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Marin Independent Journal: Food Bank serving more Marin residents than ever this Thanksgiving

November 15, 2011
By Richard Halstead - Marin Independent Journal
November 15, 2011
 
Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal. Read the article online.
 
This Thanksgiving, more Marin families than ever before will eat a traditional holiday meal thanks to the San Francisco Food Bank.
 
The San Francisco Food Bank, which merged with the Marin Food Bank in January, expects to provide 3,000 Marin families with about 9,000 pounds of food during Thanksgiving and the week leading up to the holiday.
 
"We are determined to provide everyone in need with all the makings for a wholesome, home-cooked holiday meal," said Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco Food Bank.
 
Ash said the amount of food distributed in Marin since the beginning of the nation's historic economic slump in 2008 has more than doubled from 2.3 million to 5.1 million. By the end of this year, the Food Bank will have distributed food to at least 20,000 individuals in Marin.
 
One of the 32 agencies that distribute food from the Food Bank in Marin is the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County, which operates a free dining room at 820 B St. in San Rafael. The dining room will be serving a free turkey dinner from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
 
"The Food Bank is wonderful," said Christine Paquette, St. Vincent's director of development in Marin. "We couldn't do it without them."
 
The San Rafael dining room serves about 675 meals a day — a hot breakfast, a hot lunch and a takeaway bag dinner.
 
Paquette said that before the merger, St. Vincent de Paul wasn't getting all the food it needed and had to scrounge for more by appealing to local food retailers for donations. Now, however, it's getting all it needs.
 
"That's taken a lot of work out of our hands," Paquette said.
 
The Ritter Center in San Rafael expects to distribute about 150 frozen turkeys and other dinner makings this Thanksgiving. The turkeys were donated by local Rotary clubs and public safety officers. Ritter Center operates a food pantry, stocked by the Food Bank, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, at 16 Ritter St.
 
"We're giving out an amazing amount of food," said Diane Linn, Ritter Center's executive director, noting that on just one afternoon last week the center distributed 60 full grocery bags. "There is a huge need out there."
 
Ash said despite the efforts of his agency, the food needs of Marin's low-income residents are not being fully met.
 
According to analysis of census data by the Stanford Center for Study of Poverty and Inequality, the percentage of people who fell below 185 percent of the federal poverty level increased by 18.5 percent in Marin County between 2007 and 2009. In 2009, a family of four was classified as 185 percent of poverty level if it had a yearly income of $41,000 — about half of what the California Budget Project estimates is required to make ends meet in Marin.
 
The Stanford Center calculated that in 2009, low-income Marin residents needed a total of 42 million meals to meet nutritional needs but only received about 29 million meals — roughly two-thirds of what they required.
 
"There is a gap," Ash said. "There are populations that we think we should be reaching and we're not. Homebound seniors is one of the target populations."
 
Ash said the Food Bank is also adding pantries to reach additional needy residents in West Marin. The Food Bank opened a pantry at the Bolinas Community Center in January and in May opened another pantry at the Fairfax Community Church, bringing to 12 the number of pantries distributing free food in the county.
 
Ash said he is concerned that federal budget cuts being discussed in Washington D. C. may include cuts to food stamp programs and programs that provide U.S. Department of Agriculture products to food bank programs throughout the country.
 
The Food Bank has no problems getting all the produce it needs due to an arrangement it has with California farmers, Ash said. But securing protein sources and canned foods is more difficult, he said.
 
Paquette said, "We do our turkey and meat drives now during the holidays." The meat is stored in a freezer.
 
"We try to make it last through the year," Paquette said. "We're always looking for meat."
 
Ash said the people who receive Food Bank food show plenty of gratitude, despite the little that they have.
 
"I think about my own family," Ash said, "and I hope we're that grateful."