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?

Reflections on Independence Day

One of the sources of funding for the Food Bank, as with so many non-profits, is grants from the government and private foundations. Without such grants, we would not be able to operate because the 5.5 million pounds of food that we provide to recipients is completely free. Whether directly in our distributions or through the agencies we serve. (Incidentally, all of the food we provide to agencies is also either free or highly subsidized through grants and donations.)

With the recession, grants are harder to come by, with more restrictions, and very competitive. Grants and government funding at all levels amounts to only about 10% of our budget. The balance comes from support in donations of food and money. Some of that comes from our association with Feeding America. Some of it comes from our ability to obtain low-cost produce through the Farm to Family Program of the California Association Food Banks. But most of it comes from local donations from people like you who generously give from their hard-earned resources, providing food and money to help us provide for neighbors in need.

In the end, despite the critical funds we receive from the government and private foundations, the Food Bank is continues to fight hunger because of the generosity of our local population. We raise our red, white, and blue hats to you, the people of our county who live by our legacy of a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” You remind us that generosity is a critical ingredient in the gift of freedom.


Recently I happened to see a documentary about a millionaire businessman who decided to live for a month as a poor person in the most impoverished area of Los Angeles. His intent was to find the agencies that truly helped people. When the month was over, he surprised those few agencies with sizable financial gifts. There was one moment that hit home for me. One homeless person struggling to get his life back said to the millionaire when his agency received a gift, “Man, you believe in us.” It made me think about how important it is to have people who believe in us, and how easy it is to lose belief in others and even ourselves.

Take a moment to remember the people who believe in you. Whether alive now or not, you would not be where you are without them. But many don’t have those people in their lives, or they have made mistakes that cause people to stop believing in them, and they forget how to believe in themselves. To improve their lives, people need to know that others value them. The human spirit requires this basic form of nurture. We might think of ourselves as “self-made” men or women because we focus on how much effort and smarts it took to us get to our level of success, whatever that may be. But in reality, we’ve all had a lot of help – family, teachers, mentors and friends who believed in us.

Believing means that we never lose hope. It means that we can see what isn’t obvious; we can see the good and the potential in people who are struggling. And, we can help them to see that in themselves. This perspective is at the heart of all charitable work, regardless of the form of charity. Giving a helping hand is an expression of trust in the person to eventually find his or her way back to a good life despite the odds. If we in non-profit work lose faith in those we serve, we’ve lost something precious, the very core of hope. Believing in people is the most important work of charity, and the best way to say thank you for those who have believed in you.

The high price of fuel…

Have you ever had to make the unhappy choice of whether to put gas in your car to go to work or feed your child a healthy breakfast? It never occurred to me when I was raising my children. It wasn’t easy financially raising my kids, but as parents we never had to make that hard choice. It’s a sad reality, though, for many in our county – the “happiest place in the nation.” 52% of the people who receive food from the Food Bank have to make that choice, according to a recent survey we participated in by STRIDE of Cal Poly. That’s over 20,000 people who are face that decision from time to time. There is so much a family needs as essentials to survive – electricity, gas, telephone, clothes – we all know what it costs. A car is not a luxury in a rural area such as ours – especially when you have children. Then there are the costs of the car – the payment, license, insurance, maintenance, etc.

We hear about the cost of gasoline coming down around the country, but it doesn’t seem to be happening locally. Meanwhile, the consequence is real suffering for many. There is no heart in the supply and demand that drives gas prices. But there is heart in our community, and we certainly see that at the Food Bank. Some of that heart-filled compassion comes from the government that represents the people, but we know many of the human services are up for grabs in this election year. Some of it comes from family and friends. But when all else fails, there is the Food Bank, the agencies and schools we partner with, and especially the generosity of our community donors who make it possible for us to provide the programs that prevent people from having to not feed their kids well in order to have the means to get to work.

The fuel costs to operate our food distribution programs remind me of the hard choices each family has to make. It also reminds me of the generosity of those – each one of you reading this blog – who make it possible for us not to have to make the choice of not keeping those programs that give a heart to the world we live in.

Hunger Free Communities

We’re in another election year, and the gloves are off.  Negativity and demonization are the order of the day.  It’s contagious.  It demeans us.  It makes politics a dirty word.  But politics is not just about winning.  Groups of people don’t have to make decisions through a process that hurts and inflames.  Why not unite in a spirit of mutual respect, a desire for the good of all, and the effort to achieve common goals?  Sound like a fantasy?  Actually, it’s happening right here in San Luis Obispo County and around the country with regard to something most of us take for granted – food.
We at the Food Bank have been privileged to be the lead agency in the formation of the San Luis Obispo County Food System Coalition, a consortium of diverse organizations and the government that are often on the opposite side of issues, now working together on a Strategic Plan to address concerns in our county with regard to how food is grown, distributed, and consumed.  Is the abundance of food production in our county accessible to our local population of all income levels?  Does it promote local agriculture and the development of a diverse farming community?  Is it environmentally sustainable and restorative?  Does food production provide a just wage to farmworkers while making a profit for farmers?  Does it make our community healthier and strengthen the social fabric that holds us together as a society?  These are the questions the Food System Coalition will grapple with over time.  It will provide regular opportunities for stakeholders and experts in their fields to grow in their understanding of one another and form mutual friendships seeking a better quality of life for all of us – especially those who have no place at the table to speak for themselves.  In our effort to build a Hunger Free Community, we just might rid ourselves of dirty politics.
If you’d like to learn more, give me a call.  It’s refreshing to do politics differently – especially in an election year!

St. Barnabas Advocates for the Homeless

If you’re homeless and living in a vehicle, there is no safe and legal place to park in our county to rest for the night. That was until St. Barnabas Episcopal Church of Arroyo Grande characteristically opened their arms and parking lot to welcome them.  (They’re known for their charitable outreach, including to the Food Bank.)  St. Barnabas only has a permit for four vehicles, but if other churches around the county take this bold and controversial move to be advocates for those who live in poverty, the problem will be solved.

To be an advocate has deep roots in the human community as being for someone, or some cause, and is at the core of all religions,  It is often used in Christianity, for example, as a translation from the Bible for the Holy Spirit -  the Advocate – God’s presence in the here and now bringing Godly words and actions, or even attitudes, that make our lives and community life better.  In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit as advocate is also community oriented.  God’s presence in Person is translated, among other things, as Wisdom.
We should take the word “advocate” more seriously.  St. Barnabas did.  Recently I was an advocate for the poor in Sacramento, visiting our legislative representitives, Assemblyman Katcho Acadjian and Senator Sam Blakeslee and their legislative aides.  I found myself wondering how I could get them to ”see” things my way concerning the people we serve, when I suddenly had an attitude adjustment.  I remembered that advocacy is not simply for one way against another, but a deeper quest for a way that is good for all.  That’s what helping the poor is really all about.  If anyone in our midst has nothing to eat, or no place to sleep safely and legally, we are all the worse for it.

The Hunger Games

The blockbuster hit The Hunger Games was the third largest grossing movie released in history and even has meaning here in San Luis Obispo County. Did you know that the movie is sponsoring hunger relief throughout the country and even worldwide? To find out how you can get involved go to the Hunger Games website for more information – 25% of each donation will benefit Feeding America supporting hunger locally, while 75% will go to World Food Programme a global hunger relief organization. To support local hunger relief visit

The underlying meaning of the movie is, of course, subject to the interpretation of the individual that spends the $8 bucks to go see the movie.  Yes, I know that’s cheap, but that’s what I paid on a weekday afternoon as a senior, not including the bucket of popcorn and diet soda I shared with my wife. 

So here’s my interpretation of Hunger Games, it is a futuristic look in the mirror.  I’m sitting there being entertained (and I was – I recommend it), pleased with my successful planning to only spend about $26 between the two of us (my wife didn’t have any of the popcorn as it turned out, but it somehow disappeared before the movie was over.)  That $26 would have provided 182 healthy meals for some of the 44,000 residents in our county. The largest population we serve is children whose families are dealing with the anxiety of their frightening economic situation.

It took me awhile to even want to see the movie because of its central plot – children who are forced to fight one another to their deaths. The surviving child rises to fame and glory, a beautiful home and gourmet food security – all in the guise of reminding them of what a great country they live in.

While my wife has read all three books in the Hunger Games series, I will admit to only watching the first movie.  I’m looking forward to seeing whether there is something more in The Hunger Games II and III – perhaps some path that might help to lead America (oops!  I mean Panem) away from a token treatment of hunger and the social ills it creates toward genuine concern and structural change that will fulfill our dream of freedom and justice for all.  Until then, it’s just a game…



Hunger Hurts Everyone

Hunger Hurts Everyone is a social media awareness campaign featuring a series of videos of clients, employees and volunteers involved with the Food Bank Coalition. “We hope the community will take away from the videos the fact that hunger does hurt everyone,” said Megan Chicoine,Volunteer Coordinator for the Food Bank Coalition.

The videos were created to educate the San Luis Obispo county residents about the diversity of people affected by hunger in the community. Lucy Escarcega, a former Food Bank client and current volunteer, said most people including herself would never expect to utilize the food bank but then end up needing to. “Unexpected circumstances happen to everyone,” she said. “The clients who use the Food Bank come from all walks of life and due to the economy, we see a lot of families and children.”

The “Hunger Hurts Everyone” videos also reveal what motivates individuals to donate their time to help the program. Frank Hernandez has built a strong connection to the program by volunteering over the years, and wishes to see the coalition’s younger volunteer base grow. “It’s very rewarding, knowing that I can help these people,” he said. “I came here one day and saw all of the elderly volunteers passing out food and I said to myself that I could do it too.”

Cal Poly public relations students teamed up with the Food Bank to create the “Hunger Hurts Everyone” social media campaign and helped launch the Food Banks first video-based awareness campaign. To view the “Hunger Hurts Everyone” campaign visit YouTube or click on the links below:

Why Does Hunger Hurt in San Luis Obispo County?

Lucy’s Story

Frank’s Story

Christine’s Story

How Can You Help?


Have you ever imagined how much better the future will be because of the good you do?  Imagine the difference a healthy meal makes in a day, compared to no meal at all.  Imagine how providing 3,850,000 healthy meals a year affects the future.  That’s what we and our agency partners provide to people struggling to survive in San Luis Obispo County.  Your help is truly the gift of a better life.  To put it another way, your gift multiplies as it provides a new perspective, a new start, and a new future.

At the Food Bank we like to imagine. We imagine what a child will be like 20 years from now because he or she had access to nutritious food.  That’s not hard to imagine. The founder of Facebook was just a child 20 years ago. What a difference this young man’s imagination has made in the world. Not every child will invent new software and run a huge company, but is it any less significant to be a loving parent, to encourage creative and productive work skills, or to nurture a family both emotionally and physically? Your legacy is guaranteed due to the number of meals we can serve, with kindness, on your behalf as you help us fight hunger.

Our friend, Mr. Alan Feinstein, had the imagination to see how his investment in the future could grow through the productive lives of the people he helped. In fact, he’s matching a portion of his wealth to your support with his own gift of $1 million to Food Banks across the country.  You can learn more about him at Although we cannot all be Alan Feinstein, your contribution is no less significant. You also touch the lives of thousands of children, families, homeless, or struggling people trying to get back on their feet with your own investment in their future.

We use what you give us to obtain fresh produce for those in need in our county.  Produce is often not accessible to them because it is expensive compared to less healthy foods.  We glean, rescue, and purchase local produce at cooperative rates from local farmers, and many donate produce to us on a regular basis.  In 2011, we distributed 2.6 million lbs. of produce to over 44,000 of your neighbors in need in SLOCounty.

Generosity is the imagination to see the good that begins with your gift.  The rest is as natural as the body receiving the benefit of a fresh apple or a florette of broccoli.  Please add your imagine to Mr. Feinstein’s through your investment in our future.



Collaboration with Public Health

Compared to large metropolitan areas, our Food Bank is considered small do to the size of our county. This results in many staff members wearing multiple hats, not allowing us to have paid staff in some of the positions that would provide professional expertise in areas of great need.  For example, we don’t have a nutritionist on staff to lead our nutrition outreach. This person would champion our effort not only to provide healthy food, but also administer a county-wide program on nutrition education that is tailored to the foods we distribute to them.

It’s one thing to provide healthy food, and another to educate and inspire people who may not have a palate or be familiar to food items that are good for them. That’s why we are so pleased to be collaborating with the Department of County Health. Through this partnership we will provide nutrition education through cooking demonstrations and tastings at our county-wide distribution sites.  The food utilized in these demonstrations will be paired monthly with what the Food Bank has available for distribution.

Public Health educators will be doing onsite education using the produce that is being distributed that day! Take broccoli for example.  While people are waiting in line, they will have an opportunity:

  • Share their personal experiences with broccoli
  • Learn about the nutritional benefits of broccoli,
  • Learn tips on buying and storing broccoli, and
  • Discuss ideas on how broccoli can be increased in meal planning on a regular basis.

This is a great example of how in our relatively small county, collaboration, can accomplish even greater things than we could independently.  It’s not a bad model for larger counties and the whole country. What do you think?