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Breaking the Cycle

Guest post by Food Bank friend Marla Williams: Monopoly money, something I remember thinking as a young child standing impatiently by my mother’s … Read more

Marla and her family

Serafino Bianchi and the Bianchi Real Estate Team: Feeding Families and Saving the Planet one bag at a time.

Guest Post by the Bianchi Real Estate Team: Did you know that nearly 400 billion pounds of plastic bags are used and thrown away every year? Less … Read more

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Grocery Outlet Independence from Hunger

UPDATE: As of 7/10, the Concord Grocery Outlet collected 4,644 pounds and they has 6 full barrels! The Grocery Outlet store at 1840 Willow Pass … Read more

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Mildred Celebrates Her 97th Birthday with the Food Bank

By Meg Zentner, Senior Food Program Coordinator: Mildred was born on April 9, 1917 in Stockton. She spent her childhood in a tiny town outside Tracy … Read more

mildred

20 Creative Ways to Save with Leftovers

Written by Lauren Strouse, Fairfield Office Assistant: I grew up learning to cook in a household where leftovers were part of the menu plan in … Read more

leftovers

Proof of Community Care is Clear in the Audit

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: In spite of what we think when we hear the word, having an audit done is not a negative thing.  As a charitable organization, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano knows we should have outside experts evaluate the way we manage our financial affairs.  We want those we ask to give us food and money to know that we are doing the work they want to support.  Our audits show community members that we are accomplishing the important work people want to see done.

As we are doing the final review of our audit for 2014, it is very helpful to me to look at what we have accomplished.   We establish goals each year and June 30 is when we stop the clock and look at how we have done.   In the last fiscal year, we distributed over 20 million pounds of food and half of those pounds were fresh produce.  Our administrative and fund development costs are less than 4% of our budget.  We have reason to be proud we are running an efficient organization that is meeting the needs of hungry people in our community.

But when I consider where the support comes from that makes our work possible, I am even more proud of the work we do.  If I look at a random list of contacts I have had in the past few months, I see amazing community connections.  We receive support from Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, League of Women Voters, Valero, Shell, Tesoro, Chevron, Janssen, Safeway, Whole Foods, Genentech, and Walmart.

The Food Bank gets help from Solano and Contra Costa County employees, Contra Costa Bar Association (and a bunch of law firms), Realtors in Motion, the County Library, St. Mary’s College, Prophet, the Rossmoor Harvest Festival and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church’s crab feed.  Food, money and volunteers come from Stanley Middle School, Hercules Middle School, Valhalla School, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Pacific Service Credit Union, Bloomingdales and Forma Gym.

We also receive over half our financial support from individuals.  Some people donate once a year, some people donate every month.  People ask friends to give money to the Food Bank instead of buying them birthday or wedding gifts.  Parents bring their children to the Food Bank warehouse so they can give us the money they raised in their neighborhood.  There is a sense of community that comes from helping each other.

Our audit is a time we look at what we have done, and it shows me that we are part of a community that cares for their neighbors.  When we put together efforts to provide food to those in need, we know that we can count on the strong support provided by our community.  We are able to make a difference because we are part of a community that knows they can work with the Food Bank to get healthy food to their neighbors in need.

Breaking the Cycle

Guest post by Food Bank friend Marla Williams: Monopoly money, something I remember thinking as a young child standing impatiently by my mother’s side, watching her tear paper coupons out of a book and hand them to the cashier. I was too young to understand anything different about the poverty my brothers and I grew up in. Not long ago, I found myself in a similar situation. A few years back, instead of waking up Christmas morning excited about opening presents like most children, my oldest daughter Lilia ran into my room and jumped on my bed exclaiming to the world that she knew it was Christmas because Santa had come and filled up the kitchen with food. That was my epiphany. I’m Marla Williams and this is the window into the life of a struggling family. A mother determined to break the cycle of poverty.  A woman fueled by the love of my family, my community, my education, and leadership.

Marla and her family

Marla and her family

Lilia loves to read and has a quiet and kind disposition. Victoria continuously will surprise people with a sense of humor often far beyond her age and is very prone to expressing her wit at random. Michael, my husband; is a former veteran who has served two tours in Iraq. Michael is currently enrolled at Los Medanos College working on his associate’s degree. Michael is also employed full time making minimum wage. Our family has faced some challenges in the past few years.

In July 2008 I held a job in the mortgage industry that paid fairly well. Two years later, I was laid off.  Through the discouragement of the situation, the children had to adapt suddenly to several new changes at once. They went from a life that was comfortable to a life that left them struggling .They have slept in the backseat in the early hours of morning while their mother worked a second job throwing newspapers out of the car window to make ends meet. They’ve been without warm clothes for school until our family could afford them. Lilia and Toria know what it is to be hungry and go without. It is their love that keeps my husband and I motivated.

After being laid off, I got a job at a well known coffee company to help make ends meet.  I knew my family would need some additional assistance with food and finances. At that time I decided to seek out answers within my community. I went to social services to see what programs I might qualify for to temporarily better our situation. After the frustration of being told we make too much money for some forms of assistance, I discovered that we could get help with groceries and fresh produce from the Food Bank.

Today, after graduating Opportunity Junction (a partner agency of the Food Bank) and helping my family change our circumstances, the holidays this year will look different for my girls. Michael is no longer working at a minimum wage job, however money is still tight. The Food Bank is the glue that holds struggling families together when we have expenses like a $900.00 car repair and there isn’t enough money left over to buy groceries. I went to the local pantry to pick up groceries just this morning so we can make it until his next payday this Friday.

I’m a dedicated individual when it comes to making our communities more resourceful for families in need. I believe in the power one individual can have to change not only their circumstances for the better but for the community around them as well. My family is on our way to no longer needing support from the Food Bank, but many like us are still in need of a helping hand. I will continue to fight to save community programs that are so vital to hundreds of families facing these financial challenges in today’s economy.

Ending Hunger Requires a Community Effort

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: In order to end hunger, there needs to be a movement that says hunger is not acceptable.  Social change is a gradual curve, but movements change the way we see things as a society.  While we are far from perfect in every area, we have seen significant progress in many areas:  women’s issues, racial issues, LGBT issues.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working with our partner food banks in our national network, Feeding America, to create a movement that says the existence of hungry people in our community is not acceptable.  The month of September is Hunger Action Month, and we are trying to motivate people to take action against hunger.  Hunger Action Month is built around “Go Orange”.  Why orange? Orange is the official color of hunger relief and makes a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. We want people to talk to their neighbors, talk to their faith congregation, talk to the people they play cards with about the issue of hunger.  We need to understand that hunger is no more acceptable than racism, sexism or homophobia.  Social change begins with events that begin conversations among people who care.

Help Contra Costa and Solano counties Turn Orange for Hunger Relief during Hunger Action Month this September! This is a great way to mobilize everyone in our community — in America — to take action in the fight against domestic hunger, generating strong and sustainable engagement.  We see Hunger Action Month as a way for the community to come together to take action to end hunger.

We have a vision that someday soon there will not be hungry people in our community.  Social change will take place and we will not accept hunger.  We will understand that hungry children don’t learn.  We will recognize that people who don’t eat a healthy diet have poor health.  We will understand that there is enough food for everyone and there is no reason for hunger to exist in our community.  I look forward to the future when people think it was a strange and different time when hunger was tolerated.

Summer Fun at Food Bank Events

Uncorked

Over one hundred Food Bank supporters and wine lovers joined us for the inaugural Food Bank Uncorked at the beautiful Green Valley Cellars in Fairfield on August 3. Our guests spent the afternoon enjoying the sun and scenery while tasting the amazing pairings of GV Cellars wine with appetizers and desserts made by MagPies Catering, grooving to the sound of the live music from Westbound 80 and learning about Food Bank programs from some of our staff. Thanks to our generous guests and sponsors like Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery we were able to bring in over $27,000, the equivalent of over 50,000 meals, to your neighbors in need.

Golden Gate Fields

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and Alameda County Community Food Bank joined forces with Golden Gate Fields for the second time on Sunday August 17th. We had stations and barrels located at both the Grandstand and Clubhouse entrances and were giving out free admission passes to anyone who made a donation. Thanks to the generosity of Golden Gate Fields for inviting us to host our Race to Fill Barrels we were able to collect 220 pounds of food and more than $2,300 for the food banks while raising awareness to the issue of hunger in our communities.

Growth in Donations Meets Growing Need for Service

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Over the last two years, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has seen a 26% increase in the number of people we serve, due to people struggling from the recession and an increase in programs available through the Food Bank. The significant increase of produce available to the Food Bank has been a dramatic change in the type and amount of food we distribute allowing people to more easily receive nutritious produce in the areas where they live.  At the same time, the increases we have seen in donations of perishable food at the retail level have grown significantly to meet the need as well.

The Food Bank has transformed over recent years from providing emergency help at the end of the month when food and funds have run out, to becoming a support system to help families make ends meet. Improving the nutritional value of food available to people through the Food Bank and our partner agencies has and will continue to help meet this need. Last year, 50% of what we distributed was fresh produce which is often too expensive for people facing economic challenges.

The California Association of Food Banks understood how marketing orders keep cosmetically imperfect produce from being sold; they also found that there was a secondary market for that produce.  Growers got paid a small amount for unmarketable produce when it was sold for animal feed or juice.  By appealing to growers to help us feed those in need, we got access to oranges at the same price the juice people were paying.   We showed the growers that we did not interfere with their markets and we made a difference in the lives of thousands of people in need.  The persuasive work of food banks convinced the apple growers, pear growers, and potato and onion growers that they should donate too.  We will continue to work on increasing the amount of fresh produce available to us because it is now more than half the food we give out.

The work of Feeding America, our national network, has increased both the quality and amount of food available to us from retail stores.  The grocery industry recently made a major operational change, with Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and Save Mart stores agreeing to donate food to Feeding America food banks.  The grocery industry is justly concerned about the liability they would face if food donations they made were improperly handled, so Feeding America worked for years with the grocery industry to develop standards Feeding America food banks meet for safe food handling.  All food banks and the agencies they serve undergo Serve Safe food safety training.  In addition to this training, we provide the agencies with which we partner freezer blankets and scales so they can properly record the donations they pick up from local stores.

The stores that donate to us are able to be greener by eliminating the waste they would have produced.  When meat is coming to its “sell by” date, the store freezes the meat until it is picked up by one of the properly trained agencies that work with our Feeding America food bank.  We have developed a system that has member agencies serving stores as often as they have food donations available.   In this way, local stores are following the lead their national headquarters has developed with Feeding America.  On a local level we get the high-quality food we so desperately need while our local grocery stores are eliminating waste while they work to help feed their neighbors in need.

Thanks to this significant growth in donations of fresh produce and retail donations of perishable food items we are able to provide and excellent source of nutrition to the increased number of people we serve.

Ready and Willing to Speak About Fighting Hunger

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As often sited, public speaking is the most common fear.  People have anxiety attacks when they think of making a speech to an audience, large or small.  When I became Executive Director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I had to learn to speak before groups to help us build the community of support that is necessary to our work.  The fact I have become as comfortable as I am when I speak to people about the Food Bank’s work is because I believe so strongly in what we do.

When I try to persuade people to join us in our work I am not selling them a vision, I am offering them an opportunity to make a difference.  I believe that people understand there is no reason in a society as rich as ours that anyone should be hungry.  With so much evidence of the need for hunger relief and stories we hear in the lines of our distributions, we see the problem often. We also know there is a solution.

It is my job to share the stories of our clients and explain to as many people as possible how they can help.  I speak to faith communities, service clubs, schools, and businesses.  I have talked to people in office suites and in factories.  In my experience, if people understand that they can help by volunteering and giving food or money, they are happy to do so.  Our task at the Food Bank is to reach out to those who can help so they understand how that can make a difference.

One of the ways we reached out to our supporters was organizing a wine and food event at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3.  G V Cellars provided their space and provided a great deal on wine because they believe in our mission. MagPies Catering also went above and beyond with the delicious food they provided at a reduced cost.  Westbound 80 performed classic rock music, and also donated to the cause. Not only did this event help us generate revenue to support our work, but, as importantly, it helped us connect with the people who make our work possible.

The Community Produce Program truck was set up at the event to show how much fresh produce their donation can provide.  A display showing the huge amount of healthy food we are able to purchase with $100 surprised and delighted guest.  When people understand how the Food Bank works, and understand how effective we are with their donations, I believe they will continue to help us feed those in need in our community.  It is my job to help people understand, so please, invite me to your next club meeting, service group or class. Either through Facebook, Twitter, or face-to-face, we will continue to tell our story so people understand how they can help.

 

Food Bank Has Developed Greatly Through the Years

Originally posted in The Vacaville ReporterThe Food Bank has moved a long way from providing emergency food to people every now and then to becoming a major part of the safety net.  Trying to end hunger means we have to be in this for the long haul because the end of hunger is not yet in sight. We have a sophisticated distribution system that provides over 60,000 pounds of food to low-income people in our community every working day.  In order to make this possible, we have developed a variety of ways to get food to the people we serve.

Many of the distribution systems we developed came about because the nature of the food available to us changed.  As the amount of processed food diminished and the amount of fresh produce increased, we had to move food more quickly.  The majority of the fresh produce we receive is the “less perishable” type (apples, oranges, potatoes, cauliflower, etc.) but it still needs to get to people quickly.  In order to make produce available to the 180 agencies we serve, the Food Bank established remote distribution sites where we meet local agencies in their community.  We meet agencies every week (twice a week in some communities)in a parking lot where we provide them the shelf stable items they order from a shopping list of available food, and give them access to bins of fresh produce.

While we are doing well providing more food for agencies to distribute to the community, we also bring the food directly to the people in need of help.  Our Farm 2 Kids program depends on a driver and truck making deliveries to after-school programs at low-income schools.  This program distributes enough fresh produce so each child can take home three to five pounds to share with their families each week during the school year.  We were granted  two trucks that are set up to be like a mobile farmer’s market and created the Community Produce Program  Those trucks go to over fifty sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties, making it possible for low-income people to receive over twenty pounds of fresh produce every other week – at no cost to them.

These programs work because the community wants to see people have the food they need to be healthy.  Volunteers bag produce in our warehouse so it is easier to distribute.  Volunteers come to the distribution sites and help prepare food bags so it is easy for people to obtain.  A generous community helps us cover the costs involved in proving people in need with millions of pounds of food each year.  Our work has changed, but what we can accomplish has improved significantly.  We are part of a community that does all they can to help their neighbors in need.

 

 

Community Members are Connected in a Variety of Ways to Our Efforts to Feed People

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter:  Nearly four decades ago, when I started working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano I didn’t realize how large a role the organization would play in the community. As the years have passed, the Food Bank has become a well-recognized resource for helping those in need in the community. Because of that recognition, people lend their support to our mission to end hunger.

Community members are connected in a variety of ways to our efforts to feed people. For those who have the time to do hands-on work, we ask volunteers to sort food, bag produce and assist with our remote distributions. Distributing nearly twenty million pounds of food means we need to address logistical issues, including trucking, food storage and running efficient distribution programs. For all these tasks, we depend on volunteers.

We also rely on volunteers to help us obtain the food we need. Food drives are organized year round because hunger exists year round. Our food drives range from the major effort organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers every May or the Boy Scouts each November to food collections done by individuals. Gardeners grow extra vegetables in their back yard to share with their neighbors in need. Businesses organize food collections as a way to give back to their community. We receive over a million pounds of food every year from a generous community, while we engage people in helping end hunger.

We are also lucky that a generous community helps us raise the money we need to distribute the food we gather. Gathering the support we need also goes from large to small, with the total effort being important to our work. We organize events like golf tournaments, motorcycle runs, or Uncorked, a food and wine afternoon at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3. Events like Uncorked bring people together to help the Food Bank, creating a sense of community around a common cause. Giving to charitable causes is an important part of many people’s lives, and they know the Food Bank plays an important role in improving our community.

Many people learn the habit of giving early in life. I talked to someone yesterday who shared the story of their nine year old daughter who sold wrist bands to her friends to raise money to buy food for the Food Bank. Her parents and grandparents matched the money she raised, helping her buy more food to bring to the Food Bank. When she brought the food to us, she saw how her donation became part of a bigger effort to help. Our work is possible because we connect with those in the community who want to see an end to hunger.

Serafino Bianchi and the Bianchi Real Estate Team: Feeding Families and Saving the Planet one bag at a time.

Guest Post by the Bianchi Real Estate Team: Did you know that nearly 400 billion pounds of plastic bags are used and thrown away every year? Less than 2% of that gets recycled, and the rest ends up swirling around in our oceans, damaging the eco-system and marine life. Alameda County has taken action by banning plastic shopping bags, and many individual stores have begun to charge for bags as well, to encourage their patrons to bring their own and recycle.10463910_10152373751304272_4815320970385287736_n

In light of all this, Serafino Bianchi of the Bianchi Real Estate Team had an idea. What if he provided eco-friendly grocery totes for his clients? He could provide a nice service, help save the planet, and remind his clients to think of him the next time they wanted to buy or sell their home – all at the same time.

He ordered the bags, and started putting them into the hands of his clients. They were a huge hit! Both fashionable and functional, these beautiful reusable bags are making a scene at the local grocery markets in Pleasanton, Alamo, and Danville.20140715_152630

Serafino grew up in Italy and developed a taste for healthy, wholesome food at a young age. As a young boy, loved to pick blueberries, mushrooms, and chestnuts from the wild countryside. He loves to tell stories about how the chestnuts were dried and prepared in a huge two-story stove in his tiny hometown, and how his mother would make chestnut soup and bread from the dried nuts

Since Serafino’s bags are being used to carry food, he thought about how he could help those in need who didn’t have access to a healthy meal, and decided to team up with theFood Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County. The Food Bank has been serving the community for over 35 years, and serves approximately 149,000 hungry people in need every month.

Serafino and the Bianchi team will donate to the Food Bank every time someone buys or sells a home in 2014. This feeds a family of four for an entire month with the sale or purchase of just one home.

Food Bank Welcomes Assemblywoman Yamada Hunger Awareness Event – Learn If You Are Eligible to Receive Healthy Food Benefits

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano – the county’s trailblazer in hunger relief – is excited to welcome Assemblymember Mariko Yamada to Community Produce Program in Dixon on Wednesday, July 16.  Assemblymember Yamada will be volunteering at the site, helping to ensure that each person in need receives fresh fruits and vegetables to take home.

“California is on the mend, but far too many people are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Chair of the Assembly Aging and Long Term Care Committee.  “Through no fault of their own, working families, students and seniors face skyrocketing food prices because of the drought and the price tag for staying cool in scorching temperatures.

“I wish to thank the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for providing critical food programs that support the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Food insecurity is a daily reality for millions of Californians.  Children, the elderly, the disabled, and students are the faces of hunger amidst plenty.  The drought and summer bring added challenges to ensuring that our community’s nutritional needs are met.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano works to end hunger and increase access to nutritious food for low-income individuals and families. The Community Produce Program is just one of the ways that the Food Bank distributes food directly to people in need. Refrigerated trucks have been customized for the exclusive purpose of distributing fresh produce to communities in need. Clients will be able to pick-up an average of 20 pounds of produce, twice per month.

In addition to the strong leadership Assemblymember Yamada provides in the legislature, we are grateful for the hands-on help she is bringing to the people we serve,” said Larry Sly, Executive Director of the Food Bank.

Help the Hunger Awareness efforts and learn how to apply for food assistance by Clicking Here. Join the Yamada Volunteer Crew and post your hard work on social media with the #HashTags: #YamadaVolunteer #Yamada4HungerAction #[YourCounty]Volunteer on your social media accounts.