Though Sonoma County is known for its rich agriculture and bounty, 82,000 people including children, seniors, families and individuals in need count on the Redwood Empire Food Bank. “We serve one in seven people in Sonoma County and 170 nonprofits [such as pantries and local shelters] and faith-based organizations. When we’re supported, we support all the people,” says David Goodman, chief executive officer. The REFB is the largest hunger-relief organization serving those living with food insecurity from Sonoma County to the Oregon border. It provides fresh produce and staple groceries to anyone in need of help—that adds up to 36,000 meals a day, or $40 million in groceries a year. Its mission is focused—to end hunger in the community. No doubt their efforts are working because NorthBay biz readers voted Redwood Empire Food Bank Best Nonprofit for 2018.
“We’re flattered and surprised by the win and to be recognized by NorthBay biz readers,” says David Goodman, chief executive officer. “Not long ago, people didn’t know what we did. If we didn’t exist, a lot of bad would happen. There’s no organization like us, and no organization touches as many lives. It’s nice to believe that reason is because readers understand that.”
When the October wildfires made headlines across the country, there was a dramatic increase in support. Fortunately, the food bank was prepared in part since it was established in its new facility on Brickway in Santa Rosa, which opened five years ago. “At any other time in history, we couldn’t have performed as well as we did. We were a national news story—75 percent of our support was from outside the county,” says Goodman. “And approximately 25 percent of the donations were ‘walk ups,’ people driving up to drop off food. Volunteerism also increased.” Typically, the food bank operates with the help of 1,500 volunteers a month, but during October, 3,600 volunteers showed up to help.
“Volunteers were streaming down here, and there was a ferocity to their efforts. Normally, people are happy to be here and help, but it was as if they were fighting the fire,” he adds. Throughout the month, the 101 corridor near Airport Boulevard was backed up as people made their way to the food bank. “We served 85 families, eight hours a day, seven days a week. The community—over a course of 30 years—readied us to respond to such a grave disaster. We’re just an organization of 60 people here, but we have 8,000 volunteers.”
According to Goodman, there are lessons to be learned in a disaster. “The biggest takeaway is that we received no federal, state, county or municipal support. The cavalry wasn’t coming in. When it comes to food, we were on our own to help people with groceries. All support was private, and it was good. We have the capacity to take care of ourselves.”
Goodman is often asked about his work at the food bank, and for the past 17 years he usually responded that their efforts were challenging. But since the firestorm, his response has changed. “We have the best people here—in our organization and community—they’re talented and generous. It’s the first thing I talk about now. It’s important people know they’re appreciated and exceptional at what they do. We’re a culture and organization of people who are thriving, and I don’t take that for granted.”
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