Turning the tide in war on hunger

Volunteer Lori Knott writes down the weight of melons at the Sacramento Food Bank warehouse in September, when the city set a world record for produce collected.
Volunteer Lori Knott writes down the weight of melons at the Sacramento Food Bank warehouse in September, when the city set a world record for produce collected.

On Sept. 16, Sacramento landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for hosting the largest single-day fresh produce drive. The goal: 25,000 pounds. The tally: 170,923 pounds.

The record is something this farm-to-fork town should be very proud of, but it presents an interesting dichotomy. Sacramento County is in the heart of the most produce abundant state in the country, yet the number of food insecure residents is staggering – 245,480, or 20 percent of the population, according to Feeding America.

That is an unacceptable statistic, and it is time for a change.

Feeding the hungry is not a new cause. For decades, dozens of food banks and pantries made this mission a reality. But the first step toward solving local hunger occurred just recently in the formation of a unified food distribution system that included the merger of two food banks and a massive realignment of food allocation and distribution.

In 2014, California Emergency Foodlink, the state’s major provider of government commodities, shifted focus from local to statewide food distribution, leaving the role of feeding hungry families in Sacramento to Senior Gleaners. When Senior Gleaners ran into money troubles, it merged with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services in December. For the first time in 40 years, Sacramento now offers a single, countywide system to deliver food to those who need it most.

The food bank now helps 150,000 men, women and children each month, triple the amount just 10 months ago. It works through partnerships with 210 local agencies, including church food closets, senior centers, homeless shelters, school pantries and smaller food banks. Thanks to the dedication and support of these partner agencies, 1.5 million pounds of nutritious food is distributed monthly.

By next summer, these numbers are estimated to increase to 175,000 individuals fed monthly. Implementing the national model of a single food bank for the county reached 70 percent of the county’s food insecure, but the goal is 100 percent.

Sacramento Food Bank recently mapped out areas of food insecurity and will open new produce distribution sites in those areas, but this must be a community effort. The food bank needs financial help, volunteers, donations and determination.

Every family who comes to the food bank receives a five-day supply of fresh produce and nonperishable items. Savings on groceries can help a family afford clothes for school, car repairs or medical expenses. Families can also take classes in parenting, technology and English, a total of 14 services free of charge. This model of providing food and family services is revolutionary.

Our vision is clear – make Sacramento County food secure.

Blake Young is president and CEO of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, which will host a “Food Bank Revolution” event at 11 a.m. Tuesday at its distribution center, 1951 Bell Ave.