Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Nearly twenty five years ago, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano began working with a local television station to set up a holiday food drive in collaboration with the other Feeding America food banks in the Bay Area. The General Manager of the station was incredibly enthusiastic about the idea and suggested that we approach the homeowners association at Blackhawk, the community where he lived. Blackhawk was one of the first planned communities with upscale homes built around golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools. Sports personalities and business leaders owned homes in a gated community that had a limited number of entrance and exit gates. We were lucky enough to find volunteers within the homeowners association who felt this collection effort resonated with social responsibility beliefs that came from their faith community. We worked with them to take their ideas and grew food collections that make a significant contribution to our work.
Today, ten gated communities (including Rancho Solano in Fairfield) have similar drives where neighbors ask neighbors to help us feed those in need. Volunteers come to our warehouse in October to staple flyers to grocery bags that are specific to each individual community. Volunteers from each community go door to door leaving the bag with their neighbors. On the day of the food collection, we set up our plywood sleighs with food barrels placed inside. As people drive out the gate, their neighbors happily accept the bag of groceries right from the car. We also place return envelopes in the bag and many individuals also give us a financial donation as well. Communities vary in how much they provide, but the larger communities can give as much as 10,000 pounds of food and $25,000, making a significant contribution to feeding those in need.
These gated community drives are making a difference in people’s lives. People like Grace, 73, of Vacaville. Grace was married, owned a house, worked part time and lived comfortably with her husband until she retired at 62. Then everything changed when her husband passed away in 1999. The house they owned needed repairs her husband used to be able to do and it needed a new roof. She couldn’t afford to fix it up. When she finally sold it to buy a smaller condominium, “I barely broke even,” she said. Now her only income is her Social Security, which leaves her about $400 after utilities, mortgage and homeowners association fees.
It was on a trip to a Food Bank partner agency, Vacaville Storehouse, a year and a half ago that Grace discovered she could get groceries to stretch her pantry and refrigerator. Bread and meat she divides into portions to freeze help stretch her grocery budget. “I could never do as well as I do with proteins without being blessed by the Vacaville Storehouse,” Grace tells us.
The food and funds collected by neighbors in their gated communities support people like Grace every day.