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Did you know March is National Nutrition Month®?

This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month®, an annual nutrition education and information campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association, is “Eat Right with Color” and that is one of our favorite topics here at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

Child Eating AppleEat Right with Color is part of our daily work. In many low-income neighborhoods, access to affordable, nutritious food is sparse at best, often leading to higher than average occurrences of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity. At the Food Bank, we aim to help everyone Eat Right with Color by ensuring access to fresh, healthy food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Of the more than 12.6 million pounds of food we distributed last year, an amazing 3.5 million pounds were fresh fruits and vegetables.

Our Senior Food Program is certainly doing its part of making sure seniors eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. The ‘Colors of the Senior Food Program’ at our last five distributions brought a greater nutritional value to the bags of food. Green was represented by cabbage and apples. White was represented by onions and potatoes. Orange was represented by oranges, carrots and yams.

Last week our Farm 2 Kids Coordinator visited a few Vallejo schools that receive produce on a weekly basis. Everyone was ecstatic because for the first time they all received a shipment of red and yellow mangoes from the Food Bank. Frequently when she asks the children what they would like to see in Farm 2 Kids they inevitably say enthusiastically “mangoes!” Read more about the mangoes we distributed to hundreds of children on our Food Bank Blog.

Where does the produce come from? As part of our statewide association of Food Banks we are able to purchase surplus produce for pennies on the pound. Fruits and vegetables grown by farmers in the Central Valley are often “not perfect enough” to be sold in grocery stores. Often, they are just too big or too small to be sold and that is why our clients sometimes receive giant oranges or tiny potatoes. The Food Bank buys the produce in large bins and then we have volunteers sort out any items that may have spoiled in transit. They then package the fruits and vegetables in boxes and a driver delivers them to the school site.

These are just a few examples of what Eat Right with Color means here at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano as we strive to provide healthy food for hungry people.

Piggy Potluck?

No, this isn’t the latest in culinary cuisine. It is future pig food! These 5 high school girl scout volunteers are taking old dry goods (pastas, rice, jello, cake mixes, etc.), opening them up and pouring them into this cardboard tote. A pig farmer in East Contra Costa County will pick up the tote of dry goods and use this as grain for his pigs. The cardboard packaging will go into our big white paper dumpster and the recyclable plastic will go in our special blue tote for plastics.

Where do we get this food? When it is food drive time, well meaning donors often go through their cupboards and give us expired food that we can’t distribute to those we help. So rather than throwing it into the garbage (and ending up in a landfill), we make what we proudly call “Piggy Potluck”. The name was created by a group of Bank of America associates who were our first volunteer group to make “Piggy Potluck” so they created the name and we have called it “Piggy Potluck” ever since.

This is one more way we help reduce our footprint on Earth and are able to create a fun volunteer project. Just ask these scouts!

Where does the produce come from?

As the Farm 2 Kids Coordinator, this is probably one of the most common questions I am asked.  As part of our statewide association of Food Banks we are able to purchase surplus produce for pennies on the pound.  Fruits and vegetables grown by farmers in the central valley are often “not perfect enough” to be sold in grocery stores.  Often, they are just too big or too small to be sold and that is why our clients sometimes receive giant oranges or tiny potatoes.  The Food Bank buys the produce in large bins and then we have volunteers sort out any items that may have spoiled in transit.  They then package the fruits and vegetables in boxes and a driver delivers them to the school site.

Learn more about Farm 2 Kids or donate now to help support programs like this.

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.

Bad Apples Gone Good

When we buy fresh produce for those we help, we often find broken open apples that we can’t distribute to people. Based on health department regulations, we can’t distribute these bad apples but we also don’t want those we help to feel they deserve badly bruised or broken apples. So what do we do with these apples? Well, today I got to deliver a few small containers of bad apples to Loma Vista Farm in Vallejo (an educational farm not far from Six Flags Theme Park). My two favorite cows, Oreo and Keebler could hardly wait for me to hand them an apple. They open their mouths and I just put the apple inside – their tongues are really scratchy! After a few hand fed apples, I dumped the rest in their food bin. They are really happy cows right now. It is a great feeling to be helping the environment by reducing our garbage and helping this wonderful educational farm.

As I was starting to leave, one of our Food Bank trucks pulled up to the school down the street delivering the Farm 2 Kids produce. Rita, at Loma Vista Farm told me the children will come and visit the cows and chickens later today and notice that the farm animals have apples to eat. She uses this as an educational moment to explain to the children that farm animals also need fresh produce. So if Keebler and Oreo like apples, you children should too. She says it always works and the children come back the next week saying how much they now like apples and how much they appreciate the farm animals as they are pretty smart animals. I left with a smile on my face knowing our community partner Loma Vista Farms is helping spread the word of how good fresh produce is for all of us.

Oreo and Keebler

Oreo and Keebler (picture from the Loma Vista farms facebook page)

Family Volunteer Day

Wow! What a great time our Food Bank families that participated in Family Volunteer Day had this weekend – an opportunity for younger children and their families to give back to the community! They boxed produce, learned about the Food Bank and who we serve, worked on art projects, and got to meet like-minded families. If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day – scheduled for Saturday, April 30 at our Fairfield facility and Sunday, May 1 in Concord please let us know.

Family Volunteer Day

Families boxing produce.

Family Volunteer Day

The event included a tour of the warehouse led by Executive Director, Larry Sly.

I’d like to invite you to stay in touch with us by simply joining our online community of caring citizens who receive occasional e-news related to their area(s) of interest.  Additionally, we hope you will read about the many community events (www.foodbankccs.org/events) taking place which offer a variety of ways to get involved and help support the Food Bank.

Our Leaders of Tomorrow

Guest post by Creekside PTA: While running for Student Council President at Creekside Elementary at the end of her 4th grade year, Maddie Dailey, now 10 years old, thought of several ideas that might be fun and beneficial for the school.  She talked about a smoothie day, keeping the food hot until the 5th graders get to lunch, more balls at recess, and her most prized idea:  a nighttime Halloween Party organized by the students.

Needless to say, that was a hit and soon after Maddie took office in 5th grade it was time to start planning.  She presented her idea to the Creekside PTA, for financial support, all the while budgeting for a “break even” event.  She was really hoping for a fun and affordable party for everyone, and not focus on fundraising.  Maddie put up a student volunteer sign up sheet in the lunch room one day, and within an hour there were signatures on front and back with no room to spare.  The entire Student Council, and loads of other 4th and 5th graders from Creekside Elementary, were thoroughly excited to help setup, decorate, and most of all create a pretty spectacular Haunted House.  Parents and staff helped of course, but this event was primarily a student created and executed event.  With a line out the door at the entrance, food running out, tickets being re-used, and a line around the room to enter the Haunted House, the event turned into one of the most fantastic and successful events to date at Creekside.  All of the success also led to another surprise, it became profitable.

The Student Council held a special session to decide the best way to handle these extra and unexpected funds from the Halloween Party.  They had many options, including parties and karaoke machines, but we should all know by now that kids are smarter than that.  They instead decided to help the community by donating $500 to the  Food Bank, as well as help purchase trees and a new bench for the school.  Here’s hoping these 9 and 10 years old’s become our leaders of tomorrow!

Creekside Elementary

Larry accepting the donation from student Maddie.

Creekside Elementary

Executive Director Larry Sly at Creekside Elementary receiving the $500 donation to the Food Bank from the students.

Creekside Elementary

Larry telling the Creekside Elementary students about the Food Bank and the impact their donation will make.

Students Visit Food Bank

On Wednesday, October 13 students from Ygnacio Valley and Meadow Homes Elementary came on a field trip to the Food Bank.  These two schools are both served by Farm 2 Kids, a program that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income schools.  Students on each school’s Youth Advisory committee got to come and see how the Food Bank receives, packs, and delivers the produce that they receive each week.  The children were excited to see the trucks, forklifts, and other equipment in action but the highlight of the trip was getting to go inside the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.

Students tour the Food Bank

The kids were full of questions and learned everything about the Food Bank, from the types of food in our warehouse to the safety procedures our staff follow.  The trip came full circle when the students were able to see the apples in our warehouse that would be sorted and boxed by volunteers and then delivered to their school that Friday.  Not only are they receiving healthy produce each week, but they now know where it comes from.

Students asking questions and seeing the BIG Food Bank trucks.

Las Lomas Lends a Helping Hand in Food Drive

Although the current economic crisis has lead to more donations to local charities and food banks, there are more people who need the donated food more than ever. “We are serving over 108,000 people, 30 percent more than two years ago,” said Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s community relations manager Lisa Sherrill. “People are coming to us because they have been laid off and can’t find work or they just don’t make enough to make ends meet. In Contra Costa County, it would take four full-time minimum wage jobs to earn enough for the basic necessities.” Approximately 33 percent of the people served at the local Contra Costa and Solano county Food Bank are children.

Las Lomas helped the cause with its annual Food Drive, which ran from Nov. 9 through Nov. 20. According to Community Service Commissioner Natalie Herndon, the school raised 2200 pounds of food this year. “With the shape of the economy, this year we were not expecting a very big food drive, but we were pleasantly surprised,” said Herndon. “The student body really helped out at a time when the food banks need it most. And I wish everyone could understand how grateful the Contra Costa Food Bank is for all donations.”

Junior Anna Jameson spent long hours along with the Community Service Board to help make this year’s Food Drive the best it could be. “Planning the food drive was a lot of fun and hard work,” said Jameson. “We visited the food bank for ideas and were able to put a lot of those ideas in action.”

Leadership separately rewarded the two classes that brought in the most cans and the most money for the Food Drive with a pizza party.

James Morgan’s Chemistry class raised over 1,700 cans, winning the pizza party. “I was very proud of how my class raised to the challenge. They were truly Knights,” said Morgan. “I have a history of winning the can food drive in my previous teaching assignment. It was for a great cause and I was able to crush Mr. Schreiber class like a bug.”

Sophomore Miranda Fulks donated 40 cans, contributing to the class’s win. According to a text, Fulks said, “We were proud we won. We brought in so many cans. Most of us brought like 40 cans each. And it felt good to donate and help a lot of people out.”

Japanese teacher Andrew Schreiber’s Japanese 3 class also won a pizza party for bringing in the most money among all of the classes. “My classes in the past have chosen to donate; however, this year was very special,” said Schreiber. “With many parents and families being hit by the financial downturn, to donate to people in need is wonderful”.

By Erin Weckel, guest blogger and Los Lomas student

Trick or Treating for Cans

California High School’s Interact Club annually runs a “Trick or Treating for Cans” food drive and donates the food to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. This year, the food drive was completed with the help of three clubs from Cal High: Interact, Key Club, and the National Honor Society. A goal of this food drive was also to cover an even larger area than the previous years in order to obtain more food.

The food drive started out with the bag assembly. With the help of the Food Bank, Cal High was given around 5,000 plain, brown paper bags. The volunteers of the clubs grabbed a couple of staplers and began stapling flyers onto the paper bags. The flyer announced the food drive and what foods were needed. Next week, all the bags were handed around San Ramon and the households were given one week to fill up the bag. After that week was up, the clubs drove around San Ramon, picking up the bags of food. Once all this was done, the Food Bank drove the truck to Cal High and picked up all the food.

The total amount of food collected was 5,216 pounds! Christina, representing Cal High, was recognized on CBS5 (photo above), for the work that she and the three clubs did to help our neighbors in need!