by Tom Sims
During a recent Saturday at the grocery store, I was struck by two glaring realities: shortage of some of the staples of my diet and escalating prices.
Food insecurity in Fresno County is a real and a pressing problem. The irony is that those of us who live in Fresno reside in a Land of Plenty and bounty. In many ways the Fresno area is the breadbasket for the nation and the world.
The food insecurity rate in Fresno County is higher than the state rate. One in every fourth child in the Central Valley is affected by food insecurity. The American Association of Pediatricians recommends that doctors screen routinely for food insecurity. One of the reasons is that households with children are twice as likely to be food insecure. It affects people of color at a substantially higher rate. It also affects people in the rural areas more frequently than in the metropolitan areas. Immigrant families are targeted as are large families, single head of household families, and families that are faced with parental separation or divorce.
The health issues associated with food insecurity run the gamut. The source of this information is the University of California San Francisco. The USDA has invested nearly 2 billion dollars recently to leverage American agriculture to feed kids and families.
A recent Facebook posting by Genoveva Islas announced:
“Today we learned that F3: The Future of Food Initiative was awarded $65.1 Million – the largest award in the nation! I am so proud to be a part of this historic effort.
“This effort connects macro agribusiness to micro food business. That’s fundamental for me because I care about ensuring that new efforts in our region promote shared prosperity.
“If we are upskilling our workforce, I want farm workers front and center in those opportunities. If my community is good enough to pick the fruits and vegetables that feed US, then they should have the benefits that allow them to have clothes on their backs, roofs over their heads, and food on their tables.
“I want small ethnic farmers to be recognized, honored, and included for their monumental efforts in building agroecology and sustainable farming before it was popular.
“Let’s make sure that street vendors can operate safely and with dignity. They are also a part of the food landscape that needs to be invested in, and they should be included.
“This funding is our opportunity to do things differently – to do things better. If we are successful in being inclusive, it will be worth all the hard work that went into securing this funding.”?
According to the Central California Food Bank, “Nobody should have to choose between food and electricity, an impossible choice that millions of people often face. Join Central California Food Bank in ending hunger.”
There are some notable success stories in Fresno and the surrounding communities. Fresno Metro Ministry has an active role in eradicating hunger; there’re several programs that they have initiated from gardens to collecting and redistributing food that otherwise would be wasted to consulting and advocacy. Fresno Food Not Bombs serves free vegan and vegetarian food in public areas the large amount of the food that they serve is surplus food from grocery stores bakeries and markets. EOC (Economic Opportunity Commission) has a long history of preparing meals for school children and other at-risk groups.
The Bulldog food pantry is a Fresno State student run food outreach program. They provide food for anyone in need in the community. They provide food to students and families in need. Students are engaged through volunteering. They provide resources and materials about Community Resources, and they maintain their own sustainability through donations and partnerships in the community. Since 2007, they have fed 2500 people per year. They have logged 1300 volunteers who have given a number of hours each year.
The central California Food Bank fights hunger by gathering and distributing food, engaging in partnerships that advance self-sufficiency, and by providing community leadership on issues related to hunger. About 350,000 people are served every month. Near 54 million pounds of food are distributed annually with 50% of the food distributed as fresh produce. The food bank works directly with clients and also through distribution centers in the community such as churches and other houses of worship.
A new initiative is YoVille, a joint project of a joint project of Fresno Metro Ministry and Fresno Housing. YoVille is a community garden and farm in the Yosemite Village housing complex. As you wander through YoVille, you will notice native habitat, fruit trees, a greenhouse, walking pads, and composting. It is open to all community residents of Southwest Fresno.
Saints Rest Church and Community Development Corporation have opened a healthy food rescue and redistribution project. This project improves and transforms the former Farmer John Meat Company Warehouse building for expanded capacities as a healthy food repository to rescue and redistribute food. It also has a commercial kitchen operations center and coordinates and integrates the Saints Rest Food to Share Ministry in the area around Southwest Fresno.Fresno is the fifth most food-insecure city in the United States. Hot meal programs, grocery distribution, commodity distribution, community gardens such as those offered through Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries and other agencies are needed and impactful. Even more are needed to stem the tide of hunger.
Catholic Charities serves the same area as the Diocese of Fresno consisting of 35,239 square miles of the San Joaquin Valley. It encompasses the most productive agricultural land in America. In spite of this reality, there are residents of our towns and cities going hungry. Beyond that, even our farm workers are often suffering from insufficient food resources. Those who feed us are not always adequately fed.
If you have been to the grocery store lately, you have found several trends. One is that there are empty shelves or fewer items to select from or smaller packages at the same price or price increases. If this affects middle-class Americans, it’s surely effects those who are in a lower income bracket.
Census data shows that residents of the San Joaquin Valley suffer from poverty at a higher rate than other communities in California. Recent National surveys have indicated that Fresno and Bakersfield have the highest levels of concentrated poverty in the country. Yet on the bright side, we continue to see those who are committed to empowering people to overcome insufficient supplies of food. Poverello House serves hot meals on site daily and prepares and distributes emergency food bags.
The Reverend Dr. Floyd Harris of the Fresno Freedom School in Fresno educates children on practical skills and empowers youth to live at a higher level of success. One of the initiatives of the Freedom School is a garden and farm and Dr. Harris has become a model for teaching young people how to garden for themselves and how to farm and how to not only feed their families but produce an income.
In a recent article about his initiative, it was said, “It’s no coincidence that of the almost one billion acres of agricultural land in America, less than 2% is owned by people of color. A decline from 14% in 1920. These numbers reflect not only the lasting consequences of a food and farming system built upon slavery and exploitation, but a history of violence, intimidation and broken promises.” Quote from caff.org
At the close of this article will be links to resources. They are not exhaustive, one link leads to another. The Facebook page called Fresno Food Collaborative aggregates resources from numerous agencies, congregations, and coalitions in our community.
The irony of hunger in the heart of the harvest is profound. Many people and organizations are seeking to correct it. People who wish to make a difference can find a numerous volunteer opportunities. Groups that want to make a difference can become hubs for distribution or take on other roles. Sometimes an issue as important as hunger and food insecurity requires voices from the community to advocate before councils of political decision-making and government agencies.
Several years ago, a number of members of the Fresno community lobbied local government for a simple change in the wording of a Fresno ordinance that would classify hens as pets. This would have abled families in the urban center to raise their own eggs for eating. There was a great deal of resistance to this initiative, most of it based upon misinformation and misunderstanding.
Sometimes local ordinances prevent residence from turning their front yards into gardens. This was difficult to understand given the water crisis we face in California and the amount of water it takes to keep grass growing as opposed to vegetables that feed people. Some apartment complexes do not allow their residents to plant gardens. Others are seeing great harvest on their patios or along borders of walls. Policies are about more matters than just the distribution of wealth and the acquisition of funding, although that is important as well.
Our actions, our giving, our policies, and our advocacy all reflect our values. Living in the midst of such an abundant harvest, with all the culinary possibilities at our disposal amplifies our call to action. It sometimes only takes a straw like inflationary increases in the cost of food or a glitch in the supply chain to “break the camel’s back.” In times like that, a community of good will can make all the difference for people who live on the edge.
• Source: chhs.fresnostate.edu/ccassc/documents/ccassc-poverty-Food-insecurity.pdf
• Research Report from UCSF: fresno.ucsf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/vkumarresearchfinal.pdf
• Report from USDA (Sep 14, 2022 – USDA Invests Nearly $2 Billion, Leverages American Agriculture to Feed Kids & Families): usda.gov/media/press-releases/2022/09/14/usda-invests-nearly-2-billion-leverages-american-agriculture-feed
• Central California Food Bank: ccfoodbank.org
• Fresno Food Collaborative: facebook.com/fresnofoodcollaborative
• The Bulldog Pantry: thebulldogpantry.org (559) 224-9052
• Transform Fresno: transformfresno.com/st-rest-food-to-share-hub-healthy-food-rescue-and-redistribution
• Catholic Charities: ccdof.org
• Poverello House: poverellohouse.org
• Fresno Freedom School: The Rev. Dr. Floyd Harris: fresnofreedomschool.org (559) 790-4277
• Fresno EOC Food Distributions: Click here for information on upcoming distributions. Anyone can get a free meal at distribution sites. No ID is required. fresnoeoc.org/events And fresnoeoc.org/food-services
Locations for Food Distribution
• Hope Lutheran Church—364 E. Barstow; (559) 439-4320; Every Tuesday 7:30-9:30 a.m.
• Masjid Fresno—2111 E Shaw Ave; (559) 222-6686; 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month; 8 a.m.
• St. James Episcopal—4147 E. Dakota; (559) 439-5011; 2nd, 3rd & 4th Wednesdays of the month
• St. Paul Newman Center—1572 E. Barstow; (559) 436-3434
• University Presbyterian Church—1776 E Roberts; (559) 439-8807; 3rd Saturday of the month; 8 a.m.–noon
• Valley Dream Center—1835 N. Winery; (559) 492-3324; 2nd Monday of the month 11 a.m.
• Wesley Methodist Church—1343 E. Barstow; (559) 224-1947; Every Thursday at 9 a.m.
• Pet Food: Halo Cafe – 24 hour Info line (559) halo-717 email: info@halocafe[dot]org Website: halocafe.org; Facebook: HaloCafePetFoodPantry
• Energy Bills: PG&E Care Program 1-800-743-2273; PG&E FERA 1-800-743-5000; EOC LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) – 263-1135
• Clothing: Catholic Charities—149 N. Fulton; (559) 237-0851; hours: M-F 9 a.m.-12 p.m. & 1–3 p.m. They also offer diapers and food.
• Information: United Way Call Center – 211 A 24-hour information line for housing, healthcare, and more.
Food Distribution Calendar
• Central California Food Bank: ccfoodbank.org/food-locator/food-distribution-calendar