Feeding San Diego One Pound at a Timeby Amanda Kelly May 1, 2015
On any given weekday, the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank bustles with activity as staff prepare the 80,000-square-foot warehouse in Miramar for delivery and pickups. Food pantries, churches, soup kitchens, low-income daycare centers and other food assistance organizations depend on these daily distributions to feed the nearly one in six San Diego residents who face food insecurity. Without the food bank and its 330 partner organizations, roughly 370,000 of San Diego’s 3.3 million people would go hungry throughout the County.
Established in 1977, the San Diego Food Bank has served many different people in the community. President and CEO James Floros tells his staff to use him as the poster child for misperceptions about what this food bank does.
“People think our service population is primarily the homeless and that is not the case at all,” he says. “We serve the working poor, low-income active-duty military, seniors on a fixed-income and children living in poverty.”
When I visit, the cement floor beneath the pantry’s four large garage doors is bare – all the food is prepared in the morning and ships from the premises long before close of business each day. Floros knows this operation like the back of his hand. He describes himself as a career nonprofit guy (later, and with the same sincerity, he adds that he’s also a lifelong Packers fan). Floros was born and raised in Wisconsin before he moved to San Diego to attend college.
“I walk through here six or eight times a day and there will be a big stockpile of food,” Floros says. “I will come back in the afternoon and it’s gone. When you’re feeding that many people, it is a very active environment.”
In the back corner of the Miramar warehouse, near the six-foot-high stacks of Del Monte green beans, are rows of 30-pound boxes that Floros. He explains that these have been packaged by volunteers to be distributed to fixed-income seniors in the County. Last year, the Food Bank’s senior initiative fed 8,400 fixed-income seniors. Most of these individuals live at or above the federal poverty level and rely almost entirely on the food they receive from the Food Bank. After paying for medications, rent and utilities, many do not have enough funds left over to buy food.
Every month, the food bank also provides food assistance to more than 28,000 veterans, active-duty military personnel and their dependents. San Diego’s high cost of living coupled with higher unemployment rates among military spouses (due to frequent relocation) all contribute to the need for support from food assistance programs in these lower income military families.
Another focus of programing at the San Diego Food Bank is nutrition. It’s not enough to simply feed people – the Food Bank is aware that the kind of food they provide really matters. Between 2013 and 2014, the food bank distributed 22 million pounds of food throughout the County. Of that 22 million pounds, 37 percent was fresh produce.
“Nutrition-related disease is linked to poverty,” Floros says. “When people have less resources they cannot afford fresh produce.”
The food bank employs one full-time registered dietician and strives to educate clients on proper nutrition at all of its 177 distribution sites.
“If you buy into the concept that education is a major vehicle to ending the cycle of poverty, education starts with childhood nutrition,” Floros says.
Many misperceptions about food banks rest on a clear stereotyping of the populations served. Floros simply wishes everyone had a better understanding of the real people the Food Bank serves.
“The people we serve are people you see every day,” he says. “These individuals and families are working hard to be productive members of society and they just need that extra hand up to make it through hardship.”
To find out ways that you can help support the San Diego Food Bank’s programs and provide assistance to people in need, or to read about hunger-related issues in the community, visit sandiegofoodbank.org.