At a time of year associated with holiday cheer and sharing, we know there are too many families and individuals in our community who struggle with proper nutrition; not just with getting enough to eat, but lack of access to good healthy choices. It’s an issue of food insecurity that affects far more people than you might expect, ranging from those who are low income or unemployed to college students.
That is why John Muir Health, the John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund and Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano believe it is so important to commit time and resources to both encourage and enable healthy lifestyles centered on proper nutrition. Improving nutritional choices and habits are not only humane endeavors, they improve the overall health of our communities.
This month, John Muir Health made a $35,000 holiday contribution to the Food Bank, and has contributed nearly $300,000 since our partnership began. This commitment stems from the direct relationship between fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables and good health.
Our partnership centers on the Food Bank’s Community Produce Program, which gives local residents in underserved communities the opportunity to incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables into their daily diets. Together, we’re working to replace meals loaded with fat and salt with healthy food that will help counter chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Through John Muir Health’s funding support, the John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund awarded a series of grants, totaling $725,000, to support the Food Bank that allowed for the hiring of a nutrition educator and the purchase of a customized truck that serves as a rolling produce market for the Community Produce Program. This support has helped to expand and improve the Food Bank’s produce distribution to more than 50 sites every month, and has developed greater access to, and acceptance and understanding of the value of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
With one in eight Contra Costa and Solano County residents relying on emergency and supplemental meals from the Food Bank, we must do even more. About half of the individuals who are eligible for CalFresh, a federal nutrition assistance program that effectively pulls families out of poverty, do not apply for benefits. Thus, we are working with Contra Costa County and other agencies to help increase enrollment in CalFresh. Together, we are increasing both the number of applications and approval of those applications, which is significantly increasing access to basic food supplies for those who need it.
We’re also acutely aware that many college students, especially those who must provide for their families, face food insecurity. That’s why we are actively collaborating to expand and improve food pantries that operate on the California State University, East Bay campus in Concord and on the Los Medanos Community College campus in Pittsburg. With high housing costs and the cost of education, there are far too many reports of students going hungry. We need this to change, and this pilot initiative is making a difference.
The holiday season is a time to gather with family and friends. It’s also a time of great generosity and giving to those most in need. The Community Produce Program, the College Food Pantry Initiative and many other Food Bank programs contribute to a healthy community not just during the holidays, but year-round. Together, we are encouraging healthier eating habits and better overall health. Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!
Larry Sly, executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Stephanie, Merrell, director of Community Health Improvement, John Muir Health
Lillian Roselin, executive director of the John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund