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Trust, Relationships Key To Successful Food Program

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: Most people would agree that trust is a key factor to creating and maintaining healthy and successful relationships. We at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano believe this to be true. The communities we serve put their trust in us. We, in turn, count on our compassionate members of the community to help us accomplish our mission to end local hunger.

People volunteer at the Food Bank because they believe in the work we do. They trust that we will be able to delegate tasks in an organized manner.

Last year we had more than 80,000 hours of work donated to us. That equals about 42 staff members working full-time. Our volunteers know that their efforts truly make a difference to people who are food insecure.

Individuals and corporations carve time out of their busy schedules to help the Food Bank because they see the impact it makes in people’s lives.

Volunteers help us in a variety of ways and we trust them to be dependable and proficient. Whether it’s sorting and boxing food in our warehouse, working distributions, answering the phone, helping individual departments, conducting outreach or attending events, we simply could not accomplish what we do without the help of our generous hard-working volunteers.

Being a nonprofit, we also rely heavily on the financial support that we receive from the public. More than 80 percent of the money we receive comes from individuals, corporations and organizations.

It is critical that donors understand how we are using their charitable donations. We make sure our financial records are audited by an independent accounting firm that examines how we spend the money that the community gives us. The audit firm verifies that our administration and fund development costs account for only 4 percent of our operating budget. They also verify that $ 0.96 of every $1 received goes toward supporting the programs and agencies that we serve. Due to our proven fiscal responsibility, including our accountability and transparency practices, Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest evaluator of charities, gives us their prestigious top honor of 4-stars.

In order to successfully feed people in need within a community, even the recipients have to have faith in the Food Bank. They trust us to show up on time at scheduled distributions. They have learned that we aren’t going to just provide them with empty calories, but actual nutritious food. They count on us to treat them with respect.

Lastly, they realize that we don’t have any ulterior motives other than to offer help.

We invite anyone who wants to see our efforts in action to come visit our distribution programs. You can see firsthand how the Food Bank provides truckloads of food to our local communities.

It is one thing to read about how we distribute over 20-million pounds of food a year and serve over 188,000 people a month, but it’s much more powerful to see it in person.

We thank our community for the trust you’ve put in us for the past 40 years and we trust that you will continue to help us provide assistance to our neighbors in need.

Food Bank’s Mission Statement Helps Set Priorities

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of any organization. That’s why time needs to be set aside to examine the big picture. Goals cannot be achieved if they are never set.

The Board of Directors for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is responsible for creating a strategic plan. They recently met with some the Food Bank staff members and they worked on setting the Food Bank’s priorities through the year 2018.

The board began this process by evaluating the Food Bank’s mission. Our mission statement should accurately explain what the Food Bank aspires to do as an organization. Using their strategic planning skills, the board amended our organization’s mission statement to be: Leading the fight to end hunger, in partnership with our community and in service to our neighbors in need.

“Leading the fight” acknowledges the leadership role that we have come to play in the community. The Food Bank has become the hub for local hunger relief efforts. We directly assist individuals affected by hunger, as well as the nonprofit organizations that also serve the hungry members of our community.

In the revised mission, we are making the bold statement that we believe that it is possible “to end hunger.” We feel that enough resources exist in our society to assure that no one goes hungry.

The phrase “in partnership with our community” was included in the mission statement because we recognize that we cannot do this alone. The role the Food Bank plays in distributing food is important, but it is only one part of the larger effort to end hunger.

One aspect of partnering with our local community is working with local government agencies. Together, we help ensure that the people we serve receive the benefits for which they qualify.The School Breakfast Program and School Lunch Program provide food to low-income children. Senior citizens can receive help from the Senior Lunch Program and Meals on Wheels. The CalFresh program provides low-income people the money they need to obtain food for their families. We want the people we serve to know that these resources exist, so they can get the food they need to thrive.

Our staff members work very hard handling the daily demands of running our organization. Our Board of Directors is made up of people who are busy with their own jobs and are active members of our community. Yet, we all realize that it’s important to periodically take the time out to step back and focus on the priorities of the Food Bank. Our community counts on us to make good decisions.

A good strategic plan doesn’t happen overnight. We hope to have a final plan by the end of the year. We are taking a methodical approach to ensure that the decisions we make reflect our dedication to “leading the fight to end hunger, in partnership with our community and in service to our neighbors in need”.

Spring Provides Opportunity To Help Those In Need

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: The spring is often thought to be a time of renewal and a time for “spring cleaning”, but it’s also a season where we can unintentionally add more clutter to our lives.

Many celebrations occur in springtime: Mother’s Day, graduations, weddings and birthdays. These are important occasions that give us a chance to celebrate those who are important to us. With celebrations often come unwanted gifts; sometimes even with a plea for no gifts.

For many of us who have reached the age where our children are moving away, we are trying to get rid of all the extra things we have collected over the decades. We want to do something that celebrates our relationship with those who are important to us, not acquire more things.

Many supporters of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano celebrate their important events by asking friends to bring nonperishable packaged food to their celebrations in lieu of gifts.

Everyone benefits from this act of kindness. The guests don’t have to stress over selecting “just the right” gift, the recipient doesn’t have to add unwanted clutter to their life and best of all, the gift of nutrition is given to the people who really need it. This is a true gift that won’t be thrown out with guilt after sitting in a closet for years.

Another way supporters of the Food Bank incorporate giving into their celebrations is by setting up a personalized online donation page on our website (

In less than 10 clicks of a computer mouse, they are able to create a unique donation page and receive a personalized URL which they share on their invitations and announcements. This makes it really easy for friends and family to make a donation, even if they don’t live locally and even if they are not able to attend the celebration.

There is no better time to create a fundraising page than right now because with the $40 for 40 matching campaign, friends and family members can double their donation dollars.

In honor of our 40th anniversary, donations made through this special fundraising event will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Friends of the Fortieth Fund, providing 160 meals (instead of 80 meals) for every $40 they give (

With the financial donations, we are able to purchase healthy food for the people we serve including low-sodium, reduced-sugar, and high-protein options. With our industry buying power, we can buy these items at a much lower cost compared to retail pricing.

Financial donations also give us the flexibility of buying what we need, when we need it.

For people who live comfortably and want to reduce clutter in their life, hosting a food drive or virtual fundraiser, in lieu of receiving gifts, is a good solution.

Everyone benefits when those who have too much, think of those who don’t have enough.


Larry Sly: Earth Day a reminder to use resources responsibly — including food

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: This week we celebrate Earth Day, which focuses on responsibly using the resources of the planet.

Being “green” means we use what we need while we minimize the waste we produce. When I began working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I didn’t realize that we were also an environmental organization. Our primary mission is providing food to people in need and one of the main ways we are able to do that is by acquiring food surplus that would otherwise go to waste.

California grows enormous amounts of fresh produce which has a limited shelf life. Refrigeration and other technology extend the life of the fresh food, but millions of pounds of produce would go to waste if food banks did not exist.

Today more than half the food that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano distributes is fresh produce. Because we have contacts in the agriculture industry, we receive donations of produce by the trailer load.

Local residents are also saving perfectly good food from being wasted in residential backyards.

Often people have fruit trees and gardens that produce much more than their family and neighbors can consume. An orange tree, for example, can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit; far exceeding the needs of a few individuals. We are thankful that groups like Urban Farmers, Food Rescue and the Concord Diablo Rotary club have volunteers who are willing to gather and donate fruit from backyard trees. Instead of the fruit falling to the ground and perishing, these volunteers ensure that it goes to the people in need within our community.

We try to make sure that we conduct our business of feeding people in need, in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This includes working to conserve natural resources.

We installed solar panels on the roof of the 30,000 square-foot warehouse that we own in Concord. Those panels produce nearly all the energy we need for our commercial refrigerators and freezers, as well as for our computers, lights, etc.

In both of our Fairfield and Concord warehouses, we had an analysis of our energy use done by PG&E so we could take steps to limit our energy consumption. We have screens in our refrigerator doors to help keep the cold air inside as our forklifts transport food in and out of the refrigerators. We installed energy-efficient lighting throughout our warehouse and offices.

We also use a software program called Roadnet that helps us track our drivers as they drive their routes, allowing us to divert them so they can immediately pick up items, saving gas in the process.

The people we serve benefit from us working with the agricultural community and backyard gardeners to save over ten million pounds of food from waste.

The environment benefits from us using solar technology and adhering to other “green” ways of doing business.

Our society, as a whole, benefits when we all try to honor Earth Day every day.

Congratulations to Christina Lopez, Food Bank Volunteer!

Christina Lopez received the 2015 Youth Hall of Fame “Valiant Volunteer” award in a ceremony at the County Board of Supervisors Cesar E. Chavez Celebration on March 31st. Christina was recognized for her work for the last three years at the Food Bank and also for her service to Building Blocks Children’s Center in Concord. Christina, a senior at Carondelet High School, dedicates 3-4 nights a month to the Food Bank where she sorts and boxes donated food with other volunteers. Christina demonstrates her leadership abilities by always helping new volunteers. She never seeks recognition, but the Food Bank was honored to nominate her for this award.

Christina pictured on the far left front

Marking Four Decades Of Making A Difference

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: This year the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing food to people in the community.

Our work began with two employees and a pickup truck. We borrowed a trailer to store the food and assisted 19 local emergency food agencies. Forty years later, we have grown to an organization of 70 employees (full-time and part-time) and a fleet of 16 vehicles. We now operate out of two warehouses, totaling about 60,000 square feet, and we serve one in eight residents within Contra Costa and Solano counties.

Much has changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the dedication of our employees.

Last week I celebrated my 39th anniversary with the Food Bank (I was the truck driver in the two-person operation). People are often astounded (myself, included) that anyone could work in a job for nearly 40 years, since, in today’s world, the average employee stays in a job for under five years.

At the Food Bank, my tenure is not that exceptional. Three other employees have been working tirelessly for more than 30 years. One of them is our Warehouse Manager, who was originally hired as a truck driver when he was just 18 years old. Another employee has reached the 20-year milestone and eight others have exceeded the 15 year mark. Soon, six more employees will be celebrating their tenth anniversary with the Food Bank.

What causes this level of commitment to a career? The Food Bank is a good employer; we pay decent wages and offer benefits, but we are not a high-tech software startup with all the goodies.

The people who work for us are driven by the mission of the organization. They see the need in the community on a daily basis. They understand the roles that volunteers and non-profit agencies play in providing food to people who need help.

They understand that the jobs that they perform, such as providing financial oversight, raising money, educating the community about hunger and running an efficient food distribution system, all serve as integral functions of the organization. Simply put, Food Bank employees know that the work they do makes a difference in people’s lives.

Food banks throughout the nation are filled with people who have spent 20 to 30 years dedicating their lives to anti-hunger work.

We are proud that we also have served as the “farm team” for other food banks. Three Executive Directors of Feeding America food banks began their career at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

Our 40-year growth curve demonstrates incredible change. We are not the same organization we were in 1975 and we are not the same organization we were in 2010.

The need is great, so we must grow. Having spent 39 years doing this, I acknowledge it has also been a fun experience. Even on one of the days that is not so good because of “stuff,” I go home knowing that we distributed nearly 80,000 pounds of food, contributing to more than 65,000 meals for our neighbors in need. I wish I could do another 40 years.

Attendees experienced a taste of the “good life” at Taste of Champions event

The Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano and Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo teamed up with 49er legend, Eric Wright to put on Taste of Champions in early March.  The 400 people in attendance at the fundraising event took in the scenic views of Levi’s Stadium and enjoyed gourmet food prepared by Chef Santana Diaz. They were treated to live music while they mingled with some of their favorite champion athletes.  Guests had the opportunity to bid on coveted prizes such Super Bowl 50 tickets, a VIP weekend to the Kentucky Derby, passes to a Dancing with the Stars performance and cookies personally made by Kristi Yamaguchi.  With the focus on childhood hunger, this event raised enough funds to provide over 90,000 meals for children this summer!

Distributing Food Is Collaborative Process

Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: Distributing more than 20-million pounds of food a year, in an effective matter, is no simple feat.

One way the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano gets the food to the people we serve is through our direct distribution programs. This means that we give the food directly to the individuals and families in need. However, by collaborating with almost 200 partner agencies, we are able to reach many more people who are food insecure. The Food Bank distributes food to these agencies, who in turn, distribute it to the people they serve.

Besides the soup kitchens and food pantries that we partner with, our other nonprofit partner agencies provide a variety of other services that include transitional housing, child-care, career counseling and assisting the disabled. Collectively, these agencies serve food to 110,000 individuals annually, ranging in age from young children to the elderly.

Last week the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano hosted its 5th Agency Summit and I was reminded of how important our network of agencies is in making our work possible. The goal of this event is to gather information and learn from each other. It was inspiring to see nearly 200 people representing agencies from cities throughout Solano and Contra Costa counties working together with a common goal.

The Food Bank arranged for the attendees to break up into smaller groups to learn about a variety of topics. These topics included: food handling safety, fund development, CalFresh basics, dealing with difficult people, serving diabetic clients, crowdfunding to raise money and recruiting/training volunteers.

The agencies benefited not only from the expert presentations, but also from exchanging their knowledge and experiences with one another.

We were privileged to have Ann Huff Stevens from the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis and Kim McCoy Wade from the Alliance to Transform CalFresh as our keynote speakers.

Ann discussed poverty and the impact being poor has on local families. The academic studies she has done demonstrate an incredible social loss when people must focus on providing the basics of life. Children who do not eat well do not learn well and develop health issues. Ann’s research shows that if we improve the lives of those in poverty, society will benefit.

Kim followed Ann’s presentation by talking about CalFresh, one of the basic building blocks that helps California residents living in poverty. CalFresh recipients are given a debit card that allows them to buy food in local grocery stores. The CalFresh program provides essential support to individuals who do not earn enough and struggle to provide housing, utilities and the basics of life for their families.

Ann Stevens and Kim Wade put forth the concept that we are all part of a social investment by helping individuals and families escape poverty.

The Food Bank and our partner agencies are excited about expanding the role we have in making long-term differences to the people we serve, while simultaneously improving our society as a whole.

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 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.