East Bay food bank launches Hunger Awareness Month campaign

on September 18, 2014

One in five of Alameda County residents doesn’t get enough to eat—and half of them are children. So for September, the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) is participating in a month-long awareness campaign to bring public attention to a fundamental human need—food.

In conjunction with a national food bank network, Feeding America, the county’s food bank has tackled this Hunger Awareness Month by orchestrating a campaign called “30 Ways in 30 Days.” The food bank urges community members to donate perishables or $13, which can feed one client for an entire month. The food bank’s online calendar lists daily activities, like asking participants to share a hunger-related statistic on their Facebook page on “Stat Saturdays” or wear orange on a Wednesday to show solidarity with other food banks across the nation.

People can also donate their labor. On a recent Tuesday night, the food bank hosted a family volunteer night where 50 men, women, and children of all ages bagged oranges and pears in an expansive warehouse. Kids as young as 5 ran back and forth with smiles on their faces as they sorted through fruit to be distributed. The food bank depends regularly on over 13,000 volunteers, some of whom are also its clients. While the food bank is open to receive donations throughout the year, it faces periodic droughts. “We know support doesn’t happen year-round,” said Michael Altfest, the food bank’s communication manager. He said they want to take advantage of September, which represents a special push for hunger awareness.

Food banks use two different definitions to classify the need from their users, “food insecurity” and “hunger.” Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an economic and social situation in which there is limited or uncertainty to access adequate or nutritious food. Altfest says this might be as simple as not knowing where your next meal is coming from. On the other hand, hunger can be categorized as the health consequence of food insecurity, where a person may be eating enough calories, but not getting enough nutrition. This may cause long-term health issues such as diabetes and hypertension. For example, said Altfest, think of a child who eats a Snickers bar for breakfast. In that case, while the child may be eating enough calories, the food itself is unhealthy or unsubstantial.

Why do so many Alameda County residents face food insecurity and hunger? One theory is that the job market in this county isn’t reaping the financial benefits of the tech boom as much as the next-door neighbors, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. A quarterly economic forecast produced by UCLA Anderson School of Management released this April found that some regions of the Bay Area saw an overall employment growth during November 2013 through February 2014–but the East Bay was lagging. Edward Leamer, an economist and director of the UCLA Anderson forecast, said that the world is in “intellectual service age.” This means that the job market is now shifting towards the tech industry and no longer relying on manufacturing jobs, which were held by middle class workers. “Oakland, of course, has had a strong manufacturing industry, but it’s not going to be the driver anymore,” said Leamer. “The world is increasingly becoming the haves and the have-nots.”

The food bank has seen the affects of this economic shift. Now one in five Alameda County residents depend on help from the food bank, as opposed to one in six in 2010. “The low-income workers and food bank clients typically don’t share in the gains of economic advancement,” said Altfest. “There is a huge wealth gap.” When a food bank client is faced with the decision to pay rent, medical bills, or utilities, they usually cut food costs first. “Nobody should have to make those decisions,” he said.

Altfest also pointed out that Alameda County is a “food desert,” a term food advocates use to indicate a lack of access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. According to a study produced by the food bank in 2010, 83 percent of all available food outlets in the county are corner stores, liquor stores, and fast food restaurants. (2010 Hunger Study) In addition, there are four times more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than grocery stores and produce vendors in the county —explaining why eating a Snickers bar for breakfast may be the easiest and cheapest breakfast choice for some.

With Hunger Awareness month, the ACCFB staff hopes that residents in the county will become informed and help out in anyway they can. “It’s a community effort,” said Altfest.

To find out more about Hunger Awareness month and the Alameda County Community Food Bank, visit: http://www.accfb.org/

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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