Bay Area Food Banks Under Pressure to Hit Holiday Targets

Bins full of cereal and other pantry staples at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. (Anne Wernikoff/KQED)

Thinking about volunteering or donating over the holidays?

Get in line.

Most Bay Area nonprofit food banks and service providers see a massive influx of giving in November and December. But relying on such a short time window for the brunt of their contributions makes a lot of food banks nervous.

Where to Volunteer or Donate

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, for instance, says it needs to raise 37% of its annual budget between now and the end of December, and as of right now some of the fundraising channels it relies on for that are lagging, said spokeswoman Pamela Wellner.

At Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, the holiday giving campaign typically covers about half of the annual operating budget — but that can be particularly stressful and "nerve-wracking," said spokeswoman Diane Baker Hayward. Even though most contributions come at the end of the year, the food bank is dependent on year-round resources to accommodate its clientele, she noted.

Right now, she said, donations are about $100,000 behind where they were at this point last year.

For the Alameda County Community Food Bank, these next few weeks "are as critical as I've experienced in my time here," said Michael Altfest, its community engagement director. The food bank needs to raise $4.9 million by the end of the year, and entered November $230,000 already short of its goal for the previous quarter, he said.

But, Altfest added, the pace is starting to pick up and the last few weeks have been encouraging.

"We all have our noses to the grindstone making sure we emerge from the holidays with the resources we need," he said.

Bay Area food banks have been squeezed in recent years by a combination of factors: Local donors are more often choosing to give to fire relief funds after the spate of fires across Northern California, and food banks are experiencing increased demand, as housing prices and homelessness continue to rise.

Last quarter, Second Harvest served 10,000 people more than the same quarter in the previous year, with food distribution up by 17%, Hayward said. And during the recent power shutoffs, scores of people whose food spoiled without refrigeration were forced to turn to food banks for assistance. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank said they distributed about 10,000 pounds of non-perishable food to evacuees and community resource centers during the four days around the Kincade Fire. The food bank also plans to work with PG&E to supply its community resource centers during future power shutoffs.

The other possible challenge, said Altfest, is the new federal tax law that went into effect last year and changed deduction rates for charitable contributions.

"While we knew at the time it passed that the change in standard deductions would have an effect, this last tax year was the first year people saw how it affected their taxes," he said, which may be affecting how much they're donating.

Where to Get Meals or Assistance

If you're looking to give, money goes farther than food donations, according to officials, because of arrangements most have with suppliers that allow them to purchase food at low cost. According to Second Harvest, $10 can help provide 20 meals.

Most food banks, though, can accommodate bulk food donations from restaurants or large quantities of certain types of leftovers from holiday parties.

Additionally, don't forget that volunteers are still very much needed after the holidays. In fact, volunteer slots at many well-known nonprofits fill up in advance of Thanksgiving, but then find themselves short-staffed come February.

Here's a complete list of places to donate or volunteer.

If you're looking for assistance with food or other types of aid, call 1-800-984-FOOD. And see our list of places that offer free meals in the Bay Area.

Polly Stryker contributed reporting to this story.


San Francisco

SF-Marin Food Bank
Facebook: SF-Marin Food Bank
Twitter: @SFMFoodBank

Marin and San Francisco's food banks merged a number of years ago to become the SF-Marin Food Bank, which now serves roughly 107,000 meals daily. The donations it collects in November and December make up close to half of its yearly operating budget. The food bank also typically collects thousands of pounds of non-perishable food at this time of year.

St. Anthony Foundation
Facebook: St. Anthony Foundation
Twitter: @stanthonysf

The St. Anthony dining room serves 3,000 meals every day of the year. It also offers a number of support services, including medical assistance and a food pantry for homeless and low-income families.

Glide Memorial Church
Facebook: Glide Memorial Church
Twitter: @glidesf

Glide's mission is to welcome everyone into their community and help those in need, whomever they may be. That happens through a number of programs, including a daily meal serves that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (as well as special holiday meals).

East Bay

Alameda County Community Food Bank
Facebook: Alameda County Community Food Bank
Twitter: @ACCFB

The food bank provides food to over 240 agencies around the East Bay through its distribution network. It also operates an emergency food hotline, as well as outreach and educational programs.

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Facebook: Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Twitter: @foodbankccs

The food bank delivers food both directly to people in need and to partner nonprofit agencies that help with distribution.

North Bay

St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County
Facebook: St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County
Twitter: @vinniesmarin

St. Vincent's Marin chapter is an independently run provider, exclusively serving Marin County. The chapter provides a number of resources and services for those in need, including a dining room that serves daily free meals and low-income housing assistance.

Redwood Empire Food Bank
Facebook: Redwood Empire Food Bank
Twitter: @refb

The Redwood Empire Food Bank distributes nearly 15 million pounds of food annually to Sonoma County residents through its pantry, emergency food program and grocery box service for seniors and kids.

South Bay

Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo
Facebook: Second Harvest Food Bank
Twitter: @2ndharvest

Since 1974, Second Harvest has been distributing food to low-income residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. It now hands out 1 million pounds of food every week, half of it fresh produce.