Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thwarting Hunger

Since this is a blog mostly about food, hunger is a likely topic. Have you ever been hungry and not had the resources to feed yourself or loved ones?

Quite a long time ago I had a short period of depleted funds for food and had to accept a few bags of groceries from a church food pantry. I remember how grateful I was that it was an option and that no one made me feel poor, even though I was at the time. Later, when I was a newly separated mom, with a toddler, waiting for the divorce to go through, I took part in a wonderful program called WIC, which stands for women, infants and children. It is a government sponsored program for low income families that provides vouchers for specific nutritious food items like milk, orange juice, cheese and cereal. It also included education classes in nutrition and healthy cooking and was a real help at a difficult time in my life. Although one of the popular current myths is that most people on public assistance deserve what they get, in reality most people are only a catastrophe, job loss, or relationship loss away from at least temporary poverty. There are many, many people who can only find part time jobs with low pay that barely covers rent much less fresh, healthy food. The cheapest food is usually the least nutritious, too.

Today I took a tour of a non-profit group that is doing a lot to thwart hunger in the Redwood Empire, which in this case are all the counties from Sonoma Co. north to the Oregon border, plus Lake County and maybe one more I am forgetting...should have taken notes. Their name is the Redwood Empire Food Bank and they are headquartered in an industrial park in Santa Rosa, CA, near the Charles Shultz (of Peanuts fame) airport. They also are a primary source of food for 178 community based charitable organizations that operate over 276 human service programs helping the needy, disabled and homeless in Sonoma County.

It took six years to raise the fund for their building and it is an impressive place, not because it is glamorous, but because it is perfectly suited for an array of services to help people from all walks of life and all ages to keep hunger at bay. It is so clean and well organized, with a distribution and storage area that has neat ranks of shelving full of non-perishable foods, food drive bins, sacks of onions and potatoes and more.

One area had collections of items ready to go on trucks to be delivered to food banks throughout their service area. Another area had a sort of store where more than 100 local faith based food banks could come and 'shop' for the food they would be giving to needy families in their areas. Nearby were a cold storage area to keep perishable donations from spoiling and a similar freezer area for longer storage of things like donated organic chickens.

With an 8 million a year budget the Redwood Empire Food Bank feeds about 82,000 people a year. One of the ways they do this is by having over a thousand volunteers. There is another room where volunteers sort food for distribution.

In another area there is a commercial kitchen with a paid chef. There food is prepared for distribution as meals that can be frozen, refrigerated or eaten right away for people who don't have access to a place to cook meals. Some of the food prepared there has been donated by a local group that gleans excess food directly from the fields...usually fruit or vegetables that are too small or too large, misshapen or blemished beyond what can be sold.

Another room has both an emergency food closet for walk-in folks who are in urgent need of food right away, just as I was so many years ago. This same room has office people who can assist people in filling in the forms necessary to qualify for food stamps if their need will be ongoing.

Right next door to this is a kind of a grocery store, the Value Market, with healthy foods at reduced cost and great customer service. Often the people who shop here have WIC or food stamp (CalFresh) type vouchers and this way their food dollars go further, keeping hunger away for a longer time for seniors, the disabled, families, and anyone struggling to keep something to eat available until the next paycheck or disability check or Social Security check.

Housing costs in particular have risen rapidly during the last 12 - 15 months in our area, which has impacted the amount of money available for food. Healthy, nutritious food tends to be more expensive, so all of these programs of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which concentrates especially on providing all kinds of nutritious foods, really, really help. They even have healthy recipes. There is also a Diabetes Wellness Program.

They depend on the goodwill and help of people who are lucky enough to know where their next meal is coming from, who have extra, and who are willing to share. They love donations, both of money and of food, but also have need of volunteers to keep these vital programs going. I realize that most of the folks who read this blog live too far away to volunteer and probably have local food banks they can donate to, but if you live in Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino Counties, up to Crescent City area, or near to them, consider making a donation of time, money and/or food. The cold days are coming and the need is great. Thanks!

Redwood Empire Food Bank donation link.


  1. Marian8:56 AM

    What a great post! It is amazing what people can do when they set out to address a problem like hunger. Each locality does something a bit different and I love to hear about new approaches. Feeding the hungry is something close to my heart ever since I had an experience like yours many years ago. You are so right that most people are separated from food insecurity by only some kind of job or relationship loss or other life calamity. Thanks for reminding us!

  2. Especially this time of year, this is a good reminder of how much local organizations do to combat hunger and food insecurity in our state - well done to you for finding time to work with them.