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Food Banks of California

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As concerns surrounding access to affordable, healthy food in California’s low-income communities are increasing, California’s food banks are changing to meet these challenges. The California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) is providing leadership and coordination to catalyze these changes, capture the best approaches, and replicate success.

Many California food banks are already at the forefront of a new direction in food banking. This approach focuses on increasing low-income people’s access not just to food, but to healthy food and encompasses activities in five broad areas.

Farm to Family:
Directly distributing healthier food to people in need: Fresh fruits and vegetables are the fastest growing area of food bank distribution. This has been made possible with the implementation of CAFB’s Farm to Family Program. In 2007 Farm to Family distributed more than 38 million pounds of fresh produce and is on track to distribute 60 million pounds in 2008. This produce consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables that CAFB acquires from the state’s growers and packers at no or very low cost. The increased availability of produce has allowed food banks to provide healthier foods to their clients and has put California on the cutting edge of healthy food banking.

Nutrition Education:
Providing nutrition education along with the healthier foods:
New foods often need promotion, provision of handling and preparation information, such as culturally-appropriate recipes, in order for people to meaningfully integrate them into their diet. Many California food banks are providing nutrition education to both clients and to agency staff distributing food in order to strengthen their healthy food distribution efforts. CAFB supports this work by offering program support, peer-to-peer networking and match funding to 20 member food banks and other non-profits. The Network for a Healthy California and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger are essential partners in this work.

Food Stamp Outreach:
Increasing Access to the Federal Food Stamp Program to increase the affordability of healthier foods:
Food stamp benefits help stretch family’s dollars so they can afford the higher costs of fresh, nutritious food. But California consistently has one of the lowest participation rates in the country. CAFB offers program support and match funding for outreach activities to member food banks and other non-profits. In 2009, the Association is partnering with 59 non-profit organizations and 24 Counties to increase participation among eligible, low-income Californians. Recently, CAFB has joined the Food Stamp Outreach Steering Committee of Feeding America. CAFB has also played an important leadership role in strengthening the statewide capacity for outreach by developing a statewide hotline, an outreach guide and website, a pre-screening and application tool and other outreach materials. CAFB provides training and support for peer-to-peer travel and support. More information about these services are available at and

Policy & Advocacy:
Advocating for policies that increase low-income people’s access to healthy food:
California’s food banks were among the first in the nation to include policy and advocacy work as a core of their anti-hunger efforts. Now, most CAFB member agencies advocate at the federal, state, and local levels to improve anti-hunger and nutrition programs, especially for food stamps and emergency food. Several participate, and even lead, local nutrition policy coalitions. The most recent addition to the expanding advocacy list is the federal Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which effects rules and funding levels for the Summer Food and Afterschool Snack programs in addition to the School Lunch and Breakfast programs. CAFB assists our partners in efforts to strengthen this work by providing venues to communicate with policy makers and offering leadership in strategy and message development.

Member Services:
Leadership, coordination, and capacity-building:
Our greatest strength remains our membership of over 40 local food banks. These food banks serve communities across California, including the urban and suburban population centers in the Bay Area, Southern California, and Central Valley, as well as the more rural and remote areas. Over the past three years, CAFB has secured millions of dollars to support our members in their efforts to increase produce distribution, enhance food stamp outreach and nutrition education and to improve the overall capacity of food banks in rural communities. CAFB facilitates the sharing of best practices among food banks through regional meetings, newsletters and conferences to help our members become more affective in their work.

Across the state, food banks are beginning to undertake some of these activities, to some degree, in response to increasing interest in healthy foods from many quarters, including clients, agencies, board members, and funders. However, there remains tremendous opportunity to articulate and advance a more systemic and systematic change in food banking. CAFB stands poised to lead California in this work and invites you to join us.

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