Category: Community

A Community Takes Care of Its Own at Judson Terrace Homes

Once a month, the residents at Judson Terrace Homes, a living complex for low-income seniors, get together for our Senior Food Distribution. This event does not only supply them with the food they need but also offers a great way to socialize and talk to each other. Many are thankful for the support they receive because they do not own a car which, in addition to financial difficulties, limits their ability to provide for themselves.

Three of the individuals that enjoy the social gathering before the start of the food distribution are Ashawna, Debi and Bryan. Debi has just moved to Judson Terrace and is attending for the first time. She has heard others praise the fresh fruits and vegetables and is looking forward to receiving some for herself. Ashawna on the other hand is close to celebrating her first anniversary. She has missed the very first food distribution right after she moved in but has come here for every other one since then.

When Ashawna was raising and homeschooling her daughter, she struggled to make enough money to get by so she accepted support from the local food bank. In return, she volunteered at food distributions that her church organized. “I remember that we purchased a large quantity of food from the food bank for only a fraction of the money you would pay at a grocery store,” she recalled. “Then my church turned around and made that food available for everyone in the community.” This wonderful experience during that time showed Ashawna the great impact human actions of generosity and kindness can have on everyone involved. When her daughter was in her teenage years, Ashawna encouraged her to volunteer in the food bank’s warehouse because she wanted her to understand the work, logistics and resources that go into a community’s support network. Even now, as a senior living at Judson Terrace Homes, Ashawna wants to volunteer at the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County because she iseager to continue giving back.

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The Connection between Summer Hunger and Health

When I think back to the summers of my childhood, I fondly remember days spent outside playing with my friends. I remember going to the pool, summer camp, and the excitement I felt when I heard the sound of the ice cream truck. I also remember returning home for lunch and dinner to a home-cooked meal prepared by my mother. I am fortunate not to have memories of having to skip a meal, and more fortunate to have never skipped a meal for lack of food at home.

The unsettling reality is that summer might not be all fun and carefree for an estimated 16,000 youth in our very own county. Parents are overwhelmed as they scramble to make childcare arrangements, because after all, they need to work in order to provide. Providing regular meals during the day can pose a challenge, and parents and children feel the absence of free and reduced-price meals provided during the school year. Another factor to consider is that food insecurity among adults and families tends to trickle down to children. In fact, children 1-3 years of age are particularly vulnerable because they likely consume a diet similar to that of their parents, and food scarcity may guide decisions that sacrifice quality for quantity.1 Subsequently, these first 3 years encompass ‘critical’ periods in which the negative neurological and developmental effects of nutritional deficiencies can be irreversible, potentially setting a child down a lower trajectory during growth and development.2

Looking at short-term effects, there is extensive research suggesting the negative influences on mood, behavior, and cognition that deficient or inadequate diets can have on children.3 In addition to negative behavior, health, and academic performance outcomes, poor nutrition can also lead to more hospitalization, conditions such as asthma and anemia, and more frequent absences at school.4

Ultimately, research tells us that food insecurity and poor nutrition can lead to both short and long-term consequences for growing and developing children that can range from simple misbehavior in the classroom, to slowed physical development, to irreversible neurological impairments. Research also tells us that it could all be prevented with access to adequate nutrition.1-4

This explains the rationale behind the SLO Food Bank Coalitions’s Children’s Programs such as Children’s Farmers Market and Summer Breakfast Bags. By increasing access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables along with shelf-stable nutritious breakfast food (many of which are vitamin fortified) we are joining the front lines in the fight to eliminate summer hunger and food insecurity. To supplement food resources, the Food Bank Coalition also provides Nutrition Education and Outreach in the form of lessons and activities, and children learn about the benefits of healthy eating and choosing fruits and vegetables over processed snacks and sweets.

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Extending Hospitality and Feeding Neighbors

Hunger relief is an ancient feature of humans helping out their neighbor. If it’s not the oldest game in town it’s close to it.

All the early texts of wisdom literature recorded ideas about how to treat those who were the most vulnerable in society. Special care was suggested for older citizens, babies and the young, those who were without clothing or shelter, the sick or imprisoned, travelers, widows, and those who were thirsty and hungry.

All this understanding about how to treat neighbors was brought together under the single heading of hospitality. In San Luis Obispo County our current generation’s hospitable response to hunger is coherent and team based.

It has made good sense for almost 30 years to have a central player in hunger relief be responsible for sourcing, transporting, storing, and refrigerating food at scale. This makes it economically viable for all the other nonprofit players to gain reliable and efficient access to wholesome food.

The Food Bank Coalition acts out of the center of this enterprise and teams with its coalition of 77 nonprofit partners to distribute groceries and fresh produce to some 30,000 individuals every month acrossevery community in the county.

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Hunger Relief From a Place of Hope

There’s nothing subtle about being hungry.

The need for food is part of the human condition. Everyone knows how it feels when you don’t eat for 10 or 14 or 20 hours. You may get impatient, anxious, or distressed, or a combination of all these things. And so, 1 in 6 people in our county community will experience something like this throughout the year. The inability to afford to purchase food pangs the body, but it strikes a blow to one’s self esteem as well.

If we put ourselves in the place of the 30,000 individuals who receive groceries and produce every month from the SLO Food Bank Coalition there are many inglorious tales to tell.

In general, we all feel for a child who goes hungry and lacks the fuel it needs to recreate properly. We feel for seniors who have to budget a set amount each month and may have to prioritize health or housing needs over adequate nutrition.

And, we certainly feel working families, who experience the strain, emotionally even, of not being able to provide. These are dire circumstances in which so many of our neighbors find themselves for a period of time.

But before the story gets too bleak, you notice the counter balance in response to this situation:

The SLO Food Bank Coalition enjoys the support of over 3,700 key volunteers every year. And when you see these women and men go about their business, and the way the carry themselves, you’d have to agree that they do this work with a righteous spirit.

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The Hope That’s Needed to Meet a Real and Dire Need

It’s a challenge at times to find the right words to describe conditions surrounding hunger relief in our county. The other day I reached out for advice to Terry Vail of Atascadero Loaves and Fishes (ALF). He’s a man of few words, a knowing smile, and someone I deeply respect.

Terry helps operate an exceptionally well-run organization which quietly effects change in Atascadero and surrounding communities. Some 125 heads of households receive food and other services from ALF each week. They are one of 77 partner nonprofits that rely on the Food Bank Coalition as a reliable and affordable source of fresh produce and groceries.

When Terry came to our warehouse to help with a weekly pickup run, I asked, “Terry, I have some new audiences I’m meeting with and I want to keep the message fresh. What are some new ways to say what it is we do?”

Terry said, “How many ways can we say it? The need is real. The need is often dire.”

Just how real is the need? Many people are unaware that 1 in 6 people in our county will, at some time during the year, struggle to put food on the table.

As we prepare to celebrate Hunger Awareness Day on Friday, June 7, let’s acknowledge that awareness is one of the main goals of this endeavor – with fundraising running a close second. And I think there are two numbers of note that are relevant to this promotion around hunger awareness. One is descriptive of the need and the other telling of our community’s response.

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16 Reasons Why We Feed SLO County

Because we are a county community who believes that each day everyone should have something healthy to eat.

This is why we feed SLO County.

Because we respect our elders by making sure seniors have enough food to eat.

This is why we feed SLO County.

Because we care for our youth by giving kids enough energy to learn in school.

This is why we feed SLO County.

Because housing, transportation, and health care put the squeeze on working families.

This is why we feed SLO County.

Because half of the food we distribute is healthy fresh fruits and vegetables.

This iswhy we feed SLO County.

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Wacker Wealth Partners Believes In Community Involvement

Recently, I met with Ryan Caldwell, CEO of Wacker Wealth Partners, at his new office space on Broad Street in San Luis Obispo.  Ryan and I chatted about Wacker Wealth’s recent move and the fact that we are now neighbors.  Wacker Wealth Partners is in a beautiful building just down the street from us near the San Luis Obispo County Airport.

Our visit that day was an opportunity to catch Ryan up on changes at the Food Bank. Ryan asked some great questions about the food needs in SLO County. We discussed the number of people needing food assistance.  Many people are not aware that 1 in 6 individuals in our county are food insecure.  We talked about the many volunteers that quietly help with this need and how this work slips by under the radar. I feel the best way for people understand about the scope of work the Food Bank does is to have them come and see for themselves.   I invited Ryan to visit our warehouse.

Some people think about a Food Bank and visualize a food pantry that hands out boxes of food to people who knock on the door.  When people visit our 20,000 square foot warehouse with 3 tiers of racking and a refrigerator and freezer that take up the whole back wall, they begin to understand that this is a big operation.  After watching dozens of volunteers put together food bags for distributions and seeing some of our over 80 Agency Partners picking up food to cook or hand out, everyone realizes that it takesmany people working together to fight hunger.

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Our Roots in Paso Robles

Every corner of our county has its story to tell, its claim to some extraordinary event or movement.

Paso Robles has many highlights from its historic past, but one that it can certainly be proud of is its distinction as our birthplace – The Food Bank Coalition which serves San Luis Obispo County.

Inspired in part by its rural setting, Paso Robles has long been populated by independent people who also see that a community thrives when it cares for a neighbor until they can get back on their feet.

Back in 1989, Paso Robles was where a small cadre of volunteers formalized efforts at seeing to it that vulnerable populations, especially children and seniors, had reliable access to healthy and nutritious food.

From these early chapters, we have extended our reach and today distributions take place in communities from San Miguel to Nipomo, and San Simeon to California Valley.

Last year 5 million pounds of food was distributed throughout the county, with 40% of it going to children and another 20% to seniors. Over half of the food distributed was fresh produce which helps advance vital public health outcomes.

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Dealing With The Drought

The drought in California increasingly appears to be an introduction to a new way of life. Personally, I’ve shifted from hope and trust for lots of rain this winter (with rumors of El Niño on its way), to the numbing realization that this is likely to be the foretaste of much worse to come. While I’ve always loved the beauty of southwestern desert landscapes with their red and brown hues and the exquisite character of the plants that thrive in such climates, I’ve also felt the barrenness of it. Many who study climate and water are warning us that this is likely the future of our area, and most of central and southern California. Such a contrast to the abundance that we have enjoyed in San Luis Obispo County and the central coast with year-round growing seasons, seasonally green hills, and a climate that will grow just about anything. It is sad to think that it might be going away. For some, it’s a tragedy.

It’s easy for us to place blame, take sides, and go to battle over decreasing water resources, but that would only make matters worse. Economic interests are at stake here, of course, from a home owner whose well runs dry to huge industries, especially in farming and wine. We need to seize the opportunity to remember that adversity can be the cause of division and conflict, or the impetus for a stronger community spirit of creativity, sacrifice, cooperation, and kindness that leads to fairness among competing interests and appropriate access for all to increasingly limited resources. Indeed, we are in this together, and it appears that Mother Nature is inviting us to learn how to be a stronger and healthier community if we work together. This line of thinking is a core value of the Food Bank Coalition. You will see how the drought is affecting our services to the community in our edition of the newsletter sent today.

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Obesity Kills

Obesity kills, it steals from our quality of life and the quantity of our years. It leads to other serious illnesses – the ones we dread the most: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It hits hardest with our children because they are in their formative years, establishing habits and lifestyles that will imprint the rest of their lives, contributing to how well they socialize, absorb their education, stay out of trouble, and think of themselves. Encouraging healthy eating and making healthy food accessible not only to low-income persons, but all people in the community, is probably the best thing we can do to create a better America and world. It will pay dividends a thousand-fold in the quality and productivity of our community life.

Eight years ago, as the new Executive Director of the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, I was invited to serve on the Childhood Obesity Prevention Task Force. Summoned by Supervisors James Patterson and Jerry Lenthall, it included a wide selection of organizations and persons involved in education, health, nutrition, food services, and non-profit organizations. We met regularly for a couple of years, created a strategic plan for the county, and an ongoing organization called HEAL SLO to sustain the work for the years ahead. It was my eye-opener to the problem of obesity in our country and closer to home in our county.

The Task Force was also an opportunity for me to meet the network of people in SLO County with concern for the not yet widely accepted problem of obesity in children. What I learned gave me the conviction that the Food Bank has to be part of the solution to this problem, a problem that was and unfortunately still is placing our quality of life as a community at risk.

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