, such as corn and cotton.”  –Washington Post

Just this past summer the Food Bank was able to buy a 12/18oz case of peanut butter for about $15.50/ case and now prices have risen to nearly $24.50/ case.

To provide a child with this healthy source of protein, you can donate online or bring in a jar of peanut butter today!

Taking Care of Seniors

Guest post from Charlene Burns, Senior Food Program Coordinator: The Senior Food Program is very dependent upon a large group of dedicated, hard working volunteers.  They are vital to the program’s success.

Since the beginning of the fiscal year, 7-1-11, we have had 348 individuals volunteer with this program.  The majority of these volunteers help at almost every distribution, doing everything from paperwork to filling the bags of food with the products.  Without their efforts the program could not exist.  Thank you Senior Food Program Volunteers, you are the greatest!

Holiday Program Highlight

Throughout the year, the Food Bank provides its’ member agencies (soup kitchens, pantries, group homes, etc.) with 480,000 pounds per month of free food. Each holiday season, we are delighted to provide even more assistance.

In order to reach our goal of the 160,000 additional pounds the Food Bank hopes to distribute this holiday season, we have purchased 1,700 cases of food and worked to get extra produce. In addition, food drives, donations, and Merrill Lynch’s holiday boxes will bring us to our goal. This year, we have partnered with around 100 nonprofits located throughout Contra Costa and Solano Counties who are coordinating either holiday meals or holiday basket distributions.

We bolster these special holiday distributions by providing turkeys, gift certificates, produce, and food boxes. In addition, we will be distributing 3,000 $15 gift certificates for the purchase of turkeys. In all, we expect to help provide 6,000 holiday meals and 22,000 holiday food baskets.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of the people in the communities we serve. Thank you to all who support our mission. Happy holidays.

Stories from the Creek, Part 2

Guest post by John VanLandingham, Food Bank volunteer: Every month, approximately 100 people appear at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek to receive free food distributions from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano counties. Many of those are collecting for more than one person. Here are some of their stories

 “I’m collecting for my son. I saw the truck go by and I inquired.”
George, Walnut Creek

George stood with one booted leg firmly planted on the parking lot asphalt, the other, bent back under his thigh, carefully planted on an orthopedic scooter. The burly, white-bearded Walnut Creek resident said he was collecting food for his disabled son who lives at home with him.

“It’s my second time for him,” he said as he brought up the end of the line of about 110 persons waiting to receive food donations from the Contra Costa-Solano Food Bank volunteers. He said his son is unemployed and unable to meet his living needs without the Food Bank’s assistance.

George said he learned about the food distribution program by inquiring after he saw one of the Food Bank’s trucks go by one day. “I inquired and filled out the paper work,” he said.

After handing George a bag of staples, a volunteer asked George if he could use some extra apples. “Give me all you can, I’m collecting for my son,” he responded. Moments later, George, accompanied by a pair of volunteers, took the bag and a box of apples to his car parked nearby.

For more information on our programs and services, please visit the Give Help page of our website.