2014 BEST Nonprofit/Charitable Organization: Redwood Empire Food Bank
Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2014 Issue
“We look for the holes in the safety net.” —David Goodman
“In 1987, the Sonoma County board of supervisors created a task force to examine the issue of hunger in our community. The outgrowth of that was the food bank,” says David Goodman, who’s been executive director of Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) for the past 13 years. Since its founding, REFB has grown exponentially and now feeds approximately 78,000 people every month, according to its latest survey.
“A couple things have happened,” says Goodman of REFB’s expansive reach. “The need has grown, our ability to meet the need has grown, and the community’s awareness of the need has grown. And as the years have gone on, the connections between health, hunger and access to food have become merged.”
REFB has 15 direct service programs, ranging from children to seniors to families. Within those programs are two that move REFB beyond simply providing food and on to addressing specific health issues related to poor nutrition. The Megan Furth Harvest Pantry addresses childhood iron-deficient anemia, and the Diabetes Wellness Project, now in its third year, looks at the connection between food insecurity and Type 2 Diabetes.
For other programs, says Goodman, “we look for the holes in the safety net, which can mean different things for different populations.” School children, for example, may receive free or reduced-price lunches through their schools, but need nutritional aid before or after school or during vacations. Seniors, on the other hand, often need a steady supply of supplemental food to stretch their fixed incomes. “Nobody really wants a handout. So depending on where someone’s at in their hunger needs, we try to meet them exactly there.”
With a staff of only 48, REFB relies on thousands of dedicated, hard-working volunteers. “The volunteers do everything from passing out food to gathering donations, driving our trucks, answering our help and referral lines, sorting groceries and packing food boxes,” says Goodman. “It takes thousands to feed thousands.” In addition, he credits “Our generous body of donors. We tell them what needs aren’t being met and, with their help, we’re able to address the need.
“We’re fortunate that our donors have grown with us over the years. They’ve been incredibly supportive and generous every step of the way.”
In March 2013, REFB relocated to its new permanent home on Brickway Boulevard in Santa Rosa. “One of the exciting challenges was to try to anticipate what’s to come,” says Goodman. “It was about capacity and building for innovation, so that, whatever path we choose, there’s room; I think we succeeded.”
Among the most recent program launches is Value Marketplace, a 1,000-square-foot “mom and pop”-style grocery that caters to income-qualified households. All merchandise is bought and sold—nothing donated—and it accepts both CalFresh (aka “food stamps”) and WIC (California’s nutritional program for women, infants and children) certificates. It’s the only nonprofit in the state with WIC authorization and, perhaps, the only nonprofit grocery story in the nation. It works with Oliver’s, G&G and Whole Foods to gain purchasing strength and for other retail-related support. There are also partnerships with local providers like Petaluma Poultry, Amy’s Kitchen, La Tortilla Factory, Clover Stornetta and more.
“I’m excited about everything we do here now,” he continues. “But I’m even more excited about everything we don’t do—yet.”
REFB is currently putting together a project called Voices of Hunger. “It’s recordings of people talking about their experiences of hunger,” says Goodman. “It can be somewhat sad to hear these experiences, but the antidote to the despair of food insecurity and hunger is to do something about it. And the beauty is that we can respond to hunger now. The solution to someone not having enough to eat is: Feed them. It’s just that easy.”
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