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Tag ‘ Farm 2 Kids ’

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.

Genentech Gives Back Week

Genentech has supported the Food Bank since 2004, providing funding for our programs, (including being a major funder of our Farm 2 Kids program in Solano County for the past 4 years) and sponsorship of Food Bank events. They even co-hosted a charity softball game between themselves and Alza Corporation, another big supporter of the Food Bank and also located in Vacaville, and the Food Bank was chosen as one of the recipients of the funds raised.

Genentech employees support the Food Bank on many levels – United Way donor-designated funds, Share Your Meal program, and of course volunteering with us. Last year the employees donated $239 during their Genentech Gives Back campaign. The Food Bank is proud to be participating again in their nonprofit expo on June 13 at their Vacaville plant. Genentech employees will be volunteering in our Fairfield warehouse on June 15. Both events are part of Genentech Gives Back Week.

As a major corporation in Solano County, Genentech is a role model for other businesses and exemplifies what it truly means to Give Back to the Community. They rock!

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.

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.

The New Glenbrook Middle “Farmer’s Market”

At Glenbrook Middle School in Concord they have gotten creative in distributing the produce they receive through the Food Bank’s Farm 2 Kids program. They noticed that some of the kids were not taking it because, especially with middle school-aged kids, taking home produce is not “cool.” Mr. Woods, their teacher leader, purchased some wire baskets and arranged the produce on tables like a farmer’s market would do. Now, the kids and parents “shop” for their produce with bags that are provided and get to choose exactly what they want. A few student volunteers monitor the market each week letting the “customers” know if there is a limit on any item. Before, they used to pre-make bags and it was difficult for them to get the students to take them home. Sometimes a change in presentation is all it takes to change the way people think about fruits and vegetables.

Sadly, because of budget cuts the Mt. Diablo Unified School District will be closing Glenbrook Middle next year. Not only does this change mean that students will no longer be able to walk to their neighborhood school, but it also means the students will not be able to receive their fresh fruits and vegetables each week. As we can see, the budget cuts affecting our schools affect more than their education.

More than just produce

While the kids get produce every week through Farm 2 Kids, we include flyers so their parents to know that we have programs that can provide them with non-perishable items as well.  One student brought the flyer home to her grandmother and a short time later she called me.  Although I thought that she probably had a question about the program it turned out she was interested in volunteering.  The very next week she was out with me in Richmond helping at our Food For Children distribution and even though it was blustery, cold day, she really enjoyed it.  Her Spanish skills really helped as well as having an extra set of hands.

If you are interested in learning more about our programs please visit the “Get Help” section of our website.  We are currently looking for Spanish speaking volunteers to help at some of our distribution sites throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties.  If you are interested, please email VolunteerHelpDesk@foodbankccs.org with your name, phone number, city of residence, Monday – Friday availability, and an explanation of your relevant experience using your Spanish language skills.

Cooking Class

Last week I visited Sullivan Middle, a Farm 2 Kids school in Fairfield. They had cooking class where they made baked potatoes and snacked on apples and peanut butter.  They loved that the produce they get from the Food Bank enables them to do activities like this.  Their teacher, Ms. Denise told me that many kids come to the after school program hungry and she is really glad that she is able to offer them a healthy snack.

Through the Farm 2 Kids program, the Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables to children whose families cannot afford to keep food on the table. As produce is perishable and expensive, many families have trouble feeding their kids the nutrients that are essential for developing children. Every week, Farm 2 Kids provides 3-5 pounds of fresh produce to more than 7,800 children in nearly 70 after school programs in Contra Costa and Solano counties. Over 50% of the students in these schools receive free or reduced cost school lunches, meaning at least half of the households in the school are considered low-income by the federal government.