Food is a Basic Human Right
For the 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service, about 40 Alameda Health System staff, executives, trustee members and their families, volunteered at the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB). The AHS crew joined other organizations and together the 200 volunteers bagged about 50,000 pounds of produce which is roughly the equivalent of 41,000 meals.
“Our volunteers are incredibly important to us,” said Charles Beyer, volunteer manager for the ACCFB. “Volunteers are always needed to help with sorting and bagging produce, answering phone calls, staffing events and helping with a variety of other tasks,” Beyer added that this day of service has been taking place since 2010.
The ACCFB estimates that 1 in 5 residents of Alameda County receive some food program or service through the food bank. “I have just been made aware of some new figures, half a million people in Alameda County are living at twice the poverty level or below. That number is just jarring. Even if we work two jobs it can be hard to make ends meet in the Bay Area, it’s expensive.” Beyer believes that most people don’t fully understand the severity of food insecurity, “It’s an awareness issue.”
AHS has long recognized that many of the patients seen suffer from food insecurity and recognize that nutrition is a key component of living a healthy life and healing. Zhonnet Harper, AHS patient care navigator, previously discussed how challenging it can be for breast cancer patients to go through chemo and radiology when their body isn’t receiving proper nourishment.
Additionally, Dr. Steven Chen, medical director of the Hayward Wellness Center, mentioned he was shocked to find out one of his maternity patients who has a good job, education and a spouse often times worried about where her next meal was coming from.
As a result of this AHS has thought about ways to address food insecurity. One of the ways is partnering with the ACCFB to link patients to healthy foods. The AHS Foundation also researches and applies for grants that provide funding for programs like “Food is Medicine” at the Hayward Wellness Center.
One AHS volunteer Ishwari Venkataraman, vice president of strategy and business planning, mentioned she was very happy to be a part of the Day of Service. “We have the opportunity to do something significant for the community and it is really a privilege to be here. Having the ability to volunteer with an organization that provides healthy food options to our patients, who do not have access to food, is the right way for us to address food insecurity,” said Venkataraman.
The ACCFB is always looking for volunteers, weekdays are when they have their greatest need in regards to sorting and bagging produce. Additionally, every $1 donated to the foodbank translates to $7, through their partnerships and discounts the food bank is able to leverage their cash. Beyer estimates the ACCFB purchased $4 million in food in 2017.
“During these tough times community is so important to this food bank and it is one of the things I’m proudest of,” said Beyer. “These challenges require that we’re all facing this together. ‘Community’ really is our middle name.”
If you or anyone you know is dealing with food insecurity, please call 1-800-870-3663 (FOOD).