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Novato Advance: Scope spotlight: outreach groups partner, promote year-round support

December 13, 2013

Reposted from the Novato Advance
Written by Nicole Baptista   
Article originally published by the Novato Advance, Dec. 13, 2013                                                                  
View the original story here >>

People patiently lined up along Marin Community Clinic's curb Dec. 5 and waited to fill their bags with onions, carrots, potatoes, lettuce and eggs. Residents didn't seem to mind the freezing temperature at the Novato site; some walked toward a diabetes screening booth after getting groceries, spoke with medical volunteers and checked out a free Zumba class offered on site. 

LIFT-Levántate, a nonprofit founded by Richard Waxman, provides what he calls a “community health hub,” and partners with the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, local churches, schools and clinics. LIFT’s many Bay Area sites are all open to the public.

“We attract the working poor,” Waxman said. “We work with communities with the biggest challenges and the least amount of resources.”

Since April, LIFT has distributed 163,000 pounds of food to 300 households, helping people like Novato’s Jocelyne Diserens-Elltilaa.

“I still go to the Novato Human Needs food pantry at the church in Ignacio but I’m a single parent of two and now a grandparent,” said Diserens-Elltilaa, who began to access the Redwood Boulevard site after her food stamps were eliminated four months ago. “I need the help. It’s really a wonderful thing that they do.”

Michelle Garcilazo of the Marin Food Bank works with 40 pantry sites throughout the county and partners with various nonprofits to deliver and sometimes distribute food.

“Marin County is a place that most people perceive as being affluent,” Garcilazo said. “People assume that the only people that need services are from Marin City, Novato and the Canal District (in San Rafael). But that’s not true. Many are seniors from Corte Madera and West Marin.”

Partnering with nonprofits like LIFT allows the Food Bank to hone in on each community’s specific needs.

After tending a field, some workers head to food distribution sites where they can access the harvest that they may have grown themselves but couldn’t afford. Many pantries are open in the late afternoons and evenings to accommodate those who work multiple jobs; school pantries also offer food as early as 6 a.m.

“There is a strong need in Marin because it is so expensive to live here,” Garcilazo said. “Many people don’t have access to healthy, affordable food. Sixty to 70 percent of the Food Bank’s distribution is fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Both the Food Bank and LIFT want residents to come back every week.

“We always have people giving back this time of year,” said Blain Johnson, the SF/Marin Food Banks’ media relations manager. “But Christmas, for us, is 365 days of the year.”

LIFT’s community health hub also offers free, culturally-appropriate physical activity classes and partners with medical clinics to assist residents who don’t have health insurance.

“We are the only agency that provides free diabetes screenings in public locations,” Waxman said. “We offer so much more than healthy food. Our bi-lingual staff can directly counsel a person to the clinic or another health system.”

One in seven Californians has diabetes, but millions live with the disease undetected, Waxman said.

“Having diabetes doesn’t have to become more chronic,” Waxman said. “We have an art therapist, who is diabetic herself, and acts as a counselor.”

Volunteers also hand out recipes, which include the produce distributed that week. Waxman said it can be tricky to distribute food that may be considered uncommon in certain communities.

Marin Oaks High School senior Angie Lopez has volunteered at LIFT for the past four months and earns credit toward her diploma in the process. To help get the ever-unpopular yams into people’s bags, her mother decided to make a Mexican yam dish and hand out taste tests at the pantry site.

“One person came back to the front of the line to grab yams,” said the 17-year-old. “I just love doing this work.”

Garcilazo said the Food Bank also has a nutrition team that distributes healthy recipes.

LIFT’s Health Hub Coordinator Jasmine Martinez leads 30-35 volunteers each week, all of whom she said possesses a spirited drive and a big heart. Maria, an eight-month volunteer, heads the front of the line and encourages her friends, family and neighbors to access healthy options.

“I know so many people who need the food,” Maria said “Some people are afraid and don’t feel comfortable. But it’s a great program.”

Maria registers each attendee and passes out flyers and Cal Fresh applications. Going down the line, volunteers hand out produce from the Food Bank, as well as crops from Marin Organics and Star Route Farms that would have otherwise been tossed due to aesthetically unpleasant appearance.

“Forty percent of the world’s food supply goes into the dumpster,” Waxman said.

“Perfectly fresh food is wasted because it was too small or too big for grocery store standards,” Garcilazo added.

Hunger is ongoing issue

Pantries and food banks need the community’s help the most during the summer. It’s a time when children are out of school, and many don’t receive free or reduced lunch.

Donovan Hernandez, 19, is a student at Dominican University of San Rafael and began volunteering at LIFT as part of a college course.

“It is defiantly enlightening,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t’ know there was such large population of people that needed food.”

The Food Bank offers seasonal goods – right now that’s potatoes, squash, apples, onions, yams and oranges, as well as various protein items.

“Other food banks receive goods from manufacturers,” Johnson said. “But because we’re near these farms we get plush, fresh produce.”

The Food Bank also purchases wholesale rice and beans; volunteers then scoop from the 50-pound sacks to make one-pound bags. Volunteers also handle “greening,” where bad fruit and veggies are plucked from incoming batches.

On the smaller scale, the Food Bank collects donations through food drives. Walking through Novato’s warehouse, countless bins are stacked to the ceiling; most filled with canned goods, breads and non-perishable items, which accumulates about 10 percent of the their resources. Three giant metal freezers also store meat and other protein items, which are the most expensive to generate.

“It’s a small but very important factor,” Johnson said. “We want to urge people to volunteer after the holidays. Volunteerism drops off in January and they are absolutely integral to what we do. They account for what would be 68-full-time employees.”

How to help

LIFT strives to help every at-risk child and family member to lead a life of health, wealth and vitality. The organization also educates residents to engage in healthy activities. For more information, visit

The Food Bank strives to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. With 120 employees, 25,000 volunteers, and 450 partner organizations throughout the community, the Food Bank will nourish 225,000 people and distributed 46 million pounds of food by the end of the year.