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Photo: Some of Redwood Empire Food Bank’s youngest clients enjoy fresh oranges at a food distribution.
While alleviating hunger remains our primary focus, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) and our members also recognize the critical importance of improving nutrition. With diet-related illnesses skyrocketing, food banks understand that it’s not enough to simply provide hungry people with calories. We are now taking a proactive approach to improving nutrition through two key strategies: sourcing more nutritious food for distribution and providing food recipients with nutrition education.
California food banks have developed a variety of strategies to increase the nutritional content of the food they distribute:
Participating in CAFB’s Farm to Family program. All of our member food banks receive fresh produce through Farm to Family, a program that obtains surplus produce from farmers and ships it to food banks. Food banks distributed over 160 million pounds of produce last year to people in need through the Farm to Family program. Over half of the food now provided by many of our food banks consists of fresh produce.
Implementing inventory ranking systems. Food banks partner with community agencies such as churches, soup kitchens, schools and senior centers, which then select items from the food banks’ warehouses. Some food banks have now implemented inventory systems that enable them to rank food according to nutritional value, so that their partner agencies can choose the most nutritious foods for their clients.
Food purchasing. While obtaining donated food remains a core food banking strategy, it can be difficult to reliably secure certain types of food needed for a balanced diet through donations alone. That’s why many food banks are supplementing their donated food by purchasing much-needed items, such as protein and dairy products.
Offering free, fresh produce to people in need is a key component of improving nutrition. But sometimes handing someone a bag of vegetables isn’t enough, especially if they are unfamiliar with a particular type of produce or don’t know how to prepare it at home. Many of our food banks now offer nutrition education programs that take place at food distribution sites and include nutrition information, taste tests, cooking demonstrations and take-home recipes.
Produce Education Program (PEP). PEP is CAFB’s innovative nutrition education program that reaches clients while they are waiting in line at food distributions. Short, interactive nutrition lessons, taste tests and recipe cards focus on one fruit or vegetable being offered that day through our Farm to Family program.
CAFB is now expanding this program across the state thanks to a three-year grant from the CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Program.
Learn more about PEP.
CAFB’s Federally-Funded SNAP-Ed (Nutrition Education) Program. For the past decade, CAFB has provided food banks and other nonprofit organizations with funding and assistance in conducting nutrition education programs for low-income clients. During its ten-year span, our SNAP-Ed nutrition program reached a total of 650,000 people and conducted 10,000 nutrition classes.
2013 marked the final year for CAFB’s federally-funded SNAP-Ed program. Due to funding changes, the program has ended following ten years of contracting with the California Department of Public Health.
CAFB is now helping our members forge new funding relationships with their local health departments to continue their nutrition education initiatives.
Produce Education Program (PEP) Materials – Includes downloadable lesson plans and recipe cards.
Produce Toolbox Evaluation Report – Assessing the Impact of Nutrition Education at Produce Distributions
Food Bank-Related Nutritional Research