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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

Annual Report Change Shows Growth of Food Bank, Local Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Someone was going through some old materials they found in storage and brought me an annual report from 1998, sixteen years ago. Annual reports and financial audits are snapshots in time that define how an organization is providing service in the community, so it was pretty astounding to see where we were then versus where we are now.

I was amazed at how much we have grown as an organization. In 1998, we had 32 employees; today we have 63. (Eleven of the people who worked for us in 1998 still are with us today.) We have been able to increase our services because the support we receive from the community has increased significantly. As an example, in 1998 the support we receive from individuals was one million dollars and we now receive five million dollars annually.

The Food Bank needs that increased support because we have expanded our work to meet the need in ways we never dreamed we would be doing in 1998. At that time, we had our Senior Food Program, Food Assistance Program and Food for Children program as the only direct service we provided in the community. Because of the collaborative work of food banks through the California Association of Food Banks, we now have access to supply of fresh produce through packing sheds in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys that’s only limited by the amount of support we receive to purchase it. Because this fresh food is available to us, we established the Farm 2 Kids program that distributes food to students in low-income schools. In the past two years, we developed the Community Produce Program that takes fresh produce to over fifty distribution sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties. I would have been surprised in 1998 to know that someday we would provide over ten million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables in one year to low-income people in our community.

The reason we must keep focused on our work is because the need continues to grow. We were serving 58,000 people a month is 1998 and have seen that number increase to 149,000 today. At some of our Food Assistance Program sites for example, we have seen the number of people coming increase fourfold. We are sending two trucks filled with food to some of the sites we serve because nearly 600 people come for the food we give. With our increased efficiency, staff and community support, we are able to meet that high demand and outreach to those who may not know help with food is available.

I am proud of the programs we have maintained and strengthened, as well as the new programs we have initiated. Everything we do, from distributing more fresh produce to helping enroll people in CalFresh is dedicated to getting food to those in need. Our supporters should be proud as well. Because of them, we are able to be of service to the increased number of people who need us.

It’s a Tight-Knit Community at biStitchual!

stitchThe Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s barrel has arrived at biStitchual, a yarn and notions store located at 2406 San Pablo Avenue in Pinole. The shop is hosting a year-round food drive collecting nonperishable food for those in need within our community. The most wanted food items are peanut butter, cereal, tuna, canned meats, juice, pastas, canned beans, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned soups, etc. Come by the store, donate a few items and see the latest yarn we have and consider picking up those knitting needles or crochet hooks again.

Water Situation Affects Fresh Fruits, Vegetable Availability for Those in Need

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The drought we are currently experiencing raises serious questions about how we use a finite resource.  The Mediterranean climate we enjoy means that we have long summers where no rain falls.  In normal years, the snow that falls in the Sierra Nevada mountains has been our reservoir and provides the water we need in the summer.  Much of the water is needed for agriculture because California has some of the most productive soil in the world.  Our water system works well as long as snow falls in the mountains, but when a drought takes place, competition begins for the limited water available.

Residential consumers are urged to limit the amount of water they use.  We may have green lawns and swimming pools, but many homes have drip irrigation, low-water landscaping, low-flow toilets and other technology to make effective use of the water they use.  There are debates about how you compute the numbers, but urban water use is less than 20% of the total consumed in California.  One third of the water used in the state goes for environmental purposes; making sure rivers have adequate fresh water to support a healthy environment.  More than half the water the state consumes is used for agricultural purposes.

Residential consumers often wish that water could be saved in the agricultural and environmental areas.  Some people argue that using “environmental” water to preserve fish should take second place to water for agriculture.  The looming battle over the bypass tunnels proposed to move fresh water from rivers above the San Joaquin/Sacramento delta raises concerns about the impact that action would have on the environment of our local area.  If we decide that environmental and urban uses are most important, what does that mean for agriculture?

Agriculture is a major part of California’s economy.  California farms and ranches generate over $42 billion worth of revenue.  Of that revenue, over $18 billion is food we export to other countries.  Over 11% of the food produced in the United States comes from California, and over half the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in California.  Our climate and our water make a major contribution to California’s economy and the nation’s food supply.

The work of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is possible to a certain extent because we are located in California. Because food grown in California sometimes does not meet marketing standards, the Food Bank can reclaim that food, allowing us to provide fresh produce to people in need in our community.  Because of the drought, some of the crops we received in past years are not available to us currently, plus everything we receive costs more. Fresh fruits and vegetable prices will go up an estimated 6% in the coming months according to the federal government.  In order to get the food we need, we depend on agriculture, and agriculture depends on water. Difficult decisions need to be made both by government and at home as we decide how we can best use the water on which we all depend, so people of all income levels have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Grocery Outlet Independence from Hunger

002 (2)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 Road in Concord has collected 1,693 pounds of food in three days for the kickoff of their Independence From Hunger Food Drive! They have prepacked bags for a variety of prices between $3 and $10 so everyone can afford one or more bags to donate. Let’s all help the Concord Grocery Outlet Store beat their total last year of 5,400 pounds of food donated in July. Buy a prepacked bag of food and place it in the barrel during the month of July. Every bag will provide meals for those in need in our community.

Public Works to Provide Food

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The Contra Costa County Public Works Department decided to host a food and money drive to help the Food Bank kick off the summer – a time when need is high, but donated food runs low. This county department collects money for the Food Bank during the holidays but they feel it is important to collect food and money at other times of the year. Congratulations on a fantastic drive of 463 pounds of food and over $1,300 which equates to 3,010 meals!

Aon Global Service Day at the Food Bank

By Rachel A. Sisson of Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corporation:  The San Ramon office of Aon eSolutions and Aon Fire Protection Engineering volunteered with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano on June 12, 2014 as part of their Global Service Day. Global Service Day is Aon’s annual day of volunteerism where colleagues across the world unite in service to strengthen the diverse communities in which we live and work. This year, Aon’s efforts once again focused on empowering people and strengthening communities at risk through a wide variety of service projects, in support of hundreds of wonderful charitable partners. Approximately 9,000 Aon colleagues in 50 countries donated more than 30,000 hours of service on Global Service Day.

Here are some of the other projects Aon participated in on Global Day of Service.

 The San Ramon offices of Aon spent part of their Global Service Day volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.     The San Ramon offices of Aon spent part of their Global Service Day volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

Provide Incentives, But Let Them Make Their Own Decisions

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Debates over what food and beverages are good for us and what are not seems like a worthwhile discussion when what we consume impacts the overall public health. The truth is we are capable of making our own decisions based on available public knowledge. Since I have spent most of my life providing food to low-income people, I have some emotional feelings about what people say when they propose that CalFresh benefits (Food Stamps) cannot be used to buy soda.  I saw a recent plan that talks about incentivizing CalFresh recipients to buy fresh fruit and vegetable by providing a rebate if they use their benefits to buy fresh produce.  The same plan also says however, that people will not be able to use their benefits to buy soda.  My lack of comfort is that instead of focusing on providing low-income people an incentive to spend their benefits on “good food”, people want to prohibit others from buying “bad food.”

The feeling is this is ok because CalFresh recipients are receiving benefits we as tax payers help provide.  I think there is an assumption that people who are poor are somehow less than those of us who are not, so they need to meet the standards we set for their behavior.  We already say CalFresh benefits can only be used to purchase food, not soap or toilet paper (two fairly essential parts of a healthy life I think) so taking it much further becomes an issue of judgment.

Part of the reason CalFresh benefits were changed from Food Stamp coupons to an ATM-like card was to diminish the stigma recipients felt as they went through the grocery line.  We have all heard the theoretical story from someone who saw a Food Stamp recipient in a grocery line buying food “I could never afford” with their CalFresh benefits.  Part of this judgment may not even be based on reality. A CalFresh benefit of just $100 won’t go very far to buy groceries for the month. Careful planning becomes essential and many recipients are actually making do with affordable basics like dry beans, frozen vegetables and pasta. Because people are poor, we somehow feel it is their fault and we somehow assume it is because of the bad decisions they make. In reality, we hear stories every day of losing work to disability, the economy, or the added financial burden of taking care of an aging parent.

I encourage you to try it for yourself. Take the Hunger Challenge to live on just $4.50 of groceries a day to see how challenging it is to nourish yourself. Find the guidelines at www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge and let me know how it goes.

I have a support system that saves me if I fall on hard luck, but for some the Food Bank and CalFresh may be the safety net keeping their family from going hungry. We can, and do inform the public about healthy eating and offer nutritious choices and education in our Food Bank programs, but believe that our clients should be treated with the dignity to make their own decisions.

“Simply stated, SNAP works” – We Need to Continue to Invest in Our Future

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  Mathmatica Policy Research did a study that led them to conclude “simply stated, SNAP works”.  (The SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly known as the food stamp program and is known as CalFresh in California).  Mathmatica’s research demonstrated that because they participated in the program, children had significant improvements in their consistent access to food, also known as their “food security”.

The Mathmatica food security study surveyed 3000 families and compared the status of families newly-enrolled in the program with those who had been in the program for six or seven months.  In the initial part of the study, 37% of newly-enrolled families were food insecure, while those who had been on the program six months or more were at 27%.  When they checked the newly-enrolled group after six months they had seen their food insecurity decline from 37% to 25%.  This type of research shows the wisdom of feeding those in need in our community.

If an individual is food insecure they cannot find enough food or purchase enough food for themselves.  In a society as rich as ours, with huge agricultural surpluses, there is no reason an individual should be food insecure.  More importantly, there is no reason a child should be in that position.  Increases in SNAP/CalFresh that were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were eliminated in November of 2013.  After that, Congress cut $8 billion in funding for the program over the next ten years.  Because of these actions, average benefits for recipients will drop below $130 a month.  I know there are some people who can make that work, but I also know from my attempts to live on the average CalFresh budget for a week, that the benefits are not enough.   These budget cuts will have a negative impact on people’s ability to feed their children.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and he told me stories of receiving blocks of cheese and bags of sugar from the government.  I don’t think he was ever hungry, but he lived in a house where concern about the next meal was a part of their life.  He saved every scrap of leftovers until the day he died and his choices in the grocery store always were always based on price.  I think we are in danger that the budget decisions that are being made are creating a generation that will be as food insecure as those who lived through the Great Depression.

It’s frustrating that we are cutting a program that provides hungry people the ability to get food.  People are on the program for a short period of time (average of nine months) and research shows that the effects are positive, whether you measure improved nutrition or food security.  By giving people SNAP/CalFresh benefits, we are making sure that our children receive the food they need.  We are making an investment in the future of our society when we help hungry families.

Changing the Way We Eat, Beginning With Our Children

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Change is never easy. We all know people who tout their flexibility and their openness to change, but lock themselves up when change begins. (Other people of course, not us.) At the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano it is interesting to watch this take place around a subject everyone knows needs to be addressed, improving the nutrition of our children.

Obesity has risen dramatically among younger people (and adults too) over the past twenty years meaning that diabetes and other diseases are becoming a major health problem for our society. The astronomical costs of treating those diseases, as well as the other problems we face as an obese society can be prevented by changing what we eat. Most of us recognize we eat too many fats, too much sugar, too many empty calories. In principle we all understand that we should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and more whole grains.

If we are going to take steps to implement these changes, one of the most effective ways is to start with our children through the school lunch program. By providing students with a healthy lunch, we can give them good food to eat once a day as well as helping to educate them about how good food tastes. Seems simple, right?

In fact, changing school lunches has become a major political issue. The School Nutrition Association, a lobbying group that focuses on school lunches has switched its position from supporting the changes recently implemented in nutrition standards to now asking for relief from those standards. There are anecdotes about the disruption the new standards have caused that raise legitimate concerns. Stories are told of schools in the Southwest having whole grain tortillas thrown away because they are not culturally acceptable. Applesauce is thrown away as are fresh fruit and vegetables. And of course, funding is not adequate for these districts to provide increasingly expensive healthy food.

On the other side, school districts in rural Georgia share stories of how they were able to move from fried chicken (a Southern staple) to herb-baked chicken that kids love. Locally grown grits are one of the most popular items for their school breakfast program. Here in our community, some school districts are purchasing fresh produce from local farms, providing healthy locally-grown food to their students.

But beyond these operational issues, on the political side, a group named the Coalition for Sustainable School Meals Programs has pushed Congress to designate pizza with tomato sauce as a vegetable. The goal of providing healthy food to our children gets complicated because providing school lunches is a multi-billion dollar program.

While a few people may defend the status quo of the school lunch program, most agree that change is necessary for the good of our children. For the sake of our health, we need to see a change in our individual diets, and that will only come about through education. We need to begin with our children.

Easy DIY Reusable Bags

tshirt bagGuest post by Child Nutrition and Outreach Manager, Robert Brown: Food Bank Farm 2 Kids sites encourage taking home produce in reusable bags. Some of the after school program sites shared their ideas for obtaining bags:  Tiffany DuBose, at Lincoln Elementary retrieves bags from storefront recycle bins; The folks at Fair Oaks Elementary and Meadow Homes Elementary ask parents and teachers to donate bags; Sun Terrace buys T-Shirt bags at Smart and Final; Claudia Chan, at Wilson Elementary makes tote bags out of used T-Shirts.

Making a tote bag using old T-Shirts is a great idea!  Not only is this friendly to the environment, it is a good way for students to take ownership of their bags.  Erin Huffstetler, a freelance writer at About.com has given some easy-to-follow steps.

What will you need?

  1. An old t-shirt
  2. Thread
  3. A needle or sewing machine
  4. Sewing pins
  5. Scissors
  6. A large mixing bowl
  7. A pen or pencil

Instructions:

  1. Lay the t-shirt out on your work surface and smooth out any bumps or wrinkles. Then, cut off the sleeves, following the contour of the seam.
  2. Lay a mixing bowl over the neckline of the t-shirt, and trace around it. Then, cut along the line to create the opening for your tote bag.
  3. You should now be left with a t-shirt that resembles the one in the photo — pretty much your standard plastic grocery bag shape. To complete the tote bag, simply flip the shirt inside out; and sew the bottom opening shut.  (Retrieved March 31, 2014 from http://frugalliving.about.com/od/craftsgifts/ss/TShirt_Tote_Bag.htm)

Many thanks to all who shared their tips for obtaining bags.  A special thanks to Claudia Chan for sharing her wonderful idea with us, as well as a photo of the finished product (above).