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Food Safety Is A Top Priority For Local Food Bank

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is a member of Feeding America, the national association of food banks. Feeding America food banks are held to a high standards for service, food quality and transparency. We use the same standards as the corporate food industry because food banks realize that low-income people deserve food that meets the same standards as the grocery industry demands.

Food banks have been working with the food industry to demonstrate how we can work in tandem to save food from being wasted. Feeding America collaborated with several major grocery chains as they developed systems that would significantly reduce the amount of food waste in their stores.  Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, SaveMart and other chains established procedures where perishable food items would be pulled from the retail display while the food was still at a high level of quality. In some instances, meat could be frozen or other steps could be taken to extend the useful life of the food. As the grocery industry developed this system, they worked with Feeding America food banks so we could be an effective partner in accepting and distributing the grocery donations they were able to provide.

As the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano set up procedures to accept these donations, we focused on our building structure and developing our training plans. The Food Bank either picks the donations up in our refrigerated trucks or has member agencies directly pick food up from stores. We provide the agencies that pick the food up with thermometers so they can verify the proper temperature of the food and we provide them with thermal blankets to properly transport the food to the agency refrigerators. All the people involved in this effort receive ServSafe® training, so they are properly trained in safe food handling methods. Because we take these steps and because we handle food properly, millions of pounds of valuable food has become available to the people we serve.

Constantly improving the food safety standards of the Food Bank is a constant part of our culture. Part of our contract with Feeding America requires that our warehouse pass a third-party sanitation and safety audit.  AIB International is a food safety audit firm that has been doing training and food safety compliance work for over one hundred years (they began as the American Institute of Baking). With their advice, we developed a thick binder full of processes and protocols that have become part of every decision we make in our warehouse. The procedures our truck drivers and warehouse workers follow insure that the food we distribute is safe.  We take great pride that our audit score (on a scale of 1000 with 700 being a passing grade) was 935. I was pleased that the reaction our warehouse employees had after receiving the good news was to start thinking of how we could improve. We work to get better because it is the right thing to do for the people we serve.

Circumstances Can Change In An Instant

Originally posted on thereporter.com: Recently, I received a letter from a financial donor who apologized for her family’s minimal donations during the last year. She told me her story and I realized how easily circumstances can change. Her husband was laid off in December 2010 after 35 years in his job as his company closed down the entire division where he worked.  He has been looking for work with little success for three years, leading her to believe businesses prefer hiring younger people rather than those who bring hands-on experience to a position.  As an optimistic person, she is happy they are getting by and recognizes that there are many others in worse positions than her family.  Because of that optimism and her concern for other people in need, she recommended that her credit union direct part of their charitable giving to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

I also had a conversation with one of the senior citizens we serve through our Senior Food Program.  He retired when he was 62 from a job he hated yet held for nearly forty years to support his family. He had a small retirement package from his employer and had saved enough money so that he could get by.  As a retired man, he spent a good deal of time hanging out with his friends at a small restaurant, drinking coffee and sharing stories of their service in World War II.  He became friends with the restaurant owner so it felt like a good idea when he was offered an opportunity to invest in the business.  He and his friends were always there and the place seemed really busy.  He didn’t realize that the owner was covering cash flow issues by not paying payroll tax.  When the IRS closed the business down, the gentleman had to demonstrate his lack of financial resources and his lack of hands-on management in order to avoid further penalties.  He lost his savings and had to sell his condo in order to make things right.  He was lucky enough to get into subsidized housing after spending several years in the terrible places that qualify as low-income housing in our community.  He is now just getting by on Social Security, a $300 a month pension and the food he receives from the Food Bank’s Senior Food Program.

The power of circumstance and coincidence speak with force.  People have bad things happen, or sometimes make a mistake in judgment.  It can be a fine line between a comfortable life and needing help from the Food Bank. Hearing stories like these, I more fully understand how necessary it is to have a safety net because it could be any of us needing help at some point in our lives.

Holiday Dinner Drive raises $1 million to support Bay Area Food Banks

 Guest post from Michael Altfest of the Alameda County Community Food Bank: One of the Bay Area’s most remarkable fundraising efforts to support local Food Banks has achieved a significant milestone. This season, the Holiday Dinner Drive – an effort among congregants at local synagogues and churches – raised its millionth dollar to help families in need.  As of December 22, 2014, the drive has raised more than $1,042,000 in 17 years to support Alameda County Community Food Bank, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, and San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.

The milestone will be commemorated in a ceremony at Alameda County Community Food Bank on December 23 – the day leading up to the eighth and final night of Chanukah.

The Holiday Dinner Drive was started in 1998 by Dan McClosky, a congregant at Oakland’s Temple Sanai synagogue, after reading a report that Alameda County Community Food Bank did not have enough turkeys for the upcoming holiday season. That year, McClosky raised $550 among family and friends. Temple Sanai congregants joined in the efforts the following year, raising $13,000 for the Food Bank. The drive has continued to grow every year since – in the number of congregations as well as faiths; in the number of Food Banks supported; and the amount raised.

The Holiday Dinner Drive personifies the importance of community to hunger-relief causes. This started as a simple idea resulting from one man’s passion and dedication to ending hunger – passion and dedication that proved to be contagious. The enthusiasm for this drive is palpable – and it has resulted in one of the most outstanding efforts to help those struggling with the burden of hunger.

The drive raises funds that help food banks purchase and provide holiday-specific food to families in need, including chickens and turkeys, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and fresh and canned vegetables.

In 2014, 22 synagogues and churches participated in the Holiday Dinner Drive to support the three food banks.  Fundraising for the drive continues through December 31.

NBC Bay Area’s “Help Us End Hunger” Food Drive Helps Communities This Holiday Season

NBC Bay Area has once again teamed up with Safeway Stores for a month-long effort to fight hunger with food banks in the Bay Area. The “Help Us End Hunger” food drive is taking place at 155 Safeway locations throughout the Bay Area making it easy for community members to participate and help feed their neighbors in need.

In addition to providing on air promotion, NBC Bay Area anchors and reporters helped at their own neighborhood Safeway Stores alongside Kiwanis Club members and Food Bank volunteers on Saturday, November 22 to encourage shoppers to donate food items. On this day, 21,663 pounds of food was collected, meaning that more than 17,000 meals can be provided from one day alone!

To make the donation process easier, a specially produced shopping bag filled with items that food banks need the most will be available for $10 at all local Safeway stores. Items include pasta and sauce, canned vegetables and important protein items like peanut butter and canned tuna. Once collected, the bags are delivered to food banks for distribution to families in need. The bags will be available for Safeway shoppers to purchase now through December 25.

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Needing Help – It Could Happen To Anyone

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: All of us see things in ways that are familiar to us.  Everything is filtered through the lens of where we grew up, what our family was like, who our friends were and what experiences we have had. While we may think we understand what others are going through, to actually live it is another story.  For many, when we think about people in poverty there is an element of judgment. It can be difficult not to think that “if they did this, they wouldn’t be in this predicament.”  Listening to the stories of people who need help with food has greatly changed any judgment I may have had remaining.

The majority of the people we serve are senior citizens and children.  Some of the people are disabled because of disease or injury and others have mental health issues like depression.   Most of us agree we need to care for the elderly, children and the sick, but people raise questions about why we need to care for those who they feel aren’t trying hard enough to care for themselves.  I found that talking to someone who has been there quickly puts things into a new perspective.

Someone I met through my work at the Food Bank shared her story with me and it spoke to a series of bad events followed by more of the same for their comfortable two-income household. It began with one of the family cars breaking down and needing $2,000 in repairs.  Two weeks later, an auto accident totaled the other car, so they had to buy a $1,000 clunker.  They were keeping their heads above water when the husband’s hours were cut because business was down.  Parents helped with bags of food, but couldn’t do much more on their retirement income.  When money got tight, they started selling household items to buy food and gas to get to work.

As bad as it was, things got worse when the wife lost a job she had held for over twenty years referring people to emergency food and shelter resources.  She knew the system well and went to one of the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program sites where she got much-needed fresh fruits and vegetables for her family.  Going to the site brought her to tears, not because she was treated poorly “the people who helped me were incredibly nice,” but because the reality of being on the receiving side was so much harder than she imagined.  It was scary to know that the person needing help was her.  Knowing that she was asking for help for her family was more than she could bear.  She desperately wanted to think of herself as a contributing member of society, not someone who had to take.  She now has a part-time job and things are going the right direction for her, but she feels like she is trying to manage circumstance she cannot control.

Listening to her story made me wonder.  I like to think that I have job security, enough savings and a strong enough support system to never be in this situation, but stories like this remind me that anything could change and I might need help. How would I feel if it happened to me?

Let The 2014 Counties Care Holiday Food Fight Begin!

HAM_Child4This year marks the 11th year that employees of Solano and Contra Costa counties will raise funds for their neighbors in need and compete for possession of the coveted Big Apple trophy!  The annual Holiday Food Fight began in 2003 as a friendly competition to raise funds for the Food Bank.  In the past eleven years county employees have creatively raised over $1 million dollars for the Food Bank! The county raising the most dollars per person wins bragging rights and possession of the coveted Big Apple trophy for one year.

Many county employees work directly with low-income clients and understand their need for help with food.  Many county employees want to make their community a better place to live in and take an active role in improving their neighbors’ lives.  You too can help by donating online at www.foodbankccs.org/countycup. Through the end of the year, scroll down past PayPal, click on the drop down menu and select “Friend of” Costa County or Solano County employee.

A Local Business, Filling an Important Role in Our Local Economy

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted a recent mixer for the local Chamber of Commerce and it reminded me of the many roles the Food Bank plays in the community. I often focus on the “non-profit” side of our status as a non-profit corporation, downplaying our role as a local business. But when we gather with other local businesses in Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo, I realize that we are like many other small businesses in our community.

We employ more than 60 people in Solano and Contra Costa counties. We own a warehouse in Concord and lease 30,000 square feet of warehouse space in Fairfield. We have bobtails and tractor trailer trucks that deliver millions of pounds of food to agencies in our community. While we do not pay business or property taxes because of our non-profit status, we pay DMV fees, sales tax, Social Security taxes, Worker’s Comp, etc. We provide health insurance for our employees.

As a local business, we consume fuel (lots of fuel), we buy boxes to store donated food, and we buy bags for produce. We buy office supplies, pallet jacks and forklifts. We contract with a payroll service, a janitorial service and firms that provide training to our staff. We have a Board of Directors that approves a budget and sets operating goals. We provide them with monthly dashboard reports to track our progress.

We are members of the Chamber of Commerce because we are a locally-based food distribution business. The only thing that makes us different is that our business is providing food to other non-profit organizations or directly to people in need. Because of our mission, we have non-profit status, but we are a local business, filling an important role in our local economy.

On Slow Job Growth and Long Term Unemployment Expiration

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: In looking for signs of economic recovery, current job growth is not encouraging. The national unemployment rate has fallen, but increases in job growth are consistently low and do not indicate a recovering economy. The low job growth numbers back up the stories we hear of people losing a corporate job and not being able to find work for years, if at all. People have lost their job when the recession began and have not been able to find meaningful employment since then. Times are getting worse because the long term unemployment insurance people relied on to pay for housing and food for their families expired at the end of 2013.

Because Congress did not extend the Emergency Unemployment Insurance Program more than 325,000 people will lose their unemployment benefits in the first six months of 2014 according to a report from the Ways and Means Committee. We know these people because they have been coming to the Food Bank’s Food Assistance Program or Community Produce Program. The 25 pounds of food they get at one of these sites helps, but it is not enough food for an entire month. Our help will not pay rent or utility bills, nor will it buy a warm coat for a child. As President Obama read Misty D’s story in his State of the Union speech: “I am confident that in time I will find a job…please give us this chance”

The people the Food Bank serves are incredible at gathering together the bits of community support that can help them hold their lives together. A meal from a soup kitchen, food from the Food Bank, clothes from the Vacaville Storehouse all help. Unemployment insurance is there to help those who can’t find work at a time when jobs are still not readily available. We have the resources to help and it’s important that we do.

Looking Back at 2013

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: As we near the end of 2013, we are concerned about the needs of our hungry neighbors more than ever before. We are seeing record numbers of people at our food distributions, yet federal nutrition programs keep getting cut. In spite of this challenge, we are committed to helping end hunger in Contra Costa and Solano counties, and easing the burden of those in need. But we can’t do it without the help of our amazing community.

Twice per month, an average of 6,000 households in Contra Costa and Solano counties are able to take home 20+ pounds of fresh produce twice a month through the Community Produce Program. The people who support our work help put fresh produce on families’ tables.

One of those families belongs to Mauro A. Mauro used to work full-time but his hours have been cut and he just doesn’t make enough for a whole month of food. He really appreciates the selection of vegetables at the Community Produce Program. The Food Bank is now averaging one million pounds of produce every month going to your neighbors, people like Mauro. Thank you to our amazing community for everything you’ve helped accomplish this year. Together we are working to end hunger in our community.

Sons of Italy – Long Time Food Bank Supporters

Submitted by Lauren Strouse: The Food Bank is blessed to have many long term supporters. The Sons of Italy, Solano Lodge #2534 of Northern CA, is one of those. They have been making a financial contribution at holiday time since 2001. This year they presented a check for $500. They also volunteer at the Food Bank’s Fairfield warehouse on a quarterly basis. They are one of our most energetic and productive regular groups. Fifteen to twenty people typically show up for a Monday morning shift ready to sort and box food. They work together like a well-oiled machine. Our warehouse staff just keeps the food coming and the group does the rest! They usually sort in excess of 3000 pounds of food each time. The person responsible for coordinating this effort and energizing the group to work hard on our behalf is a bundle of energy named Joy Bruno. Joy is the organizations’ Food Bank Chair, responsible for all the scheduling and work done on behalf of the Food Bank. Joy was president of the club from 2005 to 2008 and is currently serving a second term as State Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of California of Sons of Italy. The Solano Sons of Italy lodge was founded in 1983. It currently has 165 members and is part of a nationwide philanthropic organization. We are very grateful for all of their support over the years!

Sons of Italy

Executive Director Larry Sly with members of The Sons of Italy, Solano Lodge #2534 of Northern CA