Food Bank Celebrates 40 Years Serving Alameda

 

This coming week, the Alameda Food Bank (AFB) will gather for the annual volunteer appreciation event — the one time a year when the volunteers come to be served rather than do the serving themselves. A special focus for the event will be the 40th anniversary of AFB, and how it has carried out its mission: “to provide nutritious food to the low-income residents of the City of Alameda on a non-discriminatory basis.”

AFB opened its doors in May 1977, working out of a closet at Twin Towers Methodist Church. Back then we usually had no more than a dozen people come in for food each day, averaging 110 families a month. Over the years, the numbers gradually increased. By 1984, we averaged 600 families a month, which prompted a move to a larger space at Mastick Senior Center. By 2010, the number had skyrocketed to more than 2,300 households. 

AFB now serves 2,000 households every year — nearly 5,000 people total, or about 7 percent of the population of Alameda. 

People like:

  • A veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who has difficulty finding a job.
  • A single parent with three kids who is having trouble making ends meet on one full-time salary.
  • A young couple who both recently lost their jobs.
  • A retiree whose rent keeps going up, but whose Social Security check does not.

Some 30 percent of our clients have children in the household, 36 percent of our clients have one or more family members with a disability, and 11 percent of our clients are older than 65. 

A 2014 Hunger in America study described a food insecurity problem nationally that has since worsened. Since the start of the recession, more than 46.5 million U.S. households now live in poverty; a 25 percent increase since 2007. At AFB, the experience has been much the same.

We distribute more than 1.3 million pounds of food annually, with more than 900,000 pounds of that coming from local grocers, farmers’ markets, the Alameda County Food Bank and individuals.
Some 78 percent of funding comes from Alameda residents, local businesses and organizations. This really is local Alamedans helping their fellow residents and it has been that way since AFB began in 1977.

With just three full-time and one part-time paid staff members, AFB relies heavily on its 200 volunteers to collect, organize and distribute the food.

In 1984 AFB interviewed 100 clients to find out why so many were coming for help. They confirmed the reality of “too much month at the end of food.” Unfortunately, that statement still rings true for so many of our fellow Alamedans. With rents going up, people need extra help. AFB can save households $450 to $550 in groceries every month, which can help offset a big rent increase or other expenses.

Throughout its 40-year history, AFB has tried to listen to clients and address their issues. Two recent changes have addressed client needs and preferences: all choice at the pantry and a mobile pantry. 

The monthly pantry program now gives the clients an experience similar to going to a grocery store. They get to choose what they want to take home rather than receive pre-packed bags and returning what they didn’t want for an exchange. This system is both more efficient and more respectful.

Another new program this year is the expansion of our food services to the elderly by bringing a selection of foods directly to the clients at the two senior complexes supported by the Alameda Housing Authority (Anne B. Diament Plaza and Independence Plaza). 

The elderly are a particularly vulnerable population for food insecurity issues and often have challenges with mobility, making attendance at our regular food distributions difficult. In response, AFB now offers monthly onsite food programs at the two residential complexes. 

One senior told us “It feels like Christmas morning every time the Food Bank arrives!” Another senior exclaimed: “I feel like I am shopping at the farmers’ market!” 

As part of the anniversary year, clients and volunteers were asked to write what they “love about the Food Bank.” 

Some responses include: 

  • “It helps us big time and staff is great.” 
  • “Now I can eat and celebrate Mother’s Day.”
  • “We love the sense of family and community.”

By far, the predominant response was gratitude, expressed with many different words and phrases.  

AFB is proud of its 40-year history and, with the help of our wonderful community, we know we will continue to be here for as long as our friends and neighbors need us. 

 

Cindy Houts is the executive director of Alameda Food Bank. To learn more about the AFB, visit alamedafoodbank.org.