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Tag ‘ Food Assistance Program ’

USF Grad Students Distribute Food

Guest post by Adrienne Sommer-Locey – I don’t know what I was expecting when my team signed up to bag food for the Vallejo distribution with Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Times are tough, and friendly faces can be hard to find; you never know what you will encounter at an assistance program. With an open heart and willing mind, my community service team and I carpooled to Vallejo to share our talents and learn from our experience.

Upon our arrival at the Community Center in Vallejo, we hopped out of the car and met the other volunteers, a team of high school students. There was a little separation between the two groups in the beginning as we introduced ourselves and signed in, but as soon as the truck with food pulled up there was work to do and no time to be shy! In the blink of an eye, tables were put out, pallets were set up, and an assembly line was formed. We all had our marching orders as to what goes in each bag, and instantly got to work with all the hustle we could muster.

In our Undergraduate program, we studied classical management techniques, the history of the evolution of organizational structures, and beyond. Learning these facts by rote will drill the concepts into your head, but the experience at the food bank brought it to life! We were constantly seeking the “one best way” a la Frederick Taylor, testing to see how to make the flow of the product move more efficiently. We specialized in our tasks and the products we handled as Adam Smith suggested in the Wealth of Nations and which Ford perfected in the automobile industry. We employed friendly peer pressure to goad each other on in a sort of reversed “soldiering” to go faster and be a stronger team member. Each person played their part, and the work was done in record time.

Once the bags were created, we shifted gears and got ready to meet the people who would be receiving them. Some of us took the role of greeting people and distributing bags, others took a role of maintaining the bags and keeping the supply chain rolling. I was part of the latter group, but I got an opportunity to meet and talk to the recipients as well. The most difficult realization was that the people we were helping were just like me. This was not some remote group in foreign lands suffering from malnutrition like you see in ads on TV. These are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, our friends. The truth is the face of poverty is our face, and their struggles are no more remote from us than our own shadow.

It can crush your spirit to see so many people struggling to get by day to day. Instead of a painful confrontation however, the work was done with a generous heart, the food gladly given and received, and everyone, including the recipients, was friendly and positive,. They were happy for the relief, and we were happy to assist them. There was no pity or resentment, just a real sense of compassion and gratitude. It felt good not just to do for others, but to be a part of a team working for a positive goal. My day at the Vallejo food bank was unforgettable; an experience I hope to repeat and share with many others.

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.

Stories from the Creek, Part 1

Guest post by John VanLandingham, Food Bank volunteer: Every month, approximately 100 people appear at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek to receive free food distributions from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano counties. Many of those are collecting for more than one person. Here are some of their stories.

 “I’m here because of low old-age pension. Every year my costs go up.”

Thaddeus, 90, Pleasant Hill

Thaddeus waited at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s parking lot in Walnut Creek for a friend while holding a couple of bags full of groceries. His bags contained fresh fruit, meat, bread, canned goods and some other staples this month.

Thaddeus was among the approximately 110 persons receiving food donations from Contra Costa-Solano Food Bank volunteers, many of them elderly, some disabled.

“Thaddeus is my biblical name. I speak French, German, Italian, Russian,” he said with an accent lingering from the five years he says he lived in France.

The 90-year-old former translator (who says he can read many literary classics in their original language) has been coming to the monthly Food Bank distribution for about six months.

“I lost my job at 65,” the Pleasant Hill resident said. “I’m here because of low old-age pension. Every year my costs are going up. Now I don’t have enough money for food and my living expenses. When you get old, they don’t care any more. It’s very cruel,” he said as he gave one of his bags of food to his friend who came to help.

Thaddeus explained that he does live with a family in Pleasant Hill.

For more information on our programs and services, please visit the Give Help page of our website.

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.”

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.