The summer months are a great time for thinking about and eating all those lovely fruits and vegetables that are ripe and in season. But what if you couldn’t afford to buy cherries, peaches or watermelon, let alone milk or peanut butter? What if the rising costs of fuel and food made is so that you could no longer adequately feed your family? This scenario is increasingly becoming a reality for many people in the Bay Area (as well as nationwide), which is why our community food banks are now, more than ever, so important.
I spoke with Suzan Bateson, the Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, so I could learn more about food banks and hunger in the Bay Area. I focused on Alameda County as it's where I live, but also because it covers such a large area. Here's what I learned:
- 1 in 3 children in Alameda County faces the threat of hunger each day
- 38% of food bank recipients have at least one working member in their family
- Calls to the Alameda County Community Food Bank are up 34% from last year
- The number of people calling in April of 2008 was 1,890, compared to 1,059 in April of 2006
- The average number of calls has been steadily increasing since last July, with each month establishing a new record
- Since the beginning of 2008, the Alameda County Community Food Bank has received 1,188 calls from people who have never called before
These statistics are disheartening, to say the least, particularly when you consider that as more and more people sign up to receive aid, less and less food is being donated by the federal government to food banks nationwide. As we've all been hearing, the crop surpluses of years past are over. Excess grains are now being used to create fuels and are also being exported to other countries. Food banks now receive 34% less donations from the USDA than in 2003 because of these changes. People are also donating less money individually to food banks as they struggle to feed their own families. The outcome is that our food banks are increasingly in need of help.
But wait, there's also some good news. Local food banks are increasingly trying to find fresh and local produce for families to eat. It's not just canned beef and creamed corn anymore. Because of people like Suzan Bateson, there is an emphasis on providing fresh produce to recipients. I was surprised and excited to hear that 50% of the foods provided by the Alameda County Community Food Bank are fresh fruits and vegetables. This is possible because of a network of local growers and distributors who provide year-round greens, sweet potatoes, and citrus to the food bank for literally pennies per item. The food bank then distributes this food to over 300 agencies, who then get it to the people who need it most. Ms. Bateson also has two nutritional experts on staff to provide information and training to help people cook and eat more healthfully.
But as great as this is, local food banks really do need your help to keep their operations running. Luckily, they are staffed with dedicated and very organized people who have come up with many different ways for you to help make your local food community a stronger and healthier place. Following is a list of some things you can do: