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Backyard Bounty

Pears, Pears, Pears and YES more Pears! When the rain fell in early June, we all worried about the pears in the Alhambra Valley in Martinez and in Moraga. Many people in these two communities have an abundance of pears and love to have volunteers such as the National Charity League pick the pears for us. While the pears may be smaller this year, it seems to be a bountiful year. Thank goodness someone created the pole with the wire cage on the end to help pick the pears. It always seems the best fruit is just out of reach at the top of the tree. My favorite way to eat a pear is sliced in a salad – the pear adds just a little something different to it.

So in the last 5 days, volunteers have picked over 15,000 pounds of pears. That provides a lot of fresh fruit as snacks! I know there are over 230 men, women, teens and children with sore muscles who helped picked all of these beautiful pears. Hours volunteered totaled over 600 hours. WOW! I am exhausted thinking about this all. I think I will have my lunch – hope there is not a pear in my bag…

Health Conscious Volunteer Hopes to See People Eat Better

Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County aims to conquer hunger in our area. While it is important to provide as much food as possible for the hungry, the Food Bank wants to make sure it’s at least nutritional and healthy. Volunteer Ellen Potthoff, a Naturopathic Doctor, has a passion for making sure people are eating the right things.

As a Naturopathic Doctor, she said, “Food and digestion is the core of that.” Thinking back to when she began volunteering with the Food Bank in 2001, she said, “I really had a strong feeling people need to know how to eat. So I was hoping to contribute to that.” Now she’s a Food Bank Ambassador, which is a volunteer who represents the Food Bank at different events and outreach activities by handing out information and  speaking publicly on their behalf.

Ellen worked for the Health Physicians Medical Group and is very knowledgeable about the human body. When Kaiser gave the Food Bank a grant for stress management for employees, she taught classes for them since she teaches these at Kaiser. Being a chiropractor as well, she also gave staff upper body massages.

“What people eat and their level of activity has everything to do with how healthy they are and it’s much easier to keep them healthy than it is treating them when they’re not healthy,” said Ellen. She believes medicines are great if a person needs them, but she rather have people maintain a healthy lifestyle without them, since medicine can have some serious side effects and problems.

Fitness expert and body builder Jack LaLanne and Alice Waters, a chef and author, have inspired her and her passion for food. Being at the Food Bank blends in well with her love for food and cooking. She volunteers every Wednesday for three hours and then another three hours on certain Fridays for the boxing project.

The Youth Homes Auxiliary Store is lucky enough to receive help from Ellen as well. The store supports foster kids who are no longer in the system. She also builds trails for Volunteers of California and ushers at the opera in the city.

She really enjoys volunteering for various organizations, especially the Food Bank. “I really like the idea that I’m helping to feed people. That’s important,” she said.

To learn more about the Food Bank Ambassador program, email pmcdowell@foodbankccs.org.

Students Use Their Free Time to Volunteer

Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: Lazy, rude and immature are words describing a stereotype that has been placed upon today’s younger generation. Of course those words don’t apply to the entire population of young adults.

jacob

Jacob

Many of the kids breaking that stereotype can be found at the Food Bank on various days throughout the week. While some stop in to volunteer every couple of months, some go in to help two or more days a week.

This past summer, in addition to writing articles for this blog, I have been one of those kids seen sorting and boxing food, putting bread on trays or even sweeping up the floor a few times a week. It’s been great to see other people around my age doing the same to give back to their community.

15 year-old Jacob Reynolds, a junior at Clayton Valley High and varsity swimmer, finds time during his school breaks and swim practices to volunteer. “I started volunteering over Thanksgiving break,” he said, “I’ve actually done everything, but stacking.” He finds working at the Food Bank fun and exciting. He said he likes to volunteer because of the people he comes across and the “fact that we’re helping.” Jacob would like to get more of his friends to volunteer at the Food Bank because he thinks they would enjoy it.

The positivity at the Food Bank is one of the attributes that grabs the attention of people. Jeff Schroeder, a 22 year-old

jeff

Jeff

junior at San Francisco State, said “It’s a positive atmosphere.” Since he wasn’t able to find a job this summer, he decided it would be a great idea to volunteer to stay busy.

The Food Bank was his first choice when deciding where to volunteer. When he’s not sorting or boxing food a couple times a week, he’s skateboarding and drumming for his

band Gavilan, who have recently recorded new music.

While most volunteers can be found in the sorting room or on various sites for food distributions, some are found behind a desk in the office. Amelia Spencer has been volunteering since January 2008. “I usually work in the front office with Barbara, answering the phones and helping out in the office with anything,” the 23 year-old said. In the fall and winter, she goes into the Concord office on Mondays and Fridays. In the summer, she helps out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays, she goes with Julie Redmond to her food distribution.

She currently attends Loma Vista, an adult-ed program, but Amelia was unsure of what she wanted to do after high

Amelia

school, so she thought going to the Food Bank would be a great experience that would give her a good sense of work ethic. She finds it rewarding to be involved with the Food Bank because she knows that she’s helping individuals or families. “You kind of think about that after awhile when you get to sit down and have dinner,” she said, “Not everybody gets to do that.”

The Food Bank has continued to be an inviting place for young adults to go and contribute their time. Whether they’re there on their own or for mandatory community service, the help is always appreciated.

One Volunteer’s Persistence Pays Off

Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: Julie Ruttenberg has been volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for about a year and a half now, but it took an entire decade for her to be able to.

When Julie and her husband first had their son, who is autistic and now 21 years old, they were going through some hard times as a young couple. Fortunately, they had enough money to get by. Knowing that her family didn’t have it as bad as others, she frequently thought about other mothers and babies. “Babies should never go hungry,” she said.

Starting off her relationship with the Food Bank in small proportions, every payday she bought an extra box of cereal to donate. “I remember one year just going through the grocery store with a hundred dollars for the Food Bank. I would fill a grocery cart,” Julie said, and when the bagger went to take it to the cart I said, “No, just put it in that barrel.”

When she was ready to become more involved with the Food Bank, she asked if there were any volunteer opportunities in the office. Unfortunately, office help was not needed and she was unable to sort food due to the arthritis in her ankles prohibiting her from standing on cement for a long period of time.

Ten years later, Julie finally became an office volunteer when help was needed at the new Fairfield warehouse. She has become involved with the food stamp outreach efforts at the Food Bank. When people lose their jobs and find it difficult to make ends meet they usually go to the Food Bank. “They figured out that the food banks tend to find people,” she said. The Food Bank has been working with the state to make sure everyone gets access to food stamps. Instead of calling it food stamps, they now use the name CalFresh.

The CalFresh requirements are based on how many people there are in a household and how much money is coming in from everybody. Working every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Julie does the majority of the documentation for the program including making copies of the paperwork and sorting all of it. She also helps out with different training meetings throughout the year with the Food Bank’s partners.

Julie Ruttenberg

Julie at her workspace in the Fairfield office/warehouse.

With her son becoming a little more independent, she can leave him home alone to wander to and from the nearby library during the day. “It frees me up, so it worked out timing wise. He’s old enough to be left alone and I have somewhere to go,” said Julie.

Julie has completely been enjoying her time at the Food Bank. “They make me feel like one of the group,” she said. She was even invited to a staff potluck. The staff told her she was one of them even though she does everything unpaid.  “I get paid in wonderful good feelings,” she said.

She is a prime example of it never being too late to volunteer. Her persistence to be involved led her to her goal of helping those in need.

Boxing Project Continues to Bring People Together While Fighting Hunger

Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: Twice or sometimes three times a month, a group of volunteers gather in our warehouse to box food for our Food for Children and Extra Helpings programs.

Most of the volunteers for this project are retired and see volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank as a chance to do something productive and worthwhile with their free time and many of them have been a part of the boxing team for quite some time.

When Jim Denels retired about 11 years ago, he decided to volunteer regularly with the Food Bank. He also volunteers at a prison as a math teacher to prepare inmates for their GEDs. When explaining what inspired him to get involved he said, “My first job ever was a social worker so I was aware of problems in the community and people who don’t quite have enough to get by.”

Barbara and Rod Levander was given the suggestion to become involved with the Food Bank by their daughter who works for Women, Infants and Childrens (WIC), a food and nutrition service program. “We know it’s (the help) needed,” said Mrs. Levander. For the past ten years, the Levanders have been sorting and boxing food at the Food Bank. Sometimes they even participate in the Letter Carriers’ Food Drive by helping unload bags of food out of postal trucks.

The Levanders inspired another retired couple, Victor and Fran Smith, to help at the boxing project. They also sort food and have gone to distributions and describe their experience as “very rewarding” since they know that the “food is going to go to someone special”.

From putting boxes together to pulling flat bed carts to bending over to pack food, the Food Bank’s boxing project can be laborious, but can just as easily dual as a social event. “With this particular group, it’s almost a social occasion,” said Denels. Most agreed that one of the best parts of getting together for the project was to be able to socialize with each other.

Besides enjoying the company of each other, they all have a big heart and are eager to make a difference. When talking to another volunteer, Jim Gray said, “Instead of advocating a solution to a problem, we’re actually fixing a problem.”

Boxing Project Lead Volunteer Teri Bloebaum with Jim Denels and other volunteers assembling boxes.

Finished Boxes of Nutritious Food and a Recipe

Our Volunteers Filling Boxes

Families Strengthening Communities

Join us for Family Volunteer Day on Saturday, August 20 at 2339 Courage Drive, Suite F in our Fairfield facility and Sunday, August 21 at 4010 Nelson Avenue in our Concord facility. It is a great opportunity to see how the Food Bank works while having fun and contributing to your community!

Family Volunteer Day showcases the benefits of families working together, introduces young children who cannot normally volunteer for community service, and encourages those who haven’t yet made a commitment to volunteer as a family. There will be two shifts available to volunteer by reservation only. If your family has not participated in Family Volunteer Day before be sure to reserve for the 11:30am – 1:30pm shift. If your family has participated before and would like to help out again be sure to reserve for the 2:00pm – 4:00pm shift.

To participate, children must be ages 5 and older and must be accompanied by an adult; provide one chaperone per child for children ages 5 – 10 and at least one chaperone for every 2 to 3 children ages 11 and up.

Please email VolunteerHelpDesk@foodbankccs.org or call (925) 676-7543 for Concord or (707) 421-9778 for Fairfield to reserve your spot. We will do our best to accommodate you, but unfortunately there is limited space available so we register families on a first come, first served basis.

We’d like to invite you to stay in touch with us by simply joining our online community of caring citizens who receive occasional e-news related to their area(s) of interest.  Additionally, we hope you will read about the many community events (www.foodbankccs.org/events) taking place which offer a variety of ways to get involved and help support the Food Bank.

Making a difference

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to work with Kim, a former police dispatcher for 13 years.  She volunteered at our Richmond Food For Children site helping to pack bags with food and carrying the food for our clients.  Afterward, Kim told me how much she enjoyed helping at our site.  She spent 13 years of her life listening to some of the worst situations and feeling relatively powerless when it came to helping.  Volunteering with the Food Bank gave her the chance to see that she could do something positive and directly make a difference in people’s lives.  “It truly has been a blessing to me; I get so much from being there,”  she told me.

Often when I work with a volunteer that I haven’t worked with before I worry if they will enjoy themselves because I need their help and I hope they come back.  I was so happy to know that the Food Bank was doing something for her while she did something priceless for the Food Bank.

Wells Fargo Volunteers

On April 7th a group of Wells Fargo volunteers from various areas across the country were in Pleasant Hill for a team meeting. They wanted to help the community and spend some time “team building” and scheduled some time to help at our Concord warehouse sorting room. Coordinated by Wells Fargo’s Lynn Camorongan from their Pleasant Hill Wealth Management Department Wells Volunteers arrived at the food bank ready to work. These enthusiastic team member-volunteers represented Wells Fargo well in this community by giving back to non-profits that address vital community needs and issues.

Wells Fargo Volunteers

Wells Fargo Volunteers

Bingo Volunteers Needed

The Food Bank is trying a new fund raising opportunity with Blue Devils Bingo which is just down the street from us at 4065 Nelson Avenue in Concord. Every Monday morning we need to provide volunteers who work for several hours helping the bingo hall staff. The volunteers help set up the bingo, welcome guests, and sell the bingo cards. The Food Bank receives a donation for collaborating in this effort. One of our volunteers said it is her Monday morning exercise because she spends the whole time moving around the room “working the crowd”.

If you are interested in learning more about this bingo volunteer opportunity, please let us know.

Bingo Volunteers

Jason Katz and Food Bank Volunteers Going Bingo

Take a look at our latest quarterly Volunteer E-news and stay in touch with us by simply joining our online community of caring citizens who receive occasional e-news related to their area(s) of interest. Additionally, we hope you will read about the many community events (www.foodbankccs.org/events) taking place which offer a variety of ways to get involved and help support the Food Bank.

Piggy Potluck?

No, this isn’t the latest in culinary cuisine. It is future pig food! These 5 high school girl scout volunteers are taking old dry goods (pastas, rice, jello, cake mixes, etc.), opening them up and pouring them into this cardboard tote. A pig farmer in East Contra Costa County will pick up the tote of dry goods and use this as grain for his pigs. The cardboard packaging will go into our big white paper dumpster and the recyclable plastic will go in our special blue tote for plastics.

Where do we get this food? When it is food drive time, well meaning donors often go through their cupboards and give us expired food that we can’t distribute to those we help. So rather than throwing it into the garbage (and ending up in a landfill), we make what we proudly call “Piggy Potluck”. The name was created by a group of Bank of America associates who were our first volunteer group to make “Piggy Potluck” so they created the name and we have called it “Piggy Potluck” ever since.

This is one more way we help reduce our footprint on Earth and are able to create a fun volunteer project. Just ask these scouts!