The food bank distributes food to 240 Alameda County soup kitchens, shelters, and programs year-round, but the holidays are an especially important time for the charity.
An astounding one-in-five Alameda County residents are assisted by the food bank and more than half of the monetary donations the food bank receives all year come in during November and December, according to food bank spokesman Michael Altfest.
That’s more than the national average for food bank use, which is one-in-seven people, which Altfest attributes to the high cost of living in the Bay Area.
“There are more working poor in Alameda County,” says Altfest. “More households need help just covering basic needs.”
The holiday season is naturally the time when the food bank gets the most volunteers, but food bank employees say they need help year-round.
Spring and summer are difficult times, says Altfest, because kids are out of school and many of those kids are receiving free or reduced meals at school. When the kids don’t get that food, it could mean up to ten extra meals per week that their parents struggle to provide.
The food bank plans to distribute over 30 million pounds of food throughout the holiday season. Some of that comes from non-perishables donated during food drives – especially those barrels you see in grocery stores - but the majority is food that the bank buys with the cash donations they receive, including fresh meat and produce.
The bank can turn one dollar in cash into six dollars worth of food because of deals they have set up with farms and food companies, Altfest said.
A “virtual food drive” on the food bank’s website allows people to shop and choose individual items at an online grocery store and then pay with a credit card, so they can choose exactly what they want to give.
The food bank says the grocery items they need the most are canned fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish, peanut butter, pasta and tomato sauce, beans, rice, soups, cereals and powdered milk.
“This time of year is both exciting and nerve-wracking,” said Altfest. “This week is the big ramp up into the holidays. This is the time we receive about 60 percent of our funding, so we’ll find out if it’s going to be good year. We’re holding our breath between now and January.”
If you are interested in donating, you can drop nonperishable foods in one of the 300 barrels that have been placed in grocery stores and other shops all over Alameda County or make an online contribution at the food bank’s website (www.accfb.org), or by sending a check to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, P.O. Box 2599, Oakland, CA 94614.
If you would like to volunteer to help pack and distribute food, visit the accfb.orgwebsite. Altfest says that individuals, church groups, schools, and companies are all welcome to volunteer.
The Oakland Raiders stopped by to lend a hand last week. As did a group of East Bay Girl Scouts, who packed up apples.
“We’ve finished two crates so far,” said Clara Steele as she and her friends sifted though thousands of apples. “We’re pretty proud and we want to get to the bottom of the crate.”
And if you need food in Alameda County, call (800) 870-FOOD and you will be referred to a source that can provide groceries and hot meals, usually the same day. The Alameda County Food Bank makes over 3,000 referrals each month.