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:
How to Help
- Volunteer: If you have some extra time and are looking for an opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives, give your local food bank a call. Most rely on volunteers to staff food help lines; sort food in warehouses; provide help in their administrative offices; and help plan special events.
Volunteer in Alameda.
Volunteer in San Francisco
- Donate: If you have some extra cash to spare, a cash donation can really make a difference. Food banks are usually able to provide around $7 worth of food for every $1 donated because of their low operating costs and agreements with local growers and distributors, so even the smallest donation can really help out.
Donate to the Alameda County Community Food Bank.
Donate to the San Francisco Food Bank.
- Start Your Own Food Drive: Donated nonperishable food items are an essential part of keeping any food bank going. You can help provide these materials to your food bank by collecting these goods. This is actually easier than it sounds. Just call your local food bank and ask them to deliver a bin to your office, school, church, or any place you'd like and then ask people to pick up an extra item or two while grocery shopping so they can add it to the bin. This could be a great summer project for kids.
Start your own food drive in Alameda.
Start your own food drive in San Francisco.
- Advocate for Change: Write or call your representative, senator, or governor about food issues that concern the poor. Too often these programs are an afterthought, but if enough people call, they will become a priority.
Learn more about advocacy for the Alameda County Community Food Bank.
Learn more about advocacy for the San Francisco Food Bank.
You can also support your local food banks through the following upcoming events:
Alameda County Community Food Bank
7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland
Thursday June 5 at 5:30 – $40 for a family of four to attend or $20 a person
A great way to get your kids involved, this event allows you to select a bowl that was hand-painted by the children at Redwood Day School, enjoy a delicious soup and bread dinner, and take part in a family art project with your children. There is also a silent auction. You can register online or contact Pam Gidwani at 510-635-3663, ext. 328.
A Rockin' Night of Music
2781 24th Street (at York), San Francisco
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Rockfeeds is a group of dedicated musicians who volunteer their time and effort every year to produce a grassroots benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank. Amateur singers are challenged by their friends by way of donations to get up on stage and sing a song in front of an audience, backed up by professional musicians. To participate, donate, or to find out more information about the event, please visit the rockfeeds.org.
Family to Family Volunteer Day
Alameda County Community Food Bank
7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland
Saturday, August 23, 9 -11 am
With an age-appropriate lesson on hunger for children 5-10 years old, an art project, and a food sorting activity, this event is a great way to inform your kids and also get your entire family involved in your local food bank Space is limited and registration required. Just call 510-635-3663 ext. 308 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to Bat Against Hunger
Oakland A's Home Games
The Oakland A's have set up food bins for each Wednesday's home games. Bring two nonperishable food items to these games from June to September, and you'll receive a free ticket to a future game. Drop off your food donation before each game at food drive barrels located at the Coliseum BART Plaza and at gates C and D.
To find information on the many local food banks in the Bay Area, go to Bay Area Hunger.