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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Community Spirit, Generosity, Creativity Ignite Food Bank’s Winter Food & Funds Drive Launch

The Redwood Empire Food Bank launched its annual Winter Food & Funds Drive this month, appealing to residents, businesses and organizations to help the leading hunger relief agency in Sonoma County provide for families left hurt and hungry by the great recession.

“In our 22 year history in Sonoma County, the need for food relief has never been greater and, accordingly, our need for support from the entire community has never been greater,” said David Goodman, Executive Director of the REFB.

“The good news is that we received a tremendous boost of support as our annual three-month-long drive was just getting under way,” he said. “A Healdsburg wine company donated $20,000 raised through an employee program. A group of medical workers asked their employer to send to the REFB the cash that normally buys each employee a $20 holiday gift certificate, resulting in a $10,000 contribution to the food bank. And a group of Sonoma County friends and REFB volunteers hosted a book sale that raised $1,872 to fight hunger.”

“It’s this kind of community spirit, creativity and generosity that will enable us to help thousands of our Sonoma County friends and neighbors feed themselves and their families,” Goodman said. “We’re appealing to all our loyal supporters for continued support, urging them to dig just a little bit deeper this year, and calling upon others who haven’t helped in the past to do so now.”

The annual winter drive runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.

The goal is to collect $160,000 in cash and 200,000 lbs. of food.

Goodman said the impact of the global recession on low-income people and working families is reflected in the increase in requests for assistance throughout the network of food programs operated by the Food Bank and its 146 partner agencies from all parts of Sonoma County.

The number of families and individuals needing help since the recession began in 2007 has increased 40 percent. The REFB now serves 70,000 people every month in Sonoma County. Also up 40% is the number of kids relying on REFB’s Summer Lunch Program, which increased from 54,125 meals served during summer break in 2008 to 75,824 meals served this past summer.

“Those are the kind of big numbers we’ve been facing for months, and they help explain why our spirits were lifted when we received three large cash donations as we prepared to launch the winter drive,” he said.

Goodman explained how these three cash donors raised their contributions.

Ascentia Wine Estates of Healdsburg conducted a wine discount program for its employees and family members at its wineries in California, Washington and Idaho. For every case of wine sold during the one-month program Ascentia donated $5 to the food bank. The total: $41,000 for food banks in three states, including $20,000 for the REFB.

Sutter Health in Sonoma County normally gives its employees a $20 supermarket gift certificate during the holidays. This year, the employees asked Sutter to give the money to the REFB. The total: $10,000.

A group of friends who call themselves BACK and give “back” to the community by volunteering at the REFB, scheduled a book sale in a vacant downtown Santa Rosa office. They created a flyer, promoted the event via email and a Press Democrat ad, and had a two-day sale. Three hundred people showed up to buy books from a selection of 2,000 volumes. Total sales all going to the food bank: $1,872.

“We can turn those three donations into about $128,000 worth of food for people in need thanks to our efficient food acquisition and distribution system and the 5,000 volunteers who make our programs possible,” said Goodman. “It’s a huge return on donors’ investment, and we’re hoping other businesses, organizations and social groups will follow these examples.”

Funds and food raised during the annual food drive will go to supporting the 70,000 regular recipients of food assistance every month, including 10,000 seniors and 30,000 children. Food also is needed to help fill-out the tables of low-income families during the holiday season. And it will keep the REFB’s warehouse stocked to support Sonoma County’s network of hunger relief agencies in the first quarter of next year.

Lee Bickley, REFB Community Relations Manager, said there are many ways people can contribute.

On Nov. 10 The Press Democrat will deliver to 58,000 residential subscribers a “Fill’er Up Holiday Bag” along with the daily newspaper. Subscribers are urged to fill the bag with non-perishable canned and packaged food and deliver it to a participating food or drug store listed on the bag or to the Food Bank, 3300 Industrial Drive in Santa Rosa.

The newspaper’s bag also will include a self-addressed envelope if donors want to give cash instead of food.

Bickley said some 5,000 bags will be distributed through community food drives around the county. Additionally, 4,000 bags will be available at the checkout counters of Friedman Brothers building supplies stores in Santa Rosa and Sonoma.

Bags of food as well as groceries donors may pick up while shopping can be deposited into REFB food drive barrels this week at Safeway, CVS/pharmacy, Lucky, Food Maxx and G & G Supermarkets, and also at Whole Foods markets beginning Nov. 13.

Bickley said the REFB has sent out 200 flyers announcing the annual effort, and that the Food Bank is encouraging households, faith-based groups, service clubs and businesses to conduct food drives at their places of work, meetings and other events.

“We have 450 barrels, small food boxes and holiday bags ready for anyone or any group that needs help collecting food,” she said.

For more information on starting a food drive, contact Billy Bartz, Food & Funds Drive Coordinator, 523-7900 Ext. 27, or

Bickley said the Food Bank can’t accept homemade food or food in glass containers. But, she said, the Food Bank welcomes all the frozen turkeys donors offer.

“For most of us the holiday season is a time of joy, but for 70,000 who are hungry the holidays and winter can be the hardest times, and that is especially true during this recession,” she said. “We ask everyone in the community to help our neighbors in need by donating food, money or volunteering. Even a little goes a long way.”

The annual food drive in Sonoma County and throughout the Bay Area is receiving marketing support through broadcast media and food outlets. Those include:

1. ABC/Safeway’s “Share Your Holiday Food Drive.” Watch for barrels in Safeway stores.
During Thanksgiving Week, ABC will be conducting its Thanksgiving Drive. Donors who give $250 or more will receive on-air recognition by Spencer Christian during the 6 p.m. news.

2. Lucky & Food Maxx “Holiday Drive.” Watch for barrels in stores. Shoppers can make donations at check stands by purchasing a $10 or $20 bag of food that are displayed at the front of the stores.

3. CBS/Whole Foods “Food for Bay Area Families.” Watch for barrels in the store that Whole Foods is decorating with its own special wraps to promote the drive. REFB has been selected to benefit from Whole Foods’ 5% Community Giving Day on Dec. 8 when each store will set aside 5% of their net sales for the Food Bank.

4. NBC/CVS/pharmacy: On Nov. 21, NBC will be encouraging viewers to drop off food at a CVS store in their local community. The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce will have volunteers at CVS/pharmacy stores to distribute a list of most needed foods and ask customers to support the REFB food drive. NBC on Nov. 23 will announce the total amount of food collected on behalf of REFB and other Bay Area food banks.

5. KFOG: KFOG Radio on Nov. 7 will release “Live from the Archives 16,” a special music CD KFOG produces annually to benefit area food banks. It will be available at Bay Area Peet’s Coffee and Tea locations and online at REFB has received over $157,000 from these CD purchases over the years.

For more information, contact David Goodman or Lee Bickley at 707-523-7900.