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Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano: Central & East Contra Costa County Community Produce & Health Education Initiative

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.

Failure to incorporate fresh produce in a diet increases the risk of health problems. People not only miss out on the nutritional value of the produce, but also tend to consume food that is high in saturated fats, processed sugar, and salt. A litany of diseases – including obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, sleep apnea, and reproductive health complications – tend to follow.

To make it easier for people in underserved central and east Contra Costa County communities to choose healthier diets, between 2011 and 2014 the John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund (CHF) awarded a series of grants to the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano. The grants supported the organization’s efforts to successfully and sustainably expand its work in Contra Costa.

The first grant, in 2011, for $19,000, supported a 6-month planning process. The second grant, in March 2012, was for $400,000 and enabled the Food Bank to purchase a customized truck that serves as a mobile produce market, purchase produce, and hire a driver and a nutrition educator who help patrons more easily incorporate the fresh produce into their daily diets.

In 2013, the CHF approved an additional $237,610 to expand, refine, evaluate, and sustain this program.

Part of the 2013 funds – $137,610 – was aimed at helping the Food Bank reach as many as another 500 households twice per month by increasing its food distribution by 250,000 pounds over the course of the year, improved outreach for the program and eased the lines and wait times for clients. This portion of the money also supported a 12-month comprehensive evaluation and report by Harder + Company Community Research.

The remainder of the money, $100,000, was in the form of a challenge grant designed to create a sustainable income stream from individual donors as CHF support for the initiative concluded in July 2014.

Key accomplishments in the grant’s final year include:

  • Distribution of over 1.5 million pounds of produce at 29 sites (2-deliveries per month at each site)
  • Serving an average of 3,217 families per month
  • With support from additional funders, expansion of the program throughout all of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.
  • Raising more than $200,000 to continue the initiative

The Harder + Company evaluation found that in successfully reaching diverse groups of individuals and communities, the initiative:

  • Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables for the majority of its clients
  • Improved awareness and understanding of how to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their daily diets

In short, this initiative achieved nearly all of its goals and its work in central and east Contra Costa continues to this day.

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