Where is all the income going?

The Business Page of the Tribune on 9/11/13 carried this headline: “Rich-poor divide widest since 1920s.” The Associated Press article revealed that in 2012, 48.2 percent of total earnings went to only 10% of the population, and since the Great Recession ended in June of 2009, 95% of the income gains have gone to the top 1 percent of the of the population.

I’m happy for those who are doing well financially. But is there concern for those who aren’t? Apparently not much. To add insult to injury, the House of Representatives is likely to take up debate next week on a Nutrition Bill that includes a 40% cut in SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps, and now called CalFresh in California) over the next 10 years. Some believe that cutting the safety net for the poor – the very resources that are needed to help them climb out of poverty by eating well, and their children by doing well in school – is a legitimate way to balance the budget. They would like those receiving CalFresh to just get a job, ignoring the fact that most CalFresh recipients are working hard in jobs that provided a liveable wage, and that many jobs that use to provide middle-class incomes are gone. As the article states, “Workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Technology is replacing workers in performing routine tasks, and union power has dwindled.”

The number of people we serve at the Food Bank has not declined, but increased as a result of this lopsided recovery. Many social services have already been cut drastically during and after the recession, driving families to us desperate for food. More cuts will only increase the chasm between the rich and the poor. We are doing our best to provide healthy food to those in need, and to help people enroll for CalFresh if they are eligible. We are grateful to our donors because we can only do this with the incredible support we get from our community. But as a community we need to expect more from our government as well. Only the government can invest in our infrastructure, creating meaningful jobs. Only the government can invest in those millions who need a hand-up, a good education, or affordable health-care just to have a shot at self-reliance and moving up the economic ladder. If we the people who elect our leadership don’t care about those in need, it is clear in this post- Great Recession era, that no one will. Closing the gap between the rich and the poor and re-creating a strong middle class can only be done by responsibly strengthening our social services, not by reducing them.If you agree now is the time to contact your representatives in Washington, contactingthecongress.org.

I have a dream…

50 years ago, I was 19 and a sophomore at Santa Clara University, aware of but not involved in the Civil Rights movement and the struggles of the poor and minorities in our country. As a young man who could be drafted, I was more concerned about Vietnam. There were very few black families in my hometown. I had no black friends, and as for my poor friends, they were mixed in with everyone else in the public schools I attended as I grew up. I was blind to any differences, but I’m sure they weren’t. There were “rundown” neighborhoods. The hometown culture as I knew it associated these areas with a lack of self-initiative and concern for the community. My assessment looking back is that poverty was viewed as the result of individual failings, not the failure of society to offer the promise of freedom and opportunity to all of its citizens.

I’ve learned through the years how easy it is to judge those who live in poverty. I’ve learned that I was born into a privileged life because I was white, middle-class, and given the loving support and opportunities in life that my parents provided. I’ve learned not all my friends had these things. Many of them simply vanished from my life after high school, and didn’t go to college because they couldn’t qualify or weren’t motivated by their family culture. I also know that many of them have overcome these early disadvantages and led productive and loving lives, and that they had to work for it a lot harder at it than I did.

The fact remains that poverty continues in our country at alarming rates, and growing. Attitudes toward the poor seem even more callous than they were in 1963 because we ought to know better. Whether we as a society should continue to provide programs that help people climb out of poverty is questioned, and, public schools have been on the chopping block. Minimal care for those who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves has been cut back drastically by the government in recent years.

In my view, we are a long way from the fulfillment of MLK’s dream and the promises of our Constitution for all Americans. We have no obligation to create a society dependent upon the government for a successful life, but we do have an obligation to provide the opportunity required for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. In an important way, the Food Bank Coalition fights for opportunity for people – with the help of our donors. At least our recipients and their children have healthy food available to them so that they can reap the most benefit from school and jobs. But even access to healthy food is on the chopping block in Washington on this day as we observe the memory of Martin Luther King’s Dream speech. Let us continue to struggle for that dream until it becomes a reality.

S.L. Gimbel Foundation

There is a lot of time and money spent by non-profits like the Food Bank in the process of writing grants. There’s also a lot of competition, which requires non-profits to do their homework, use discretion, and make sure that the investment in a grant application is welcomed.

But once in a while, a grant comes along that is “out of the blue.” That happened earlier this year when the S.L. Gimbel Foundation reached out to San Luis Obispo County through our own Community Foundation. Frankly, I have no idea what the motivation was for them to reach beyond their normal designated recipient base to those on the “outside.” But I think it’s a wonderful reminder that as important as “taking care of our own” is, there is also the recognition that none of us lives in isolation. We cannot take care of our own, without also participating in the improvement of lives beyond our city, or county, state, or nation. It’s important to have that kind of selfless compassion in our lives, and in the end, it does serve us well. There is joy in giving to those we don’t feel we have to know – except that they are fellow human beings in need. And there is also joy in knowing that they will understand that people whom they don’t know remember and respond to their need. That gives great hope and encouragement.

So many thanks to the S.L. Gimbel Foundation Advisory Fund down in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties for touching the lives of thousands in need right here in San Luis Obispo County.

Food Bank Adopts Nutrition Policy

Food is a basic building block of health and productivity, but some food can be harmful
to us. We all know about allergies that can cause certain foods to kill those who are
allergic to them. But there are a number of foods that are harmful to our health and while
we made not have an immediate allergic reaction, they have the same effect of killing us
over a longer period of time. We need to think of ourselves as though we were allergic
to them. As much as we enjoy them, we need to know how much we can tolerate safely,
and apart from that, treat them as poison.

We at the Food Bank recently adopted a Nutrition Policy because the population we serve
is particularly vulnerable to foods that are not good for us. 40% of our recipients are
children, and we want to help educate them as to what foods are harmful to their young
bodies. We certainly don’t want to provide them with such foods, but rather with healthy
food that their families might not otherwise be able to afford. 15% of our recipients are
seniors, who also must be extremely careful of what they eat. Foods low in salt, sugar,
and fat, are best for us in our older years.

1) Avoid foods and beverages in which sugar is the primary ingredient (such as
snack cakes, sodas and sugary cereals.

2) Consume whole grains for carbohydrate options in breads, cereals and snacks.

3) Choose low sodium and low fat foods when ordering processed food items.

4) Choose shelf stable protein options that are high in protein while low in saturated
fat, including canned chicken and salmon, dried or canned beans and fresh eggs.

Of course, making fresh fruit and vegetables available to our recipients is a high priority,
too, as we are now up to 50% fresh produce in our distributions.

A Lesson in Body Chemistry -
A message from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s, “Food Facts.”

Many consumers are already aware that it’s a good idea to limit saturated fat and
cholesterol in their diet. But trans fat is a less familiar term. When it comes to trans fat
and your body, here’s how it works:

• Like saturated fat and cholesterol, trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein
(LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of developing
coronary hear disease.

• Trans fat also lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol in
the blood.

• To reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, the goal is to decrease
your overall level of LDL cholesterol. Reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans
fat, and cholesterol in your diet may help decrease your LDL cholesterol level.


A recipient at one of our food distributions recently offered to become a volunteer at the site, stating that it made him feel again like someone who was serving his country by helping others. As we approach Thanksgiving, this new volunteer and military veteran reminds us of how good it feels to allow our actions to be the expression of a grateful heart.

We who live on the central coast, where weather and terrain conspire to give us both beauty and abundance, are especially blessed. We’re small enough to work together to solve the ills that we experience. We invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving in part by helping us, along with our new volunteer, to help those in need.

Sadly, hunger is one of the ills we experience. 15% of those who live here don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. 8,000 of them are families with children. Over 6,000 are seniors. 4,000 are homeless. Many of them are hard-working in low-paying jobs to help provide the quality of life that we all enjoy.

Thanksgiving transcends all religious and political differences, bringing us together in recognition that we need one another. Each of us is hurt when someone goes hungry. Our future loses when a child doesn’t do well in school because of hunger. Medical costs go up for all when so many suffer from the consequences of poor nutrition without access to healthy food. Our fight to recover from the recession is diminished when people are unable to perform well on their jobs, or even to find jobs because the basic need for healthy food is not being met.

When you gather around your table with loved ones this year, you will know that somewhere not too far away, a family is enjoying a meal with their loved ones, too, because of you. Or a senior knows that people care, or a veteran doesn’t feel forgotten. Thank you for helping us bring joy and health to them by providing the most meaningful gift of all – friendship in the form of a healthy meal during the holidays. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Carl R. Hansen
Executive Director

Hunger Is Scary

Isn’t it interesting that the holiday season of November and December each year actually begins with Halloween? The ghosts and goblins, witches and black cats, monsters and lots of zombies, will come knocking to welcome us into the holiday spirit with a warning, “Trick or treat!” By the way, you’re supposed to act scared, but then your better nature takes over and you respond with something for which your menacing visitors will, if all works according to plan, say “Thank you! Happy Halloween!” and go merrily on their way.

I can still remember the neighbor who made wonderful cookies – served warm, by the way. OMG, I still can’t refuse a cookie. I see a cookie and I see her face faking fear, and then a warm smile with a twinkle in her eye. Too bad we can’t provide treats like homemade cookies anymore. I think it’s the candy lobby. But my point is that Halloween teaches both children and the fearful child in all of us not to fear those evil things that knock on our door, but respond to them with kindness. Behind every scary mask there is a child that hungers for love and acceptance, and a tangible affirmation of goodness. I know you’ve been surprised, as I have, by an act of kindness transforming a cold, difficult, or even hostile situation into a peaceful and uplifting one. More often than not, it’s someone else’s kind deed that transforms me.

The fight against hunger is a year-round Halloween experience. It is frightening not to be able to feed your children, or provide them with healthy food, or to sit in your small apartment as a senior not using your electricity to keep warm because your pantry is almost empty. The rest of us don’t like to know about these things because it could be us. And when we do, we slam the door in their face and tell them to get a job, or call them names, like lazy leeches, or frauds. Yep, lots of monsters out there. How much more peaceful we would be if we simply responded to them with kindness, sharing a bit of what we have, knowing that behind what scares us is a friend sent to remind us that we’re human, with the power to turn evil into good.

Remembering 9/11

On September 11, 2001 many of us were getting ready for work when the images came over the news. I was getting ready for work. I was a parish pastor then, with a full day of teaching, pastoral calls, and mid-week worship ahead. That day ended so many lives, and forever changed the lives of their loved ones. We are grateful for the memorials being observed across the country and the opportunity to honor them and dedicate ourselves again to preventing it from ever happening again.

My own personal reaction – I mean personal, not professional – was to suddenly feel very close to those around me. I found it was possible to value my loved ones more. I found that it was possible to value strangers in my midst more. I found that it was possible to experience a closeness of the heart, often unspoken but deeply felt, with people I shared life with having no more in common than meeting on the street. We shared a common sense of loss.

It feels to me now, a eleven years later, that this sense of community in the wake of 9/11 is being undermined, not by terrorists, but by divisions in our own country. Terrorism is but the extreme expression, after all, of bitter hatred. It can be fueled by lots of things, some of them real and some of them fabricated, in order to deceive and manipulate. When we tear one another down with words, and it becomes OK to attack one another’s character or intentions simply because we disagree with them, we dishonor those who died on 9/11. When we fear those whom we don’t really know, or accept without personal knowledge accusations made about others, or when we assume bad things about a person simply because we don’t know their whole story, we dishonor them and ourselves. When we refuse to offer the hand of friendship and helpfulness when we know that it could bring someone to a better place, if even for a moment, we have missed an opportunity to fight fear and division in our community.

We can’t solve the world’s problems ourselves, but we can work for kindness rather than anger. Returning to that sense of oneness, that sense of our common need for one another that 9/11 evoked within us, and extending that oneness even to a stranger, may be the best way to honor those whom we remember today.

Where were you? Feel free to share on by blogging in.

Everyday People

Have you ever heard the song, “Everyday People” by Reba McIntyre? The lyrics were written by Carol King. I have it on a CD and listen to it often. While I do, I think of and give thanks for the hundreds of volunteers that make our work possible in SLO Co. This is the chorus:

Everyday People are the ones who are making miracles
And it’s beautiful,
Everyday People lifting up the world
Like an answered prayer, I thank God they’re there
They’re the one’s who care
Everyday People…

I’m able to picture real faces as I listen to Reba singing. I see those Everyday People making miracles every day.I heard about an Everyday Person today from the mouth of a disabled person who has lost support services from the State of California when she said to one of our volunteers, “You are a lifesaver.” I shake the hands that lift up the world in SLO Co. every day when I shake the hand of a student who sorts food, a retired truck driver who drives the trucks, the people with office experience who type the letters, file the paperwork, or answer the telephones. I see a miracle in the tears of a mother who cries from deep gratitude that she will be able to feed her children a healthy, home-cooked dinner after receiving food from a volunteer who cares.

A blog is ideally a place where lots of people share their thoughts and experiences. I invite you to share what it feels like for you when you volunteer, whether at the Food Bank or some other way you serve the community. Why do you do it? What’s the best part of it? Please tell your story. It will help us all to think about our own stories as we learn from you, one of those Everyday People.

It’s time for the audit…again!

You may be surprised to learn that we can have as many as four audits per year at the Food Bank. This year we got lucky; we only had three! They are the regular financial audits we are all personally familiar with. Non-profits should have an audit every year, usually by a specialized CPA, if it collects donations from its members or the public in general. The audit certifies, in the opinion of a licensed, independent observer, that the books aren’t cooked and that what is represented in the financial statement is true and confirmed by the auditor.

The Food Bank also receives a federal audit, because any non-profit that receives more than $500,000 from the federal government, must be audited according to federal requirements. (We receive between $500,000 and $600,000 from the government.) We also have a regular, but not annual state audits from the Department of Social Services that administers the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the California Association of Food Banks that administers the CalFresh (Food Stamp) Outreach Program. And of course, anytime we receive a grant, the grantor reserves the right to audit our records as they pertain to the intended purpose of the grant.

While there is a cost associated with these audits, imagine what the cost could be if audits didn’t exist? And what we sometimes don’t think about is what we learn from the audits. I have always found that audits 1. Cause me to be aware every day that our procedures are well thought through, recorded, and applied uniformly; 2. that when we do discover a gap in procedures, we learn about it and have the information to fix it; and 3. when we fix it, we have a greater trust in the ability of the audit to unearth poor practices or even fraudulent intentions. Audits are not fun. Sometimes it feels like auditors take great pleasure torturing us and catching us doing something wrong. We should welcome them as a necessary and beneficial link in building the kind of trust that is based in the verification of truth. It’s the context every society needs to function transparently and effectively. In order to show our transparency we have posted our previous audits, all you have to do is go to our website. (I hope our auditors read this.)

Carl Hansen

California Mid State Fair

July is Mid-State Fair time in SLO County. So I have to ask, “What is your favorite thing about the Fair?” If you’d like to make your response on our blog, you can share your thoughts with thousands who receive our newsletter!

As for me, the best part of the Fair is the people. It’s a huge block party. Great talent comes to entertain us, creative people share from their kitchens, gardens, and studios. Farmers display the abundance and variety of produce that our county provides, and our young neighbors inspire us with the animals they’ve raised and the goods they’ve produced. Then there’s the carnival, with its thrills and oddities. (I get queasy thinking about it because my inner ear remembers a time before I learned that carnival rides and the ocean must be avoided.)

So the Fair is about appreciating who we are and celebrating our diverse gifts. Did you know that the Food Bank receives meat from the Jr. Livestock Auction to feed hungry people? Many people who purchase animals at the Fair donate them to the Food Bank. So there’s one more reason to be like the Fair. If you’re like me, it’s hard to pick just one thing. I say it’s the people, because people make it all happen. What’s your favorite thing?