Archive for ‘ Volunteer ’

Trevor and the Giant Pear Bin

Guest post by Trevor’s mommy, Cindy: As a child, my family was very active volunteering in our local community.  We visited with convalescent patients, joined clean-up events, participated in walk-a-thons, assisted with weekly bingo games at the VA hospital, and much more.  But my favorite of all was sorting food donations and filling baskets to give to those in need.  Now that I am a mother, it is important to me that my son Trevor learn the value of volunteering in our community.  I want him to know the joy that comes from helping others and making a difference.

Trevor by a crate of pears When Trevor was 2, I started researching volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  I learned that they hold Family Volunteer Day events several times a year… but children must be 5 years old to participate.  For three years, I have repeatedly checked the website to make sure the minimum age was still 5.  The week my son turned 5, I contacted Lauren Strouse and asked to be notified when the next Family Volunteer Day was scheduled.  Finally, after waiting for years, we attended our first Family Volunteer Day.

I was very impressed with how well the event was run.  After a brief orientation, we were split into four groups and rotated through the different activities.  We started with a tour of the warehouse, where we learned all about the Food Bank, who they serve, and how they have grown and changed over the years.  We were amazed to hear how many millions of pounds of food the Food Bank distributes each year.

Trevor’s favorite part of the tour was looking in the giant refrigerator that holds the perishable food.

Our next station was art.  We learned about the “Have a Heart” budget advocacy campaign.  Then we each made valentines to send members of the Assembly and Senate.  These will be hand-delivered to Sacramento.

Next, we donned gloves and approached giant container of pears.  Our job was to count out 12 pears and bag them for easy distribution to the recipients.  This was Trevor’s favorite part of the day.  (Mine too!)  It was very satisfying to watch our stack of bagged pears growing and growing as we worked.  The pears looked delicious- I was very happy to know that they would be going to people who might otherwise not have access to the fresh produce that some people take for granted.

At our final station, the children worked together to create an imaginary family.  (Ours had a mom, dad, son, daughter and cat.)  The kids took turns spinning the “Wheel of Life” to see what would happen to our fictional family and what financial implications each event might have.  The first spin landed on ”Refrigerator breaks.”  This really hit home, as our refrigerator stopped working right after my husband was laid off and we found ourselves living on unemployment that covered our mortgage and nothing more.  Fortunately for us, we had savings and were still able to afford food, but I could truly understand how devastating a broken appliance could be to a family that was barely surviving financially.  The next spin was “Christmas.”

Our fictional family could not afford gifts or a nice meal.  Thank goodness for the Food Bank and other organizations that help those in need.

Family Volunteer Day is an outstanding event.  We all learned so much and had a great time.  On the drive home, Trevor asked when we could return to bag more produce.  Very soon, I hope!

If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day, please let us know.

Concord Teen Helps Fill Bilingual Need

Guest post by John VanLandingham, Food Bank volunteer: Toward the month’s end, many area families’ pantries start emptying. And because payday won’t come soon enough to restock, many families turn to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for assistance.

For established Food Bank clients, the process of receiving food at various distribution sites is not a problem. But for many first-time families who speak only Spanish, the process can be daunting.

Will they be asked to prove their income, the size of their families, their immigration status? How can they answer these questions in a language they don’t understand and how do they navigate the registration process?

Knowing it can be challenging for some clients, it is important to the Food Bank to communicate with every applicant and to help make the process of getting food as easy as possible. With an increasing number of people who receive food at our distribution sites within the Hispanic/Latino community, staffers and volunteers without Spanish language skills become more reliant on the assistance of bilingual volunteers such as Jesus Avalos.

Jesus, a 17-year-old senior at De La Salle High School, donates his services at the Food Bank’s Vallejo distribution site, assisting first-time applicants register and obtain food. He was recruited after responding to a volunteer announcement for bilingual volunteers who speak Spanish.

“I had been looking for opportunities to help. Somebody told me about the Food Bank,” he says.

Jesus volunteers anywhere from eight to 10 hours every month, sometimes more or less depending on his school work.

On distribution dates, Jesus travels to the distribution site and joins other volunteers in preparing for the day’s distribution. Once in Vallejo, he helps unload the food from the trucks, set up tables and chairs, bagging fresh produce, bread, and USDA commodities and then goes over to the registration table where his skills are needed most.

“I ask them if this is their first time. If so, I ask questions about their need, what food you have to have, family size and other questions. Some get scared. They fear we are going to check out how much money they have. I say we don’t check anything, just your verbal confirmation. No forms, no background checks,” the North Concord resident states in Spanish.

Sometimes the clients are nervous about immigration. “I think at times when we’re discussing their current household income, they get a little bit nervous. But they learn soon I’m not asking about immigration,” Jesus says.

He remembers one lady who nervously kept hovering near the door leading into the distribution site. Finally she came over, asking in Spanish, what she needed to do to register for food. “I told her she didn’t need to do anything except come in and register and sure enough she did. Later she came back and told me I was a great help. It was a good feeling.”

Jesus’ efforts on behalf of the Food Bank have impressed the staff. “I think this young man is great.  He is so mature for his age and interacts with the clients as though he’s been doing this for a very long time. I really admire him and am amazed by his skill level. Having him on board is definitely a big bonus for us,” says Julie Redmond, Food Assistance Program Coordinator.

But Jesus will graduate and go off to college next fall to study engineering leaving a void the Food Bank desperately wants to fill.

Meanwhile the Food Bank’s need for bilingual volunteers extends beyond Vallejo, says Redmond. “Approximately 80% of our Bay Point clients are Spanish speaking and it would be great if someone like Jesus could help interview and communicate with them.”

Bilingual area residents with Spanish language skills wanting to volunteer may email the Food Bank at

Food Bank Ambassadors

The Ambassadors are a unique kind of volunteer at the Food Bank. They serve as a public face for us to local businesses, community organizations, social clubs, and at events as well as being an advocate for the Food Bank’s programs and services.

Food Bank Ambassador Linda Elsdon tabling at Fentons in Vacaville

On this one-year anniversary of the Food Bank Ambassador program, we think back to the many events our Ambassadors have joyfully attended on our behalf such as the Wells Fargo Annual Volunteer Fair, National Train Day in Martinez, Richmond’s Music on the Main, Celebrate Everyday Heroes Golf Tournament in Orinda, Music in the Park at Suisun City Library, “Healthy Sunday” in Pittsburg, Winterhawk Winery in Suisun and they will attend the upcoming Kaiser Richmond Employee Wellness Fair and the Loma Vista Farm Harvest Festival.

Some of these volunteers have bilingual skills to help us reach more of our Spanish-speaking donors and clients, but we hope to increase that number, especially in West and East Contra Costa County.

Thanks to our Ambassadors, the Food Bank is able to increase our outreach at schools, business fairs, and other community events every year. To learn more about our ambassador program, please contact Patty at or (925) 676-7543 extension 243.

United Way Week of Caring

The Food Bank is again proud to be participating in United Way Week of Caring coordinated by the Volunteer Center of the East Bay. This is the 20th Week of Caring and this year 94 nonprofits are participating and receiving volunteer help from 2,700 corporate volunteers to complete 264 projects.

At the Food Bank we were grateful to have Chevron, Eisai Inc., Matson Navigation and Wells Fargo Volunteers help with 7 projects over four days. Chevron volunteers worked at our Rodeo Food Assistance Program site helping to provide groceries for about 300 families totaling over 900 people. Wells Fargo and Matson teams came together to sort and box thousands of pounds of food at our Concord warehouse on Tuesday.

On Wednesday two Wells Fargo teams arrived and worked together and on Thursday a team from Chevron who have helped  for 3 years tackled  bins of fresh plums all afternoon. On Friday Eisai Inc. sorted and boxed food drive in our Fairfield warehouse all morning. It has been an amazing week.

We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to show volunteers what the Food Bank does in our community and to have the help of all of these amazing volunteers.

Chevron Volunteers

Wells Fargo Volunteers


Every Action Makes a Difference

Hello volunteers past, present and future! As the Food Bank Manager of Volunteer Services my job is to recruit volunteers. When my children were young my volunteering was mainly at school and with the teams the kids played on. Having a full time job made it difficult for me to find the time to help organizations like the Food Bank back then. Hunger Action Month is an opportunity for busy families and work groups to make a difference around their schedules.

You might be able to get your employer, school, social/service club, church group, etc. involved in Hunger Action Month and help spread the word.  There are some wonderful ways to help. Please take a look at the 30 Ways in 30 Days calendar. This can be a great opportunity to have all ages involved.  Can you write  a poem or story about hunger and share it with friends, school, or family? Please send it to us so we can include it in our blog!

If you are looking for something to do this weekend consider Walnut Creek Family Fest. Don’t forget to bring a can of food and get a $1.00 off admission. Winterhawk Winery is also having an event on Sunday the 4th. Details of these and other upcoming events are on our events page.  Everything you do can make a difference to those in need of help in our community. Hunger Action Month  is a great opportunity to teach your children, family and friends ways they can make their community a better place. I hope that everyone reading this finds something that interests them and share it with others. You can really make a difference and the joy that will bring you is not measurable.

The AT&T Pioneers Dish It Up: Feeding Families Healthy Food

In celebration of the AT&T Pioneers’ 100 years of service, volunteerism and philanthropy, Pioneers are joining together for one of the biggest volunteer efforts in history. Pioneers Dish It Up aims to feed one million people across the U.S. and Canada who face the daily challenge of “food insecurity”.

Between September 11th and 25th, the Pioneers will be addressing the issue of hunger by participating in the Pioneers Dish It Up project, which includes a healthy food drive, as well as other service projects aimed at feeding the hungry.

In partnership with Feeding America and its network of member food banks, a list of healthy food donations has been compiled to guide those who will be participating in the food drive. This project is just the latest effort by our local AT&T Pioneers of the George S. Ladd Council to support the Food Bank and our mission.


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

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.



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



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


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.