By Jeannie Howard
For more than forty years the Food Bank of Contra Costa has been dedicated to feeding those in need. Since its humble beginnings, the Food Bank has grown by leaps and bounds distributing more than twenty million pounds of food each year to nearly two million people throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties. With a mission of ending hunger, relationships with community partners are essential. “We have more than 180 partner agencies we work with and distribute food through,” said Lisa Sherrill, communications director for the Food Bank of Contra Costa. “Our partner agencies are most often food pantries or soup kitchens, and we also work with schools, churches, residential centers—places serving people in need.”
It is through the relationships with other service agencies throughout Contra Costa and Solano counties, the unfaltering work of 72 staff members, and countless volunteers that the Food Bank is able to efficiently move food from their two warehouses, one in Fairfield and another in Concord, to our neighbors in need.
To help maintain a continuous flow of food, both perishable and non-perishable, the Food Bank acquires food from several sources—not just through donations from individuals. “We actually do pick-ups at several of the major grocery chains and we work with our partner agencies to do that,” explained Sherrill. “The stores usually donate food that is about to expire and we are able to pick it up and distribute it.”
Additionally, the Food Bank also procures food through the California Association of Food Banks, a state-wide membership organization made up of 41 food banks from throughout California. “We receive produce through them that is donated and we pay a shipping cost to get it to us,” she said. The shipping cost is only about twelve cents per pound, but that can add up quite quickly when applied to hundreds of thousands of pounds of food.
The Food Bank also purchases a large amount of the food that they in turn freely distribute. The food that is purchased, as well as the shipping costs, are just a few examples of why monetary donations are also extremely important to the effectiveness of the organization.
Just like the food donations, funding comes from a variety of sources, such as corporations, foundations, grants, and a small amount comes from government sources, but a majority comes from monetary donations from individuals. “About sixty percent of our funding comes from individuals donating,” share Sherrill.
Every donation, food and monetary, is greatly appreciated by the Food Bank, but, unfortunately, donations throughout the year are not as consistent as the hunger need is, according to Sherrill. “There is a pretty steady number of people we serve throughout the year, but it is during the holidays that we see the majority of our donations and then in the spring and summer food donations tend to go down while the need remains the same,” she shared.
Funding is one of the organization’s biggest challenges, according to Sherrill. “Just making sure that people understand that while we need the donations during the holidays, hunger is a year-round problem and not just during the holidays but all year long.”
Because of this continuous need, Sherrill said that the Food Bank has many ways to accept donations. “People can come to either of our two warehouses, or they can call us and we can direct them to one of our partner agencies that is closest to them,” she explained. Additionally, the Food Bank can accept a wide variety of foods—not only non-perishables. “We absolutely accept perishable food, fruits, vegetables, and even some meats, which can be harder because of food safety,” she said. “As for non-perishable food items, we will distribute up to a year past the expiration date.” Feeding America, the national network of food banks, has instructed food banks that food is still safe past the year mark but that the nutritional value starts to deteriorate, which is why the Food Bank of Contra Costa limits the accepting on non-perishables to one year past the expiration date. There are a few limits on what is acceptable for food donations. “We do not accept anything that does not have an ingredient label in English,” Sherrill explained. “Also, we cannot accept anything that is homemade.”
Situations that bring individuals to a place of need are never the same—some people may be dealing with chronic hunger and for others it may be caused by recent, even temporary, changes in life—but whatever the reason or for however long the need, Sherrill emphasized just how much those at the Food Bank are there to help. “We just treat each person as we would want to be treated—just with kindness and making sure they feel welcomed when they come to a distribution site,” she shared. “We try to communicate to folks that everybody needs help sometimes and that is ok and that’s exactly why the Food Bank is here.”
For more information of how to donate or on how to become a volunteer contact the Food Bank of Contra Costa: (925) 676-7543 for Concord; (707) 421-9777 for Fairfield; Foodbankccs.org.