John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund
Improving Nutrition to Prevent Disease
To make it easier for people in underserved Contra Costa County communities to choose healthier diets, the Community Health Fund (CHF) awarded two grants to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.
The first grant, for $19,000, supported a 6-month planning process to determine how the Food Bank could best increase its distribution of free, fresh produce to low-income Contra Costa residents. The grant resulted in a substantive plan of action.
The second grant, in March 2012, was for $400,000 and has enabled the Food Bank to:
- Purchase a customized truck that serves as a mobile produce market
- Purchase produce for distribution
- Hire a driver and a nutrition educator who help patrons more easily incorporate the fresh produce into their daily diets
From June 2012 through June 2013, the Food Bank hopes this new program will distribute approximately 3 million pounds of fresh produce to between 4,000 and 5,000 people per month at some 30 sites throughout central and east Contra Costa County.
The Health Issue
Healthy eating – especially multiple servings of fresh fruit and vegetables – is a core component of any health and wellness strategy, but many people in underserved communities struggle to incorporate fresh produce into their diets. The reasons include a scarcity of markets in low-income neighborhoods that carry fresh produce, the cost, and the perception that at the end of a long work day preparing fresh produce is more of a challenge than opening a can or purchasing fast food.
Yet failure to incorporate fresh produce increases the risk of chronic disease. People not only miss out on the nutritional value of the fresh produce, but also tend to consume food that is high in saturated fats, processed sugar, and salt. A litany of chronic diseases – including obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, sleep apnea, and reproductive health complications – tend to follow.
The Health Strategy
For over 35 years, The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has been providing food to hungry people in Contra Costa and Solano counties. Each month it distributes food to more than 132,000 people at community sites and through a network of 180 charitable agencies. Last year the Food Bank distributed nearly 14 million pounds of food, including 5 million pounds of fresh produce.
Despite its achievements, the Food Bank felt compelled to do a better job of incorporating more fresh produce into its distribution efforts, especially since as a member of the California Association of Food Banks it has an ample, affordable and ongoing supply. Beginning October 2011, the Food Bank partnered with the CHF and La Piana Consulting to examine how it could most effectively and efficiently improve its distribution of fresh produce. After a 6-month planning process, the Food Bank decided on a two-pronged strategy that the CHF would fund.
First, the Food Bank purchased a customized truck that keeps the produce fresh; can quickly move between and set up at a wide range of food distribution sites; and is designed to conveniently distribute the produce, including through the use of gravity-fed produce bins. Distribution sites range from churches, city parks and community clinics to schools, transitional housing and boy’s and girl's clubs.
Second, the Food Bank has hired its first nutrition educator. She designs handouts with nutritional information, as well as recipes and tips for quick, easy preparation that fit busy lifestyles. She is present at the distribution sites, often prepared with samples of the produce, both fresh and prepared. And she generally works the room, making herself available as a resource. “It’s not enough just to distribute the food if the people receiving it don’t know how to use it,” says Larry Sly, the Food Bank’s executive director. “The Community Health Fund really encouraged us to include this in our program and it was a smart move.”
With the truck and the nutrition educator, The Food Bank expects to enhance accessibility by distributing fresh produce at three sites per day, five days a week – every Tuesday to Friday, from 11 am to 7 pm, and from 8 am to 5 pm on Saturday. The truck and educator will visit each site twice a month and the Food Bank estimates this will enable it to serve between 4,000 and 5,000 people per month and increase the Food Bank’s distribution of fresh produce from about 5 million pounds a year to 8 million pounds.
“That’s a major jump and we are thrilled that the Community Health Fund’s grant will enable us to reach a lot more people,” says Sly. “We know the need is there. We look frankly at the population and poverty numbers and they’re well in excess of what we’re serving.”