Blog

Tag ‘ distributions ’

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 volunteerhelpdesk@foodbankccs.org.

The Different Faces of Hunger

Every day I am more and more surprised by how many people need our help.  Every month the Food Bank helps feed 132,000 people, an immense number by any standards. Who is the face of hunger and what brings each one of our clients to our distributions? When looking at the statistics I was shocked to see that 28% of the clients the Food Bank serves are children. If one parent loses their job this not only affects them but their children and others in the household. While school-aged children often receive lunch at school many times this is their only meal of the day. Talk to teachers and you will find out that they all have at least one student who goes home to an empty dinner table.

Another staggering statistic is how many seniors are in need of food assistance.  As Social Security benefits continue to be cut, many low income seniors are being asked to live on less and less. Meanwhile, prices of housing, food, and utilities keep rising.  For many seniors, a nutritious balanced meal is a luxury.

To serve these populations, the Food Bank has different programs. The Farm 2 Kids program provides produce on a weekly basis to nearly 9,000 children who then take the fruits and vegetables home to their families. For younger children ages 4-5 there is the Food For Children program which provides a monthly box of nutritious, kid-friendly food as well as a bag of perishable items. Low income seniors on a tight budget can join the Senior Food Program and receive a bag of canned and fresh items twice a month.

With the generous help of our supporters, the Food Bank is able to not only help people in need, but to target the special populations who need it most. As you take action this Hunger Action Month, keep in mind the many different individuals you are helping in so many different ways.

The Food Bank Feeds Unemployed Neighbors in Need

Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: One of the many food programs the Food Bank has to offer their clients is the Food Assistance Program, commonly called FAP. FAP distributions take place in Antioch, Rodeo, Vacaville and other various towns in Contra Costa and Solano counties.

leaann

Leaann

Recipients who meet the income guidelines to receive food are able to pick up food once a month at the distribution closest to them. When they go to the distribution site, they must have identification with their current address or a picture identification and a document with their current address, such as a PG&E or telephone bill. If their household size is six or more people, I.D. for each person is needed. People also need to certify that their income falls under the guidelines for the program.

Once a month in Antioch, people line up outside of the Veterans Memorial Hall to be greeted by Food Bank employees and volunteers ready to hand over grocery bags and boxes with a variety of bread, fresh produce, canned goods and more.

A large amount of the clients that attend the distribution are unfortunately unemployed. Four ladies I talked to, Tori, Chris, Wanda and Leaann all fall under the unemployed category.

The only one receiving food stamps is Tori. She used to be a cashier and worked many other jobs, but has been unemployed for three and a half years. She is the only one in her household and thinks the distribution is great since she hasn’t gone to get food from anywhere else.

Chris recently moved into a new place with her husband and son, but no one is employed. Chris hasn’t been working since she had her son 16 years ago. When I spoke with her, it was her first time at a FAP distribution. A friend of hers has gone in the past and told her about it. Along with this new found food distribution opportunity, she’s gone to Grace’s Closet, a ministry in Antioch. “They gave me a bag of food and I found a pair of blue jeans,” she said. She also receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

With her husband retired and she being unemployed, Leaann said the Food Bank “makes it so we can eat.” She also is able to pick up food from a couple other programs which helps her and her husband get by.

wanda

Wanda

Being retired, Wanda gets social security from the government, but the Food Bank’s help is great assistance for her and her 39 year-old son who does not have a job. A year ago, a friend told her about FAP and she’s been going ever since.

When she first went, she and her friend were given the wrong starting time. “We were way down the line,” she said. Now Wanda makes sure to get to the Hall about an hour or two early. Being a very friendly and talkative person, she passes the time by making new friends with the other people around her.

Lately, Wanda has noticed an increase of people who need assistance. “At the Salvation Army, there are so many people that they can’t give out as much,” she said. Fortunately, with their help, the Food Bank and a couple other places, she’s able to supplement what she can’t get from each program.

She likes going to the FAP distribution because of the friendly and helpful staff and volunteers. “I didn’t bring my brace today and got dropped off and have to be picked up,” she said, “But they help bring it out and put it where I need to go even when I’m only carrying a bag.”

Protect Our Safety Net, Protect Our Families

Close to $2 of every $10 of income Americans received last year were from federal benefits like unemployment, food stamps, and social security according to Moody’s Analytics. For every job opening in the US there are 4.6 unemployed workers according to the Labor Department. So what do families facing these challenges do? Read how Francisco is dealing with being unemployed and how he feeds his family (written by Food Bank Volunteer John VanLandingham).

Francisco fell off an 18-foot ladder at work 13 years ago, injuring his back and shoulder. Since then, the disabled 53-year-old Antioch resident has endured three surgeries on his right shoulder. A scar from his most recent operation travels over his shoulder connecting his collar bone with his shoulder blade. Efforts to return to work that only aggravated Francisco’s injuries. “I am disabled now two years,” he says as he waits with about 500 others for a monthly Food Bank food distribution at the American Legion building in Antioch. “I have six people to feed. I usually get two bags of food. It saves me a lot, maybe 25 percent of my monthly food budget,” says the father of four. His oldest child, 24, also is unemployed. Francisco adds that he has been coming to the monthly food distributions for three years after learning about it from a disability worker.

An article in the New York Times says, “Throughout the recession and its aftermath, government benefits have helped keep money in people’s wallets and, in turn circulating among businesses… Because benefit payments tend to be spent right away to cover basics like food and rent, they provide a direct boost to consumer spending.” One benefit not mentioned is the Emergency Food Assistance Program that provides food through food banks and other hunger relief organizations to families like Francisco’s.

You can help by letting your representatives know that you care about these programs and ask that while they work to reduce the nation’s deficit they protect our safety net. Dial (202) 224-3121 to reach the Capitol switchboard and ask for your Member of Congress.

Watermelon!

When watermelon shows up in the markets around June, I eat as much as I can get my hands on because it just isn’t worth it any other time of year. Last week, the few melons that didn’t make it into my cart ended up in the warehouse at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

Summer means an abundance of fruits and veggies like tomatoes, zucchini and my favorite fruit, watermelon. Sometimes for Food Bank clients, picking up fresh summer produce at the store just isn’t an option with limited food dollars. The Food Bank was thrilled to receive about 2,000 fresh watermelons (11,000 pounds!) that were distributed through our agencies and programs like the Food Assistance Program and Farm 2 Kids.

It was fun for us to see that many watermelons in our warehouse and even better for the families who got to enjoy one of summer’s biggest rewards.

Rachel’s tips for fool-proof watermelon selection:

  • Look for a melon with a deep yellow ground spot (pale or white will only disappoint).
  • Pick it up. The melon should be heavy for its size (of course it’s a heavy watermelon, but some are heavier than others which means juicier).
  • Now with one hand under the melon, give the top a little smack. If it vibrates through to your bottom hand you have picked a winner. Too much jiggle and it’s overripe, too little and it’s just not delicious.

It takes some practice, but after eating a few for comparison you’ll never end up with a bland or mealy melon again.

Coupon Time

Guest post by Charlene Burns, Senior Food Program Coordinator: At the Senior Food Program sites in Contra Costa and Solano counties there’s Pacific Standard Time, Pacific Daylight Saving Time and Coupon Time.

Coupon Time is that time of year, typically late Spring and Summer, when many Senior Food Program participants receive $20.00 worth of coupons (free to them) to be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the Certified Farmers Markets located throughout both counties. People look forward to them and it fits right in with our efforts to encourage program participants to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits.

Farmer's Market

Surplus produce goes to those in need

I spent the first week of May at the Feeding America “Appreciative Inquiry” gathering in Columbus, OH. Several hundred people came together to talk about the work we need to do together to distribute a billion pounds of surplus produce to hungry people throughout the United States. As usual, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done, but we have an incredible opportunity to help the people we serve.

Watch this video to see what I have to say about it: http://youtu.be/vNZNVGYd0zQ.

Food Bank Participates in Nutrition Study

Guest post by Lindsay Johnson, Food Bank Program Director: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is one of six California food banks currently working with researchers from UC Berkeley who are documenting current nutrition-related policies and practices in relation to the provision of foods to low income families through emergency food services. This research is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Healthy Eating Research, 2010-2011.

In recent years, it has become apparent that many families rely on emergency food services for more than a few days each month, and there is concern about the healthfulness of food provided through emergency food pantries in light of the obesity epidemic and concerns about diet-related chronic disease. The emergency food system has been based on the distribution of shelf stable, low/no cost food for years. This food is frequently highly processed and contains large amounts of salt and sugar.

There are 3 components to the study. All Feeding America food banks were invited to participate in a national online survey in March assessing current organizational policies regarding the nutritional quality of the food provided. Six food banks, including Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, will have their food inventory data analyzed for the period 2007-2010 to evaluate whether actual foods received and distributed have changed during this period. As part of this second component, the research team will conduct short interviews with the Executive Directors of the Food Banks and key staff members regarding the provision of healthy foods. The third component will include food pantry visits at the end of May to five emergency food pantries at each of the six food banks for a total of 30 pantry visits. At the pantry visits, the pantry director will be interviewed, and a survey team will conduct a short interviewer-administered questionnaire with 15 randomly selected clients regarding their food preferences and pantry experiences.

Participating in this survey will provide the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano with client and pantry feedback, as well as giving us the opportunity to see how we compare with our peers with regard to providing nutritious food. This study will help us assess how effective and extensive our increased distribution of produce has been throughout the communities we serve. Information provided will help us with future decisions regarding the improvement of nutrition provided by the emergency food system.

Making a difference

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to work with Kim, a former police dispatcher for 13 years.  She volunteered at our Richmond Food For Children site helping to pack bags with food and carrying the food for our clients.  Afterward, Kim told me how much she enjoyed helping at our site.  She spent 13 years of her life listening to some of the worst situations and feeling relatively powerless when it came to helping.  Volunteering with the Food Bank gave her the chance to see that she could do something positive and directly make a difference in people’s lives.  “It truly has been a blessing to me; I get so much from being there,”  she told me.

Often when I work with a volunteer that I haven’t worked with before I worry if they will enjoy themselves because I need their help and I hope they come back.  I was so happy to know that the Food Bank was doing something for her while she did something priceless for the Food Bank.

Food pantries see an increase of people in need

Alan Wang from ABC7 reports on the need for food assistance in Concord.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=7042107