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San Diego County Food Pantries Struggle To Keep Up With Need

James Floros (right), San Diego Food Bank CEO; Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine); and Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance, unload boxes of produce at the San Diego Food Bank, Sept. 4, 2014.
Roland Lizarondo
James Floros (right), San Diego Food Bank CEO; Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine); and Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance, unload boxes of produce at the San Diego Food Bank, Sept. 4, 2014.

San Diego County Food Pantries Struggle To Keep Up With Need
San Diego County Food Pantries Struggle To Keep Up With Need GUESTS:Mary Jo Schumann, director, Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego Jim Floros, CEO, San Diego Food BankAl Brislain, CEO, Feeding America San Diego

This is KPBS midday edition. A Maureen Cavanaugh. It's a time of year when many charities as people to open their hearts and their pocketbooks to those less fortunate. Some of the most urgent appeals come from groups providing food and meals during the holidays. A new survey confirms that a lot of food pantries in San Diego could use the help. The survey of 152 pantries around the county finds that more than half are open fewer than two days per week and only a quarter have financial reserves pass the next six months. We welcome Mary Jo Schumann and is the director of the Caster family Center for nonprofit and philanthropic research at the University of San Diego. Thank you for having me. McCants -- Caster center conducted this survey? What we're tying to assess? We tried to assess what the food pantries are throughout the San Diego region. It has not been done to the extent that we did it. If I could back up and set the framework that it was part of a larger collaborative effort for the past three years several major emergency food provider agencies in the region decided to come together to develop strategies to achieve greater efficiencies in the food security network here in San Diego. One of the goals was to understand what it takes to run a highly performing food pantry and so we developed a survey to assess the capacity of food pantries throughout San Diego. Now Mary Jo what's the range of food pantry operations that you looked at? Big and small? Yes. Big and small. A lot of them are small and are not open every day of the week. They serve limited populations and it was a wide range of food pantries. Where our most located? They are located and all-around the county and we did want representation across the whole County's about a third are in central San Diego and about a quarter aren't you San Diego with the remaining kind of around 10% to 50% to North Central and coastal's. Are we talking about the kinds of operations here that are perhaps run out of a church or a civic organization and perhaps open just a couple days a week? That kind of thing? Correct. These are food pantries Safeco distinguish between food bank that provides food to food pantries and the food pantries distribute the food to the beneficiary. That is different from the congregate agency who provide and make meals like soup kitchens or churches where they prepare meals and served to the hungry. Food pantries distribute food as is. Now Mary Jo, overall how did you find the system was working in San Diego? Overall it is good. Part of our larger collaborative effort that we wanted to get all the agencies together to work collaboratively and improve efficiencies and cost effective. Food pantries are doing a good job in serving the hungry. They are being able to acquire food from different sources and providing a welcoming environment for the beneficiary and they have a efficient distribution process. What we're the main challenges that you found the food pantry space? One of the challenges is about half don't have enough refrigerator and freezer storage for perishable food and that is important because we want to feed these individuals atrociously so that requires produce and proteins and often requires refrigeration and freezer space. That was a challenge. Volunteer recruitment and recognition and retention is also a challenge as you know these organizations run and rely heavily on volunteers and their -- there are wonderful volunteers but we need a better system in place to train them and keep them. The fact that most food pantries don't have a lot of economic reserves probably doesn't come as a shock to people. How do you suggest that pantries in San Diego and to build up that sort of economic reserves for longer than the next six months which might stabilize their whole operation? Good question. I think a lot of what this collaborative effort emphasizes is there does need to be collaborative partnership within the food security network but also with our other sectors and government. If these organizations can come together and reduce cost and increase efficiencies. The fact that so many have challenges surrounding what you are talking about this freezer storage and providing nutritious food. Now that goes to the very heart of the pantries mission. Kenmore collaboration between food agencies begin to solve that problem as well? Correct. Exactly. Okay. [ laughter ]. I was expecting a little bit more but if that covers it that covers it. [ laughter ]. I would think you Mary Jo. I was speaking with Mary Jo Schumann director of the Caster center and thank you for being with us. Thank you very much. Joining me is Jim Floros and CEO of the San Diego food Bank and CEO feeding America San Diego. Jim what struck you about the survey? Quantified some stuff we already knew. I've been with the food bank for three years and had an experience and had only been on the job about two or three months and we went to USDA problems and had a lot of frozen protein and frozen protein and fresh produce are out of the reach. We had all this great product and so much of it that are freezer space which we have a huge freezer at the San Diego food Bank and we are exceeding our storage space and we had to pay for storage. I said we are paying for the storage and other service population needs this product what can we do and what I was told by my staff is the agencies that we partner with a don't have refrigeration or freezers and they are reluctant to take the product because they think it will spoil. Something we started doing and some of that predates my time we worked with some funding sources and we've done [ Indiscernible ] rants. Since I've been with the food bank we have impacted about 25 agencies and go out with an RFP and purchased refrigerator freezers. We've had funding sources that have stepped up to the plate and it's really about capacity building and empowerment. It's not just about providing food. Al Brislain you are new to feeding America in San Diego. Is this problem with the food pantries and refrigerating that pantries and food banks have to deal with? It is. I've been involved with feeding America on the national level. First I want to say thanks to the [ Indiscernible ] foundation and the Caster center for doing this study. I think there's important work out of it what are the most important things is talking about perishables. This is an issue that is throughout the country. You as a consumer are consuming more perishable and we get donated what you consume. We are seeing more and more fresh produce. The good news it is nutrition but the bad news is we need that kind of refrigerated capacity and logistics to move that and get it out to the pantries and make sure that it's getting to the families facing hunger right here in San Diego. It's a puzzle and I think we are moving in the right direction but this report put us on notice and we have to move quicker. We have to get this food out. Jim, Mary Jo told us a little bit about food banks from food pantries. Can you clarify and where'd you get your food and had you distributed? A food pantry is providing the product for the end-user although we do about 170 distributions ourselves or we're going out to neighborhood and doing for distribution again it's an empowering thing and impairing agencies with the food and expertise that they have. We get our food from a variety of sources and about half of our food comes from the USDA contract that I refer to and we do food drives and we buy food in bulk so last year we did about 122,000,000 pounds. When feeding America and people donate to feeding America with these that money for? Where do you get your food and how do you distribute it? All of our food is donated from the food industry. We work closely with the food industry. You need to understand the industry and make sure we are following absolutely strict food safety guidelines because so many of the clients at the pantries are at risk and could make you a little [ Indiscernible ] that could put someone in the hospital. Our job is to put that money and go get food and actually we are able to take every dollar that we receive and generate for males for people in need. You may.point out that consumers in general are eating more fresh produce and perishable items and I'm wondering it must be terribly important for people who find themselves at risk of hunger in a situation of food insecurity to be able to get those kinds of nutritious foods because it's an especially important for them to have that. Absolutely. When you see the client out of the mobile pantries and the distribution of the fresh produce to people and I'm old enough to remember that fresh produce was the cheapest and now it's the most expensive and it's the most nutrition unfortunately the cheap food is often time high in sugar, high in fat so we are not feeding people -- not only feeding people but will try to help them have good nutrition and their children too. Tell us about the level of need? The latest statistic is about 480,000 people in San Diego are food insecure. Because I'm relatively new to the food community and tell my staff on the poster child. Less than 10% of our service population is a homeless. Where serving over 28 -- 28,000 active military every month. That is crazy. No one would ever thought that. We have a lot of seniors. Also the working poor. They have lower pay jobs and we did a study a few years ago where we estimated 65% of our service population had one wage earner in the home so these are people that are not necessarily homeless but they're trying to get by. Talk about people I can only afford the unhealthy foods. Jim just gave us an idea of some of what many people might think of the unlikely recipients for food on food banks and feeding America. To see a surge of need at certain times? Like at the end of the month or week? This time a year is quite a need. When kids are out of school it's about one in eight kids nationwide back at school breakfast and school lunch yet no meal during the school. Single mom with two kids and has to come up with 10 more meals for those kids. I think summer is one of the highest need times of the holidays -- and the holidays. That can stretch their budget. Those are probably the two highest need times. Summer in the holidays. Both have programs and one other things I will was shocked to learn that a limit -- elementary school kids last meal is Friday. And they won't eat all weekend until they come back to school on Monday. How is that even possible? We do a backpack program which is a great program but who would have thought and then you start talking about nutrition relates to education and people getting a good education being able to support their families and being not depending on food banks. We are talking about is a psycho poverty and people don't realize that that is to break the cycle of poverty. There many local agencies in San Diego do you think there is enough collaboration between those agencies in order to provide the best kind of service that San Diego can? I don't think you can have enough. There are a lot of task force and coalition and feeding groups and all of that. There are a lot of agencies that are working together. Vince is one of our big supporters. A lot of the agencies and we see each other all the times because we are all in these different groups but you can't have enough collaboration. You can reduce cost and that's always positive. You made the point the holidays are approaching and things giving is next week. I can hardly believe it. What kind of assistance to your agencies feeding America need from the public? Dini volunteers? With a food friends and finds but a lot of food comes from the industry. We have over 13,000 volunteers a year that help us pack food can't distribute food and then of course the funds -- without the money we cannot go out there and get the money. We pull food in from all the Western United States and a cost even with the price going down to cost some money. When people can help us with that again we can change that dollar into four meals for a family in need. Will you be taking volunteers for Thanksgiving? We don't do a Thanksgiving day. Our goal our thought is they focus on the turkeys and we focus on the fixings. I thought packing the trucks and all of that. [ laughter ] It has to be done the week before Thanksgiving. We're focusing on the potatoes, potatoes, bread and other items so if that agency can get the turkey and we can provide the fixings to help them feed a family. Jim the kind of help you may need at this holiday season approaches? We have about 20,000 volunteers but were in the middle of the holiday food drive and it's a two-month campaign and people are bringing a lot of food to support our efforts and obviously out well agree with me money does reigned supreme. People are pouring out their hearts and where the experts in this so when people contribute we will take that money and take it where it's needed most. Where do people donate for the holiday food drive? We have a virtual food drive and you can logon to [ Indiscernible ] and by food on our behalf. Feeding America [ Indiscernible ]. Thank you both Jim Floros of San Diego food Bank and -- Al Brislain of a feeding America San Diego.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, it's the time of year when many charities ask people to open their hearts and their wallets to those less fortunate. Some of the most urgent appeals come from groups providing food and meals during the holidays.

Food pantries across San Diego County could use more help, according to a study released this summer by the University of San Diego's Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research.

The survey of 152 food pantries found more than half are open fewer than two days per week, and only a quarter have financial reserves past the next six months.

“Overall, San Diego food pantries are doing a good job providing food for those in our region who need it most,” said Mary Jo Schumann, director of the Caster Center, in a statement. “But there are many food pantries who have to limit their services or even close their doors to the hungry because they lack adequate infrastructure, finances or funding strategies."

Schumann said some of the challenges include volunteer training and retention.

“These organizations run and rely heavily on volunteers,” she told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “More systems need to be in place to train them, help them and keep them.”

Schumann also said the organizations need to work together more, along with the government, to find ways to reduce cost and increase efficiency.

San Diego County Food Pantries Struggle To Keep Up With Need