Feeding those in greatest need: Food Bank sees growing demand for services

Volunteers sort through donated food to be separated into food packages given to those in need. (Business Journal photo by Wayne Denning)

Volunteers sort through donated food to be separated into food packages given to those in need. (Business Journal photo by Wayne Denning)

Central Valley Business Journal, December 2011

By KEITH MICHAUD/ Business Journal Editor

The face of hunger in the Central Valley isn’t what most people think it is.

It is not necessarily the face of the man holding a sign near the exit of a parking lot where a grocery store anchors a strip mall. Or the face of the professional panhandler.

It may include those, but increasingly the new face of hunger in the Central Valley looks a bit like the typical family.

“We’re seeing more of the average family,” said Frederico Navarro, the nutrition services manager for the Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin. “We’re seeing not your stereotypical clients – we’re seeing the working poor.”

The most recent Emergency Food Bank newsletter indicated that the Stockton food pantry has served 120,000 San Joaquin residents in 2011, 76 percent of whom are employed, retired, or are actively seeking work. More than 1,400 other families are served each month by the agency’s 10 satellite pantries throughout the county and 2,200 more families are reached by the Food Bank’s Mobile Farmer’s Market.

Working families face tough decisions at the end of each month and there are times when there simply isn’t enough money to cover all the expenses. The Food Bank and many other charitable groups throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties are there to provide a helping hand.

And that helping hand goes to a lot more people than ever before.

Tim Viall, the Food Bank executive director, used to think that handing out food to 100 to 150 families and seniors was a busy day. That’s until the average daily food giveaway reached 300 or so, and is even higher on occasion. And that’s not to mention the 1,500 turkeys and chickens the Food Bank planned to give away with its holiday meals for about 2,400 clients at Thanksgiving and a similar number at Christmas.

While the numbers of those hungry is staggering – especially considering that the Central Valley is known as “the nation’s salad bowl” were some of the most fertile land in the world is found – there is some hope.

The Food Bank in June officially opened an expansion to better serve the growing number of hungry. The $1.05 million expansion will help the food bank offer 1.6 million more meals each year.

Offices were moved from a warehouse to free up space for more donated food and other necessities the Food Bank gives out five days a week. A modern 3,000-square-foot office space and demonstration kitchen were built adjacent the warehouse space, with a demonstration garden, shaded picnic area, and barbecue in between. WMB Architects and Diede Construction provided necessary design and building services.

The Food Bank holds weekly classes in the kitchen to teach clients about nutrition and cooking for a healthy lifestyle. The Food Bank opens up the kitchen for use by other nonprofits so they too can provide classes for their clients.

“We’re not trying to be the food police,” said Navarro, “but we do want to have people eat better, more fruits and vegetables.”

Master gardener Janet Durham uses the 1,400-square-foot demonstration and teaching garden to show clients how to grow their own food in urban gardens and other limited space. The garden and adjacent picnic area and barbecue were part of a Leadership Stockton’s class project, said Vaill.

Funding for the project took Vaill, his team, and a dedicated army of volunteers about five years to gather. The money came from community block grants from San Joaquin County and the cities of Stockton, Lathrop, Lodi, and Tracy.

Vail said the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity finished the interior of the Nutrition Education Center, saving the agency $150,000 in labor costs, and helped with demolition of the old office space. Private donors were essential, said Viall, including those from the Cortopassi Family Foundation, which gave significant donation to the Food Bank and pledged an additional “$30,000 if you need it.” That donation instead went to the Habitat for Humanity chapter after the foundation heard of that organization’s efforts on behalf of the Food Bank.

While about 97 percent of the food the Food Bank hands out is donated by 35 to 40 businesses, including Advanced H2O, Campbell Soup Company, Del Monte Foods, Food 4 Less, Taylor Farms, Trader Joe’s and others, the Food Bank is always looking for donors and volunteers.

And there are many opportunities to help, from volunteer opportunities helping out during pantry hours or providing professional services in the Food Bank office to sponsoring events, hosting presentations, donating food or money.

“There are so many ways they can get involved,” Yvonne Derby, the food and resource developer, said of prospective donors and volunteers. “They want to know how to get involved and we make it easy for them.”

How to help
The Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin is located at 7 W. Scotts Ave., Stockton, just south of the Crosstown Freeway. The organization accepts donations of money and food, and helps groups and businesses organize food drives on behalf of the Food Bank. The organization also provides volunteer opportunities, and specifically for professionals who can help with office work and various professional services.
Food pantry hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday
Office: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

Visit www.stocktonfoodbank.org to learn more about the Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

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