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San Diego Food Bank's New President Talks About The Challenges Ahead

January 8, 2013 1 p.m.


James Floros, President and CEO of the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

Related Story: San Diego Food Bank's New President Talks About Challenges Ahead


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, the economy continues to improve slowly, and there are record numbers of San Diegans struggling to put food on the table. James Floros has been named the new president and CEO of the San Diego food bank. Welcome to the show.

FLOROS: Thank you so much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any way you look at it, this job is a tremendous challenge. Why did you want to head the food bank?

FLOROS: Well, I'm really excited about a couple things about the food bank. It's a totally local organization, so I love the idea of it being a community resource, and I love the fact that San Diegans can embrace their food bank and really benefit their community. And the face of hunger, I don't think I fully realized how much of a problem hunger is in our community, and I think people are stunned when they hear some of the statistics.

CAVANAUGH: Before we get to that, I'd like you to tell us a little about your background.

FLOROS: I'm a career nonprofit guy. I came out here from Wisconsin to go to the university of San Diego, and I graduated, I was an intern at project concern international and kind of fell in love with the nonprofit world. So I spent eight years at project concern, then I moved over to the Burn institute, and I spent 20 years building that to the top organization in America. And I'm just so intrigued and so passionate about this hunger cause, so this opportunity arose and I jumped at it.

CAVANAUGH: I know you've only been on the job for a few day, but I have to ask you some questions about the FLOROS food drive. Would you chiropractorize it as a success?

FLOROS: I think so. Our goal this year was 700,000 pounds of food. We're ahead of where we were last year at this time, and we've still got 60 Food Drives that haven't reported in yet. So we're cautiously optimistic.

CAVANAUGH: When you collect the food that's donated in the FLOROS food drives, where does it go?

FLOROS: It goes to our facility up in Mira Mar. And it's truly a machine. We've got these huge warehouses, and large fridges, and the food is collected, sorted, it's packaged and distributed out to our organizations that we work with. We work with 350 organizations and, we make those contributions.

CAVANAUGH: You talk about the face of hunger in San Diego. Who uses the food collected by the San Diego food bank?

FLOROS: 1-6 people in San Diego County, nearly half a million people are what they refer to as "food insecure." You have working poor, they say the unemployment numbers are coming down, but you have a lot of people that aren't seeking jobs or they're underemployed. We serve 350,000 people per month. It's a full-fledged effort, and we struggle to keep up with the demand.

CAVANAUGH: And also San Diego schools.

FLOROS: There was one fact that stuck with me, and that really compelled me to seek this job, and there are children, elementary-aged school children that the last meal they have of the week is at school. The school assistance program. And they don't eat again till Monday morning. And I just found that shocking in today's society. I feel so horrible for the parents who can't provide for their kids and how horrible is that that a child doesn't eat?

CAVANAUGH: Right. And they get some backpacks?

FLOROS: The backpack program and a really cool program. They get them through the weekend. We're at about 1,400 kids right now, we're in 13 schools, we have about 10 schools that are on the waiting list,. And we have kids who are in the participating schools on a waiting list too.

CAVANAUGH: The economy is slowly improving, and unemployment is getting better. You just mentioned the fact that a lot of people are still underemployed and therefore still food insecure. I'm wondering though, are you still seeing the numbers of people who need food assistance from San Diego food bank increasing?

FLOROS: We are. We do about 18 million pounds of food each year, and we probably could use 20 million. We get a lot of USDA support on some of our program, and we're trying to supplement the programs so we can buy fresh produce involved. So we're raising money to purchase fresh produce to supplement some of the programs. You can't give somebody something that's supposed to supplement their food and not replace their food needs, but five or six items.

CAVANAUGH: It occurred to me, the food bank gets its food from multiple sources, right? It doesn't come from the can of prepared pumpkins that we donate during the FLOROS food drive, right?

FLOROS: That's correct. We get food from the U.S. government, we also do these food drives, and we distribute about 18 million pounds of food. Then we buy fresh produce, and people are surprised. They think we're handing out rice and beans, but over half of the food that we distribute is fresh produce.

CAVANAUGH: Very important for people who need to have a well-balanced food intake when they need assistance.

FLOROS: We try to improve our service to the community looking at healthier lifestyle, and trying to provide better food, more nutritional food, a proper diet to the people that we serve.

CAVANAUGH: The part of your budget that comes from the federal government is up in the air right now.

FLOROS: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Because of ongoing negotiations in Washington, a lot of those thing, possible budget cuts, were sort of pushed forward. How could cuts in Washington affect the you wanta of food available for people in San Diego?

FLOROS: There are a couple of things. We have an emergency food program, and we also have a senior program, and both of those were actually -- it was introduced and didn't pass, but they were looking at 20% cuts in those programs. That was last year. So the same cuts could come for the. We're safe we think until September, but now we know we've got another fiscal cliff coming in March. If that had come through, that would have represented about a 20% cut of those programs. The assistance program which normally serves about 100,000 people a month, we'd get about 20,000 people. Of and the senior program, each month we'd knock out about 2,000. So there's 2,000 seniors that would suddenly go without. 20,000 families that are in dire need that would go without. And we air facilitator for the cal fresh program, and that's an incredible program. Instead of people who are in need having to go to these food distributions, you get them into the program, a cal fresh program, they get that debit card, and they can go to grocery stores and purchase their own food. That benefits them, makes their life more stable, and it helps us because then we have less strain and demand.

CAVANAUGH: And in fact, people can sign up for the program or at least see if they're eligible for the program at several locations.

FLOROS: And will. What we found out is that for someone to sign up for the cal fresh program, it's very confusing. It's very challenging, and then you have to take a day off or two and stand in line and come back another day. And I think we probably prequalify 3,000 to 5,000 people per year.

CAVANAUGH: If there is a cut in Washington, then the San Diego food bank would feel that.

FLOROS: Oh, yeah. And they're talking about a bunch of cuts, to I think 16 or $18 billion. With a B. That would make some dramatic, dramatic cuts.

CAVANAUGH: What are you thinking of doing? Do you have any ideas how to increase outreach or improvement the programs at the food bank?

FLOROS: Well, today is a good example, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity.

FLOROS: A lot of people are like me that didn't fully appreciate what a problem it is. Anybody can do a food drive. They can go on the food bank website, and there's a whole area that people can learn how to run a food drive, whether at your school or cub scout pack or what have you. We did pretty well in the FLOROS food drive. But our donations in January, drop off 80%. We're in dire need. We're starting to worry about what's going to happen tomorrow, so we really want to courage people. And donate money. $1 will leverage three meals. So contribute. And the thing I touched upon earlier, this is local. This is San Diego's food bank. It's a community resource. And God forbid somebody may need our program. If they do, it's here, it's possible. Middle class families that used to donate to the bank are now recipients of our service.

CAVANAUGH: Because of the turnaround.

FLOROS: Because of the economy.

CAVANAUGH: Are you getting together any campaign to lobby Washington?

FLOROS: I'll be in Washington DC in March and making the rounds so all of our -- to really push our congressional representatives and educate them in how dire these cuts would be.

CAVANAUGH: If someone did want to organize a food drive --

FLOROS: Go on the website, And I think people like this cause because you can feel and see what you're doing, and you can see the difference.