Statistics show that hunger is very prevalent in Alameda County. According to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, one in five residents within the county is suffering from hunger- related issues and need assistance feeding their families.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) is striving to end hunger; its mission is to “passionately pursue a hunger-free community.” It is the central hub for food distribution to more than 240 local community organizations such as; food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, child care centers, senior centers and more. This year the food bank will distribute more than 30 million pounds of food which equates to 28 million meals.
Michael Altfest, communications manager at the ACCFB, explained the importance of the distribution centers. “Food insecurity is largely an access issue, so the distribution centers are the best way to reach hungry people within Alameda County,” he said.
Most of the food the bank provides is purchased with donated funds. It also receives donated food in bulk from food manufacturers; 10 percent of the food comes from USDA commodities given to the ACCFB by the US government.
About 58 percent of the food the bank purchases is fresh produce. The other 42 percent is a mixture of canned foods, and other staples such as rice, pasta etc. ACCFB was the first food bank in the nation to stop distributing soda. It believes in providing healthier food options. For every $1 that comes into the ACCFB , it puts $6 worth of food out into the community. Donations are critical to the organization, and are welcomed.
The ACCFB does have staff, but it also requires and depends on a lot of volunteer assistance. Volunteers come in and help examine and sort the food before it goes out to distribution centers. Most volunteers are only at the food bank for a couple of hours a year, however there are some dedicated volunteers that clock 900 hours a year with the food bank. For more information regarding volunteering, please check their website at Alameda County Community Food Bank Volunteering.
The food bank also reaches clients with its CalFresh Outreach Program. The CalFresh Program gives federally- funded CalFresh Benefits (formerly known as food stamps) to clients who need help to feed themselves and their families.
The food bank has a multilingual, multicultural outreach team that goes out to agencies, as well as community events and helps pre-screen clients to see if they are eligible, or if they meet the criteria to enroll in the CalFresh Program. A family of four who makes less than $24,000.00 a year, and has the proper paperwork, can apply for CalFresh. However only about 50 percent of the eligible households in Alameda County are receiving CalFresh benefits.
Altfest believes the low participation rate is the result of a lot misunderstandings and myths about the CalFresh Program. Two major misunderstandings are that you must be unemployed to be eligible- you can work and qualify – and you have to have a social security card to receive CalFresh benefits. As long as one person or child in the home has a social security number the family may be eligible for the program.
If there were full participation in the CalFresh Program, it would be a huge step at solving hunger in Alameda County. To find out more information on how to apply for CalFresh Benefits, visit the website at How to Apply for CalFresh Benefits.
The food bank also has an Emergency Food Help Line where people can call in and talk to a volunteer operator who will assist them in finding a distribution center close to them so that they can pick up some food. Dedicated volunteers take calls and listen to clients and help them the best they can. Volunteers will even give bus stop directions so that clients can access free food.
Some people call in to the helpline once, while others call at the end of the month when funds are running low.
“Clients very much appreciate our work,” Altfest said.
With Alameda County residents living in such an expensive housing market, it’s no wonder people are hungry. Thankfully there are organizations such as the Alameda County Community Food Bank that are committed to helping their communities.
I think the back of its business card says it best “Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Make us stronger”. If you know someone, or a family with hunger -related issues, please refer them to the ACCFB Emergency Food Helpline at 1-800-870-3663.