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Clayton Valley Concord Sunrise Rotary Lives up to Service Above Self Motto

Guest post by Rotary Member Hugh Toloui: A group of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Clayton Valley Concord Sunrise have been rolling out of bed in … Read more

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Your support makes the holidays better for families like Marla’s

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 … Read more

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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 than … 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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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.

Healthy Eating Habits Best Thing For Children

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Whether the information comes to you from statistical studies or just from taking a look around, it is obvious that the United States is facing an obesity epidemic.

The facts are overwhelming; we have the second-highest obesity rate in the world and spend more than $190 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. If you think the battle over healthcare is a major issue today, imagine what is going to happen as obesity and other diet-related illnesses increase the need for high-cost medical services.

As with so many of the issues we face as a society, the answer is fairly straightforward, but is difficult to implement because it requires us to think and plan long term. It will require us to change patterns that have developed over decades.

For more than a generation, our diet has deteriorated as we’ve replaced fresh food with prepared ready-to-serve meals and fast food.We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

We have saved time and created convenience, but our diets are now filled with processed and sugar-laden foods. The associated health issues we see today are taking a toll on our society.

This situation will not turn around overnight, but the conversation around the importance of improving our diets has at least begun and some progress has been made in our children’s school cafeterias.

The nutrition standards of school meals were updated in 2012 under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act. These improved standards require more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains and less sodium, fat and sugar in school lunches.

A survey done by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 72 percent of parents support strong nutritional standards for school meals. Another study published in Childhood Obesity, found that 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students like the more nutritious school meals.

Kids are being exposed to healthier food in their school lunches and they are gaining first-hand knowledge that healthy food can taste good.

Most of the children we serve at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano receive free or reduced costs lunches; making the meals they receive at school an important part of their diet.

By providing students healthier food on a regular basis, they are learning that fruits, vegetables and whole grains are an important part of a wholesome diet.

Furthermore, they are developing patterns that will fight obesity and other health-related illnesses.

We are doing the right thing when we feed our children well; we are setting them up to be healthy and successful.

A healthy school lunch is one of the best investments we make in the future of our society.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord. Email: info@foodbankccs.org

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.

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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.

Working To Ensure Food Programs Reach All Those In Need

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has direct food distribution programs and we work with nearly 200 nonprofit agencies that feed people in our local communities. The Food Bank is committed to fighting hunger and more than likely you have witnessed our efforts firsthand. There is a good chance that you have seen the food donation barrels around town. And perhaps you have seen a Food Bank banner at a community event or have seen the delivery trucks on the road? You might have even seen us in action if you have come to one of our two warehouses to drop-off donations or volunteer your time. It might be surprising to learn that one of the most important ways the Food Bank helps the hungry individuals in our society doesn’t take place in the public’s eye. Advocating for food and hunger related issues and policies are a crucial part of helping those we serve.

The national organization that we are affiliated with, Feeding America, partners with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to bring food banks and advocates together in Washington DC each year.  It is a chance for us to communicate with our elected representatives, so they understand the food issues we see in our communities.  We are grateful that in Solano and Contra Costa counties, our elected officials have a good understanding of what causes hunger.  It is important that we share real-life stories with these policy-makers about the people we see. They, in turn, can help others understand the challenges people face trying to get assistance from federal food programs.

In some instances, we advocate for programs that directly impact our ability to provide food.  The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides the Food Bank with food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  We receive millions of pounds of food as well as administrative funds that allow us to provide food to the agencies we serve. We also provide this food directly to people who come to our Food Assistance Program.

The Food Bank realizes we need to help carry the message to elected officials that there are many Californians that legitimately experience food insecurity. The CalFresh program provides benefits to eligible low-income Californians. CalFresh is the first line of defense against hunger, providing food assistance to low-income children, seniors and disabled individuals.  Because so many people need food assistance, this program is a significant part of the budget and Congress often looks to cut programs like CalFresh.

The Food Bank recognizes that our distribution programs only address part of the public need and that the behind-the-scenes work we do to influence public policy is vital.  There is no doubt that the Food Bank plays a significant role in helping people in need, as we distributed 20-million pounds of food just in the last year.  However, people also rely on CalFresh, school lunch, Meals on Wheels and TEFAP.  We need to do our part to ensure that all these programs get the appropriate funding, so the most basic of needs, such as providing your body nourishment, can be a reality for all.

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.

March’s Focus On Nutrition Is A Chance To Educate People On Food Choices

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: March is National Nutrition Month, which focuses on educating people to make informed food choices and creating comprehensive dietary habits. Struggling families in Contra Costa and Solano counties often aren’t able to select healthy options. Many turn to less expensive foods that are higher in fat, salt, calories and sugar, which can contribute to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is committed to providing nutrition to local families that otherwise might be out of reach.

We all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but not everyone is able to afford nature’s nutritionally-packed food. This is why the Food Bank distributes a million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each month. In fact, our second biggest distribution program is our Community Produce Program, which focuses solely on produce.

Twice a month through the Community Produce Program, the Food Bank’s customized trucks serve as mobile farmers’ markets. The difference between Community Produce Program and a farmers’ market? The produce is free and up to 20 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are given to each qualifying household at each distribution.

In order to help low-income children have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and establish healthy eating habits at an early age, the Food Bank created the Farm 2 Kids program. We partner with after-school programs in low-income areas in eligible school districts.  Every week during the school year 9,000 children receive a three to five pound bag of produce to take home. Sometimes it is the only food they have for dinner.

For the 1 out of 4 children who struggle with hunger every day, school can serve as a place where they can count on receiving the food they need to learn and thrive. The School Pantry Program provides nutritious, nonperishable food to students attending qualified low-income schools. The School Pantries are located on school grounds and run by a school staff member.  This way food can be given out discreetly to avoid any embarrassment that many students already experience during high school years.

The office manager of one high school realized a girl at school was not eating anything except for the free lunch she received at school.  When she spoke with this girl, the student explained that her dad has diabetes and they spend all of their money on buying him special foods.  Sometimes there is just not enough for her brothers and sisters.  She is now able to pick out the foods her family can eat like brown rice, canned vegetables without salt and low-sugar cereals.  This is a nutrition need that the Food Bank would not be able to identify on our own.  Through these strategic partnerships the Food Bank is able to help students of all ages in a way that provides the nutrition they need and helps them to be ready to learn.

In addition to these specific programs that address the nutritional needs of people in our community, the Food Bank also offers nutrition support in the form of recipes and education. We strive to educate clients and volunteers at partnering agencies about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, small servings and nutritionally balanced meals. Budget-friendly recipes and cooking tips are provided at distributions, in newsletters and on our website. These resources help individuals turn the ingredients they receive from the Food Bank into delicious and nutritious meals.

Although March marks National Nutrition Month, our mission here at the Food Bank is to supply families with healthy food year round.

Changes Helped To Grow, Improve Food Program

Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Most of the changes that have taken place at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano have come about in a natural evolutionary process.  We have grown into an organization that wants to provide our clients with not just food, but healthy and nutritious food.

Our initial focus on providing healthier food started with selecting better nutritional options when purchasing food from our suppliers. We started purchasing fruit packed in juice without added sugar, reduced-sodium canned vegetables, peanut butter without added sugar and canned tuna packed in water, rather than oil. The cost of food is always a concern to us and the agencies we serve, but we also realize that short-term savings decisions we make can have long-term health impacts on those who eat the food we provide.

Our nutritional efforts further expanded when we started working with the California Association of Food Banks to obtain donations of unmarketable but wholesome fresh produce.  We started receiving oranges, apples, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions and more.  This produce is not marketable for a number of reasons, but it is full of nutrients and is a valuable resource to the individuals we serve.  This supply of fresh produce became vital as we built distribution programs like Food for Children, Farm 2 Kids and the Community Produce Program. We have found that people do want to eat well, as they know it will improve their overall health.

Unfortunately, low-income people often have trouble getting the fresh produce they need, as it can often be expensive and difficult to obtain. We know we are making a difference when we send a truck load of fresh produce to low-income schools and local health clinics. Now over half of the food we distribute annually is fresh produce. To add more value to the produce we provide, we started offering recipe ideas and nutrition information at distributions and in newsletters. With this information, our clients can turn the ingredients we provide into healthy meals.

To get a general nutritional overview of the food we were distributing, we began evaluating the percentage of food that we would consider “good” (cookies, soda and sweets are not considered “good”). We developed a standard that had some subjective judgments, but we have stayed consistent to the standard we set, giving us a good evaluation tool.  Over the years, we have seen our standard of “poor food” decline from 7% of the total food we distribute to now be approximately 2%.  With the Food Bank purchasing healthier nonperishable food and the increase in fresh produce that we distribute, it is clear that the focus is not just on the quantity of food, but the quality of food as well. When individuals eat healthier, our entire society wins.