Food Bank of Solano and Contra Costa coordinator’s ‘full circle’ experience
By NATE GARTRELL | Bay Area News Group
CONCORD — When Geo Dinoso travels around Solano and Contra Costa to distribute food to thousands of people in need, it’s easy for him to appreciate how, as a young man, he was on the other side of the line.
Dinoso benefited from a reduced lunch program as a child, and from a pantry program for students with food insecurity at San Jose State University. He understands how the guilt that comes with food insecurity can keep people in need from seeking help.
“I felt shame saying, in my mind, ‘All these people in line, are they suffering more than I am? Am I taking food away from someone who deserves it more than I do?’” Dinoso recalls. But he said the welcoming staff helped him overcome the guilt. “I was able to transform that shame that just consumed me and it made me feel accepted.
“I learned that just because I’m not accustomed to asking for help it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he continued. “Asking for help, it’s a sign of strength. I carry that in the way I act, especially in my current position.”
Today, Dinoso works as a program coordinator for the Food Bank of Solano and Contra Costa, and staffers like him have their hands full. Dinoso helps schedule and distribute food dozens of times each month for an organization that serves an estimated 275,000 people every 30 days, roughly 25 percent of whom are children.
Through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign, which seeks to raise money for the most vulnerable in our communities, the Food Bank of Solano and Contra Costa hopes to raise $10,000. This amount would support obtaining, transporting and distributing food to hundred of thousands of people monthly through direct service programs. The food bank says it can provide two meals for every dollar contributed.
The demand for food has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, and inflation has only made things worse. A recent Census Bureau survey says 25 million adult Americans reported not having enough to eat, and over the past year prices for certain foods have increased 10 percent or more across the nation. The organization has also helped distribute food to victims who lost everything in Northern California’s devastating wildfires, such as the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise.
“Some months have been more than 300,000 people,” said Cassidie Bates, public affairs manager for the food bank. “We anticipate this need to be there for at least three to five years. When we look at data in the recession of 2008, it wasn’t until three to five years after that we saw the number of people with food insecurity level back out.”
The food bank has a paid staff base but relies heavily on employers, donated food, and agreements with local grocery stores that allow them to pick up food for free or at reduced prices. Approximately 6,000 people volunteer annually, donating 98,000 hours of their time.
“I’ve always thought that food is a strong expression of care,” Dinoso said. “And food insecurity can be such an overwhelming filter on every decision that we make. People cannot focus on being healthy when they’re too busy focusing on surviving.”
They place an emphasis on healthy foods, as well as policy advocacy and looking at the problem of hunger holistically. Keva Dean, a food bank board member, said the problem has many facets. Hunger can drive obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems, she said, because often the most accessible food items are at fast food restaurants or corner stores.
“In the richest nation in the globe, no one should be hungry,” Dean said. “Our first task is to make healthy food affordable and accessible to people every day, and then comes the challenge of convincing people why they should switch to healthier foods.”
Dean knows the struggle firsthand. After moving to the Bay Area from Washington D.C. she struggled to feed her three children as well as two nieces and nephews — and herself — on a daily basis. To have food insecurity, she said, is a constant, 24/7 stressor that’s only compounded by a lack of nutrition.
“Sometimes there was nothing but noodles and day-old pastries,” she said. “I felt some relief that I could give them something in their bellies but there was always this nagging in the back of my head that I couldn’t give them the right stuff.”
To that end, the food bank sets up a half dozen drive-thru food distribution sites in both counties where recipients need only to pull up in their vehicles to receive a box of food in their trunks. That’s in addition to programs geared toward children and senior citizens, delivery programs, and a college pantry program, among others.
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