November 15, 2019 – The Food Bank for Monterey County’s expansive task of nourishing the hungry is never an easy one. One in every five county residents—a total of 10,800 people, half of them children—depend on its services every week.
It’s also a task that seems to intensify around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Seasonal jobs in agriculture and hospitality fade during the winter, unemployment creeps up and the amount of recipients appearing at FBMC distribution sites triples.
Moreover, with the holidays, thoughts turn to giving and food and family, and donors are more inclined to pay attention and do something to help, as FBMC Executive Director Melissa Kendrick observes with both thankfulness and a big asterisk.
“We’re grateful everyone thinks of us around the holidays,” she says. “But hunger never takes a holiday.”
Fortunately a string of recent advances are amplifying the independent nonprofit’s efforts to counter the demand.
After arson destroyed the Food Bank’s old home base in 2015, the 501c3 took it as an opportunity to strengthen its infrastructure in dramatic and meaningful ways. Buildout of a new 50,000-square-foot facility on West Rossi Street in Salinas broke ground in at the start of 2018. It was fully functional a year later and is now realizing key efficiencies. FBMC now has the resources to keep up with evershifting food compliance regulations, to introduce new education and cooking classes, and to divert massive amounts of neighbors’ produce from the landfill to communities in need—thanks to 25,000 square feet of cold storage.
“We’re utilizing every aspect of the facility,” Kendrick says. “We have the space to erase hunger.”
She’s quick to add whatever FBMC can accomplish is dictated by contributions which are leveraged to maximize return. Ninety-five cents of each dollar donated directly to programs and services, and each dollar invested translates to $5 in real food.
At Tarpy’s Roadhouse FUN-draiser Holiday Food and Fund Drive this month, another attractive number emerged: Owner-operator Tony Tollner, his Tarpy’s team and participating wineries like Scheid, Cima Collina, De Tierra and Joyce donated time, food, wine and 100 percent of proceeds to Food Bank for Monterey County.
“Feeding people is our passion,” says Tarpy’s general manager Debbie Edwards. “Most of us here are parents, and the thought of any family not having food, especially at the holidays, is something we thought we needed to help with.”
More good news: A chefs’ partnership program is in the works at FBMC partly in response to interest from the area restaurant kitchens asking how they might pitch in. (Interested chefs can email email@example.com.)
Meanwhile, a wide range of other activities and programs are helping Food Bank do significantly more than, oh, provide 12 million pounds of food to residents of Monterey County, as it did last year.
A peek at some of those developments appears here:
A new Nutrition Center: Outreach programs address how to manage and prevent diabetes and other chronic illnesses conditions related to poor nutrition—like cardiac disease, obesity and depression. Food demonstrations, cooking classes, and other interactive programming aim to support and empower seniors, children and other client demographics with specific dietary needs or nutritional concerns caused by insufficient nutrition, while opening access to nutrient-dense items that clients are not always able to access and afford.
Kids N.O.W. (“Nutrition On Weekends”): Fridays after school students receive food bags, which contain items that address the unique nutritional requirements for growth and development, to take home over weekends. It operates at six school sites and serves over 2,000 children in areas where 90 percent of kids live in poverty and 33 percent are classified as homeless. Student pantries also operate at Hartnell, MPC, and CSUMB.
Farmworkers Mobile Produce Pantry: This pantry provides weekly fresh produce and other nutritious perishables directly to workers in the fields as they end their shifts for the day.
Free farmers’ markets: Fifty countywide sites have increased produce distribution by 95 percent in the last two years with special emphasis on children and seniors.
Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP): The Food Bank’s largest direct distribution program provides food at 26 countywide sites for 37,838 individuals every month.
Non Profit Partner Program: More than 160 local nonprofits serving homeless persons, children, seniors, veterans, struggling families, and other residents unable to meet their basic needs have their emergency pantries and meal programs stocked via FBMC.
Breast Cancer Patient Food Assistance Program delivers weekly groceries to the homes of women in need who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer, supplying them and their families with healthful items, including fresh produce. This program has served over 350 women, who have participated for time periods ranging from 3 to 6 months.
While real need for donations perpetually remains, it does for volunteers hours as well. Valuable volunteer time can be spent at the warehouse or at distribution sites, in team-building groups or with friends, or just about any way possible. So it goes when taking on something as formidable as food insecurity.
“We completely work with any help,” Kendrick says. “We are very adaptable. We don’t turn clients or volunteers or cash away. We figure out a way.”
More at foodbankformontereycounty.org.
Mark C. Anderson is a freelance writer based in Seaside (and in his backpack). Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @MontereyMCA.