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Tag ‘ produce ’

Food Bank Offers Healthy Food Choices

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: It’s no great secret that the way we Americans eat is killing us. According to the Center for Disease Control, 35% of adults 21 years of age and older were obese in 2012. The percentage of adults who are overweight (which includes those who are obese) was 69%. The frightening fact is that even our children are obese, with 12% to 18% classified as obese depending on their age. Diabetes is also a significant problem nationwide with over $28 billion being spent on diabetes treatment in California in 2012.

These problems are caused by the diets we eat. Fast food, huge portions and enormous amounts of sugar lead to obesity and diabetes. If we want to address these health issues, people will need to change the way they eat. How to do this is a complicated question. There are those who would like to mandate what people eat. Some people want to begin with individuals who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits. New York City tried to ban the use of these funds to buy high-sugar drinks, but ran into resistance from soda manufacturers and some civil libertarians. The New York City plan to control what food recipients purchase was overruled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instead of mandating what people can or cannot eat, public health advocates want to generate change by making healthy food more economical and attractive. Along with programs that distribute fresh produce, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano provides access to recipes and a nutrition educator. We are also able to distribute coupons to the low-income individuals we serve so they can purchase fresh produce at farmers markets. The California Market Match Consortium was created to distribute funds obtained from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and private donors. We let the people we are helping enroll in the CalFresh program know that they can obtain Market Match coupons to use at the farmers markets. As a bonus, people receive $5 worth of bonus scrip for every $10 they spend at the farmers market. This program can grow through a $100 million allocation in the 2014 federal Farm Bill and a $2.75 million per year (for five years) Market Match Nutrition Incentive fund included in a California Assembly bill.

The Food Bank also distributes farmers market coupons to low-income senior citizens through our Senior Food Program. Funds from the California Department of Food and Agriculture provide us with $20 booklets of coupons that seniors can use at their local farmers market. Over 1600 of these coupon books go to the Senior Food program participants, helping them obtain healthy produce on a continuing basis. The Food Bank sees its responsibility as helping those who want to change what they eat. We will distribute over ten million pounds of fresh produce this year. Providing farmers markets coupons and giving people fresh produce also allows healthy change to take place. People want to eat well and they want to be healthy. The Food Bank wants to make that possible for the people we serve.

The Community Produce Program is People Friendly

Guest post by ambassador Cecelia Williams: As a Food Bank Ambassador, I distributed information for the new Community Produce Program being offered at Antioch High School.  During the high school registration days we reached out to people to publicize free healthy fruits and vegetables on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.  This program is particularly attractive because of the simplicity of qualification.  There are no applications or forms to fill out, and no documentation of any sort needed.  It is run on the honor system and an income chart.  Only two questions are asked: 1) How many people are in your household? and 2) Is your income below this level?  If the person qualifies, he/she signs her name and proceeds down the line to fill his/her bags with fresh healthy fruits and vegetables.  This program is definitely people friendly.

Saturday, August 11 was a great day.  It was the first distribution day at Antioch High School and I had the opportunity to help out.  It was nice meeting Cassie, Will, Matt, and Corinne.  The site is right across from the high school.  I enjoyed “meeting and greeting” everyone as they came to pick up food.  I tried to make it a happy day and a welcome experience for the people that came out on this hot morning.  There were several familiar faces from the Antioch High School registration day, and I gave them an extra big hello and glad to see them.

An informational white board with pictures of food available that day, as well as the upcoming dates was displayed to people while they waited in line to sign in.  I thought it was a nice touch that the item was named in both Spanish and English on the picture, as many of the people were Spanish speaking.

I had met a high school staff volunteer that week named Irma.  She was interested in disseminating information and in volunteering.  It was a wonderful surprise to see that Irma came to help that Saturday morning.

I helped people fill their bags in order to keep the line moving.  I also invited people to help themselves to a little more because we were told there was plenty of fresh produce for everyone.  Not having worked the program before, I was a bit worried about running out of food, which absolutely did not happen.  Everyone went home with bags full.  What a great feeling.

One lady said to me (in Spanish), “Thank you for helping us.”  I responded, “Each of us needs a little help now and then.”

My goal as an ambassador or in any of my volunteer work is to make a small, but positive difference for at least one person.  This world is made up of many people…one person at a time.  I am just one individual, so improving the world is a daunting thought, but helping one person, and then another, and then another….that I CAN do.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano staff really had the site organized and ready to go.  The ease with which the program flowed was awesome.  It was a good day and it was certainly my pleasure to help.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program, email volunteerhelpdesk@foodbankccs.org or call Sharon at (925) 676-7543 extension 209.

How was your day?

Guest post by Ambassador Laura Collins: “How was your day?”  Do you ever get asked that question?  Typically we answer with a simple “fine” or “great”, believing that it is just a courtesy question anyway.

Well on June 5 when asked that question, I did say “great”, but I also felt it was important to follow up with why it was great.  I spent my lunch time at the Concord warehouse of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano with a roomful of dedicated hunger fighters!  As part of the Food Bank’s ambassador program, each of the people there have represented the Food Bank at  community events, helped coordinate food drives, volunteered at distribution sites, done outreach to the community for Calfresh (SNAP, formerly Food Stamp Program), helped with fundraisers, and networked at Chamber of Commerce events.  Our goal is to educate our community on hunger issues, promote awareness and to also dispel myths concerning those receiving food assistance.  By the way, did you know that 1 in 4 emergency food recipients are children?  And over 35% of our clients had to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage?  (Once an ambassador you can’t pass up any opportunity to slip in a few quick facts!)

Along with the ambassadors, Food Bank staff was on hand also, to cheer us on and inspire us to continue our outreach.  As we introduced ourselves many ambassadors, like myself, credited outreach coordinator Patty McDowell with spearheading our efforts to get us out there in the public eye.  Coordinating with the community and other staff members Patty leads the ambassador program and is always on the lookout for more recruits!  (Hint, Hint)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive Director Larry Sly was there to speak about the future of the Food Bank, and I have to say, he was on fire!  After 36 years with the Food Bank he is still passionate about the mission, if not more.  His goal is to make nutritious food more accessible to the people who need it.  He was very excited to tell us about the new Community Produce Program.  Thanks to generous support from donors in our community, the Food Bank is able to purchase a beverage-style truck complete with canopies and side doors that open up, for the purpose of delivering fresh produce to communities in need.  It’s simple and effective and families go home with fresh produce such as pears, oranges, apples, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots.  Fresh, nutritious food that they may not have been able to put on their family’s table otherwise.  Larry wants the Food Bank to work as smart and as efficient as possible, and he thanked us for getting our communities involved through volunteering, donating and advocating.

As I looked around the room, I saw vital, busy people, several working full time, that still find time to care about their community and try to make a difference.  Just like them, I came to the Food Bank hoping to lend my skills to help in a meaningful way, and along the way I found that our community is clearly excited and eager to see us succeed.

So, how was your day?

Backyard Bounty

Pears, Pears, Pears and YES more Pears! When the rain fell in early June, we all worried about the pears in the Alhambra Valley in Martinez and in Moraga. Many people in these two communities have an abundance of pears and love to have volunteers such as the National Charity League pick the pears for us. While the pears may be smaller this year, it seems to be a bountiful year. Thank goodness someone created the pole with the wire cage on the end to help pick the pears. It always seems the best fruit is just out of reach at the top of the tree. My favorite way to eat a pear is sliced in a salad – the pear adds just a little something different to it.

So in the last 5 days, volunteers have picked over 15,000 pounds of pears. That provides a lot of fresh fruit as snacks! I know there are over 230 men, women, teens and children with sore muscles who helped picked all of these beautiful pears. Hours volunteered totaled over 600 hours. WOW! I am exhausted thinking about this all. I think I will have my lunch – hope there is not a pear in my 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.

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.

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.

Happy Birthday Mother Earth!

Every day at the Food Bank is Earth Day as we recycle aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles, paper bags, plastic bags, shrink wrap and cardboard. But what we do best is help to reduce food waste. Here are some examples:

1. We work with several grocery stores and large food companies that give us their product as it approaches an expiration date. It can be bread, fresh produce, meat or nonperishable items. Why throw it away when they can give the food to us and we can get it out to people in need. The product is still good but the store wants to move their product along so we help them reduce their own food waste.

2. We welcome fresh produce from people’s yards as that helps us have more fresh produce for those in need. In the last month we have received thousands of pounds of grapefruit, oranges and lemons not to mention some home grown lettuce and other greens.

3. We pay a reduced price for our purchased produce so that we can buy more and make our money go further. Our fresh produce is not as pretty as you would find in a store but we say it tastes just as good if not better! Because of the reduced price, we often find oranges that are split open or apples that are very badly bruised. We no longer have to throw the bad produce into our garbage as we have choices of what to do with it:

  • The Oakland Zoo purchases fresh produce for their animals. We contacted them over three years ago and found out they would be very pleased to have our discards. We say we give them the “best of the bad” as they need produce that is not moldy or not been broken open. The bison love our badly bruised apples and the elephants are happy to eat our overly soft oranges.
  • Loma Vista Farm in Vallejo (an educational farm definitely worth visiting) not only uses apples for Oreo and Keebler, the cows, they will compost any produce the farm animals won’t eat (oranges are not that popular with the animals).
  • A local pig farmer says his pigs love our bad apples (and they don’t mind if they are moldy, broken open or badly bruised). We even provide him grain through our “Piggy Potluck” project. Sometimes we receive food drive products that are far past expiration and we can’t give that to those in need. So we take the dry products such as pasta, rice, dry beans, jello, cake mixes, and moldy bread and open the packages and mix all of the dry products together. The pig farmer will add water to this dry product which will then serve as grain for the pigs. We recycle all of the plastic and cardboard packaging so we not only are feeding pigs, we are reducing our garbage.

One of our friends in all that we do is Jennifer from Allied Waste in Pacheco. Jennifer says “We should be recycling for the earth’s sake”. And at the end of the day it is the right thing to do and makes us all feel good. Just like reading our Food Bank news online, you too are making a change to reduce our footprint on earth.

Rita at Loma Vista Farm

Oreo and Keebler

Chris at Oakland Zoo

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.