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Community Members are Connected in a Variety of Ways to Our Efforts to Feed People

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter:  Nearly four decades ago, when I started working at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano I didn’t realize how large a role the organization would play in the community. As the years have passed, the Food Bank has become a well-recognized resource for helping those in need in the community. Because of that recognition, people lend their support to our mission to end hunger.

Community members are connected in a variety of ways to our efforts to feed people. For those who have the time to do hands-on work, we ask volunteers to sort food, bag produce and assist with our remote distributions. Distributing nearly twenty million pounds of food means we need to address logistical issues, including trucking, food storage and running efficient distribution programs. For all these tasks, we depend on volunteers.

We also rely on volunteers to help us obtain the food we need. Food drives are organized year round because hunger exists year round. Our food drives range from the major effort organized by the National Association of Letter Carriers every May or the Boy Scouts each November to food collections done by individuals. Gardeners grow extra vegetables in their back yard to share with their neighbors in need. Businesses organize food collections as a way to give back to their community. We receive over a million pounds of food every year from a generous community, while we engage people in helping end hunger.

We are also lucky that a generous community helps us raise the money we need to distribute the food we gather. Gathering the support we need also goes from large to small, with the total effort being important to our work. We organize events like golf tournaments, motorcycle runs, or Uncorked, a food and wine afternoon at GV Cellars in Fairfield on August 3. Events like Uncorked bring people together to help the Food Bank, creating a sense of community around a common cause. Giving to charitable causes is an important part of many people’s lives, and they know the Food Bank plays an important role in improving our community.

Many people learn the habit of giving early in life. I talked to someone yesterday who shared the story of their nine year old daughter who sold wrist bands to her friends to raise money to buy food for the Food Bank. Her parents and grandparents matched the money she raised, helping her buy more food to bring to the Food Bank. When she brought the food to us, she saw how her donation became part of a bigger effort to help. Our work is possible because we connect with those in the community who want to see an end to hunger.

Food Bank Welcomes Assemblywoman Yamada Hunger Awareness Event – Learn If You Are Eligible to Receive Healthy Food Benefits

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano – the county’s trailblazer in hunger relief – is excited to welcome Assemblymember Mariko Yamada to Community Produce Program in Dixon on Wednesday, July 16.  Assemblymember Yamada will be volunteering at the site, helping to ensure that each person in need receives fresh fruits and vegetables to take home.

“California is on the mend, but far too many people are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Chair of the Assembly Aging and Long Term Care Committee.  “Through no fault of their own, working families, students and seniors face skyrocketing food prices because of the drought and the price tag for staying cool in scorching temperatures.

“I wish to thank the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for providing critical food programs that support the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Food insecurity is a daily reality for millions of Californians.  Children, the elderly, the disabled, and students are the faces of hunger amidst plenty.  The drought and summer bring added challenges to ensuring that our community’s nutritional needs are met.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano works to end hunger and increase access to nutritious food for low-income individuals and families. The Community Produce Program is just one of the ways that the Food Bank distributes food directly to people in need. Refrigerated trucks have been customized for the exclusive purpose of distributing fresh produce to communities in need. Clients will be able to pick-up an average of 20 pounds of produce, twice per month.

In addition to the strong leadership Assemblymember Yamada provides in the legislature, we are grateful for the hands-on help she is bringing to the people we serve,” said Larry Sly, Executive Director of the Food Bank.

Help the Hunger Awareness efforts and learn how to apply for food assistance by Clicking Here. Join the Yamada Volunteer Crew and post your hard work on social media with the #HashTags: #YamadaVolunteer #Yamada4HungerAction #[YourCounty]Volunteer on your social media accounts.

How Can I Help

Originally posted in the Vacaville ReporterThere are many volunteer opportunities at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. With positions to suit almost any interest and time availability, you can volunteer in the front office, warehouse, or in the community. If you belong to a social club, work group or fraternal organization, you can organize a food drive, volunteer as a team in the warehouse, or invite a Food Bank representative to speak to your group.

We currently need help:

Bagging and Distributing Groceries. Have any time on weekdays?  We need help bagging and distributing groceries at our Antioch, Bay Point, Pittsburg, and San Pablo Food Assistance Program sites. We also need help at our Richmond Food for Children site. Each distribution is held one weekday morning every month.

Bilingual Volunteers (Fluent in English and Spanish). The following distribution sites have a high need for bilingual volunteers:

WIC Richmond (39th & Bissell Ave, Richmond) Every 1st & 3rd Thursday, 2-3pm

Davis Park (1651 Folsom Avenue, San Pablo) Every 2nd & 4th Friday, 12-1pm

Buchanan Park (4150 Harbor St, Pittsburg) Every 1st & 3rd Tuesday, 12-1pm

WIC Concord (2355 Stanwell Circle, Concord) Every 1st & 3rd Wednesday, 2-3pm

Salvation Army KROC Center (586 E. Wigeon Way, Suisun City) Every 1st & 3rd Friday, 12-1pm

Cambridge Elementary (1135 Lacey Lane, Concord) Every 1st & 3rd Saturday, 12-1pm

Antioch High School (700 W. 18th St, Antioch) Every 2nd & 4th Saturday, 10-11am

For more information on volunteering, please contact Volunteer Help Desk (volunteerhelpdesk@foodbankccs.org). Please include your name, phone number with area code, email, city, availability, as well as the type of opportunity you are looking for.

Food Bank Ambassador is a Living Legacy

Houston (holding the flower and award) is pictured with friends, family and Food Bank staff members.

Guest post by Food Bank Office Assistant, Lauren Strouse: Every so often life presents us with the opportunity to do something special for someone else. Food Bank staff in Solano recently nominated one of their wonderful volunteers for a special honor. The Solano County Senior Coalition, in partnership with the Area Agency on Aging, the County, and cities in Solano, annually sponsor the Living Legacy Awards for individuals 60 and older.  The award categories are diverse: Community Spirit, Inspired Leadership, Social Innovation, Community Champion, Building Bridges, and Generative Age.  An application had to be completed, which included a 500 word essay detailing why this individual deserved the award. Volunteer Houston Robertson was nominated for a Community Spirit Award. We were truly delighted when she won, and even more excited to share the news with Houston.

The Award Ceremony was held at the Fairfield Community Center on May 15th. The honorees were able to invite guests and Houston’s son, daughter, and several friends were present to share this special occasion with her. Food Bank staff also attended. Mayors from all seven Solano County cities were in attendance. Houston was honored to have Benicia mayor Elizabeth Patterson sit at her table. Three members of the County Board of Supervisors helped present the awards and representatives for the other county supervisors, plus state legislators, were also present. Twenty one individuals, many well into their 80’s, from all seven cities in Solano County, were honored. It was a very inspirational afternoon.

Houston was nominated because she is a very special volunteer. She has an infectious personality and enthusiasm that inspires others to get excited about what they are doing. Houston, 77 years young, has been a volunteer with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in Solano County, for just four years however, during this time she has demonstrated a dedicated commitment to the work the Food Bank is engaged in – fighting hunger.  She is a “member” of the Wednesday Morning Regulars, a group of retirees who sort food together every Wednesday. She has been a Food Bank Ambassador for two years, representing the Food Bank at various functions, such as community health fairs. She has also learned to conduct the Food Bank’s Wheel of Life activity, which is a regular part of our Family Volunteer Day, held approximately three times a year. She recently took full responsibility for presenting this at ACE Charter School when the school decided to organize a food drive as a Service Day activity, and she addressed the entire student body as well.  Last but not least, Houston volunteers at the Vallejo Food for Children distribution, which involves an additional time commitment of roughly four hours each month.

Houston also does public speaking about “Aging as Renaissance,” mostly to groups of seniors. It is a humorous, joy-filled presentation. She has written and published a book about her life, with special focus on mid-life. She is a fantastic example of how to age well, possess community spirit, and how to give back to the community. Her work exemplifies concern and compassion for others. She is active, fully engaged with life, and constantly seeking out new opportunities to be of service, learn and grow.

The Food Bank is fortunate to have someone like Houston helping to support our organization and equally grateful to have been able to play a role in this special individual being recognized with a “Living Legacy Award.”

48 Hunger-Fighters Begin Year-Long Term of Service

Last month, Berkeley Adams began her term of service as an Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps volunteer at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. She joins the largest class of hunger volunteers in the program’s history with 114 individuals in the incoming class across the country.

The Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corp program, part of AmeriCorps, has more than doubled in size in just one year, jumping from 55 to 114 participants and expanding from 16 to 30 states. Incoming VISTAs (Volunteers In Service To America) have been recruited from 43 cities in 23 states, with recruitment ongoing. The VISTAs will work across 57 cities in 30 states for a one year term. They range in age from 21 to 44. In contrast, the first volunteer class in 2011 had 47 members.

Started in 2010, the objective of the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps is to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations nationwide to enable more eligible individuals and families to fight hunger while empowering them to achieve long-term financial security. Volunteers also work to provide technical assistance to food pantry and soup kitchen operators, assist in fundraising and volunteer recruitment efforts, and work to increase access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP) formerly called food stamps.

One of the largest barriers low-income residents face in receiving nutritional food is lack of access, both in terms of getting enrolled for CalFresh benefits and using them in the right places. Berkeley will be on the front lines of doing each across the two counties the Food Bank serves. She’ll be implementing the use of tablets for CalFresh Outreach and training volunteers and agencies on how to use the new technology so clients can fill out online applications. She will also help connect clients to Farmers Markets so they can shop for fresh, locally grown produce with their benefits.

 We are thrilled to welcome Berkeley to our organization. This program will enable us to really focus on our capacity building efforts in CalFresh and client access to fresh produce, in order to make a lasting, long-term impact in ending hunger not just in this region, but across the nation.

We Couldn’t Do it Without Our Volunteers

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Because of support from a generous community, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has been able to increase the amount of food we distribute to people at risk of hunger.

We receive financial support from individuals and corporations, which helps us fuel our trucks and keep the lights on. We also have an outpouring of support with community food drives that add variety to the bulk items we purchase.

One of the most essential pieces of the support puzzle is the volunteer force that has answered the call to serve.

More than 50,000 volunteer hours are given to us each year — the equivalent of 25 additional staff members. Volunteers serve on our Board of Directors, help with office and fund development tasks, and help sort food. They help with food distributions and touch every program we run.

We have volunteers who hold doctoral degrees and volunteers who are developmentally disabled. Volunteers come with their Scout groups, their faith communities, their service clubs and their fellow workers. Some volunteers come once a year, some are here every week (or more).

Volunteers are important to us because they become our best advocates in the community. Volunteers have hands-on experience with our work, so they can speak with authority about what we do. They see us gather food, they see how effectively the Food Bank operates, and they see the people we serve.

Volunteers do hands-on work and know the commitment we have, as an organization, to our mission.

The Food Bank could not survive without the time and energy volunteers give.

“Hungry” Plays a Role in Education

Guest post by Food Bank volunteer Leslie Mladinich: When I think of hunger having a voice, I think of TV commercials showing starving children in faraway lands and a celebrity asking for a monthly pledge to feed that child.

But the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s educational play, Hungry, showed me that hunger does have a real voice, and it’s speaking right here in our own community.

Hunger is an actual character who acts as the conscience of Eric, a middle school student who struggles with not having enough food to eat when his father is out of work. The play wraps up its 4-week tour today at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, with more than 4,000 students learning about hunger through this innovative tool each Fall. (Information about booking future performances can be found at the end of the article).

photo by 1000 Words Photography

Commissioned by the Food Bank, the play was written by award-winning playwright Patricia Loughrey to educate the community in a unique way. Throughout the plot, professional actors alternate in roles of students, teachers, a mother, father, fast food server, nutritionist, school nurse, and Food Bank employees to convey that hunger is a strong emotional and physiological force.

And it isn’t isolated to those faraway lands in television commercials.

But with his booming, abrasive rap, the character of Hunger is the loudest: he voices Eric’s dialogue in his head – broadcasting the physical pains, scattered concentration, and low energy that come with having to skip meals regularly.

Thinking back on my time in middle school, I could put myself in the shoes of Reena, a cliquey, insecure girl who doesn’t want to work with Eric, “that weird guy who sleeps all the time,” when they are assigned a joint class presentation on hunger. Eric is also hesitant to work with Reena, afraid she’ll discover his secret of having mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner and being constantly hungry. He doesn’t want her to know that along with falling asleep in class, hunger causes his stomach to hurt and his mind to obsess with embarrassment. When Reena gives Eric a bag of food she carries on the bus to his house, he throws it away because he’s ashamed of taking a handout.

photo by 1000 Words Photography

Eric and Reena tour their local Food Bank for research. For example, as Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Executive Director Larry Sly pointed out before the play, the Food Bank helps some 149,000 people each month and distributed approximately 16 million pounds of food last year which is enough food for 13 million meals. Startled by the statistics and not feeling so alone, Eric realizes it is okay for others to know his family is hungry and declares to Reena: “Why is it any different for you to help me with food than for me to help you with math?” Eric decides he is going to ask his parents to get help from the Food Bank because: “I’m sick of being hungry.”

Interest in the topic of hunger is rising and through the play, actors tell community members how they can help. They could donate their time and food. Sandra Scherer, Executive Director of the Monument Crisis Center in Concord, said the play hit on themes that she sees everyday from clients across the economic spectrum.

“Hunger hits across all of our communities,” she said.

The play Hungry makes it possible to humanize this.

For nearly 10 years, the Food Bank has been using theatre as an educational tool by sponsoring this free performance. Questions about sponsorship opportunities or booking “Hungry” performances should be directed to Patty McDowell at pmcdowell@foodbankccs.org or (925) 676-7543, extension 243. 

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!

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.

Food Bank Ambassadors

The Ambassadors are a unique kind of volunteer at the Food Bank. They serve as a public face for us to local businesses, community organizations, social clubs, and at events as well as being an advocate for the Food Bank’s programs and services.

Food Bank Ambassador Linda Elsdon tabling at Fentons in Vacaville

On this one-year anniversary of the Food Bank Ambassador program, we think back to the many events our Ambassadors have joyfully attended on our behalf such as the Wells Fargo Annual Volunteer Fair, National Train Day in Martinez, Richmond’s Music on the Main, Celebrate Everyday Heroes Golf Tournament in Orinda, Music in the Park at Suisun City Library, “Healthy Sunday” in Pittsburg, Winterhawk Winery in Suisun and they will attend the upcoming Kaiser Richmond Employee Wellness Fair and the Loma Vista Farm Harvest Festival.

Some of these volunteers have bilingual skills to help us reach more of our Spanish-speaking donors and clients, but we hope to increase that number, especially in West and East Contra Costa County.

Thanks to our Ambassadors, the Food Bank is able to increase our outreach at schools, business fairs, and other community events every year. To learn more about our ambassador program, please contact Patty at pmcdowell@foodbankccs.org or (925) 676-7543 extension 243.