Food Bank Coalition of SLO County celebrates 25 years

kleslie@thetribunenews.comFebruary 24, 2014 

When the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County opened in 1989, the county was a vastly different place.

A gallon of gas cost 98 cents, and a gallon of milk was $2. The county’s 200,000-plus residents didn’t yet know about the Unocal Corp. oil spill that would completely change the face of Avila Beach, and San Luis Obispo’s landmark no-smoking ban in bars was still a year off.

The food bank itself was also vastly different — or, at least, vastly smaller.

An effort of nonprofit church group Loaves and Fishes, the food bank opened in a 4,500-square-foot warehouse on Commerce Way in Paso Robles on Feb. 17, 1989, with about 100,000 pounds of food and $3,000 in seed money.

The warehouse didn’t have freezers, so volunteers used an 8-by-10-foot ice cream truck to store perishables, founding executive director Don Jacobs said.

“Nowadays we have huge freezers to store food in,” said Jacobs, who retired as director in 1994 but stayed active on the food bank’s board of directors. “Back then it was just that ice cream truck, and a small unit we rented at Camp Roberts.”

In those early years, about 100 volunteers worked monthly to distribute food bundles to the needy at the organization’s 20 county sites.

“The time those volunteers donated to it — they were the key to our success,” Jacobs said.

That first year, the food bank would distribute 363,000 pounds of food locally.

Twenty-five years later, the food bank exceeds that amount in a single month.

In 2013, roughly 6 million pounds of food were packaged and distributed from the food bank’s two warehouses in Paso Robles and Oceano, current executive director Carl Hansen said.

Though the food bank suffered from decreased federal and corporate food donations in the past several years, the amount of locally produced and donated foods has increased.

With programs that provide clothing to the needy and health and nutrition education to the county, the organization has grown to become much more than just a place that gives out food, Hansen said.

Most recently, the organization began implementing a meal program at local elementary schools to set aside class time every morning for a healthy breakfast for every student, Hansen said. The program will open this fall.

Hansen also led efforts to start a San Luis Obispo Food System Coalition, bringing together local agencies to address food availability and resources in the county.

“It’s not only effective — it’s been really exciting,” Hansen said. “We’ve created the experience on a local level to set a common ground we can work together on.”

Hansen said he hopes to keep growing the food bank’s impact on the county into the future, and one day make it the center of all food systems in the area.

“We’ve really grown into the fullness of what a food bank can be,” Hansen said. “We’re in a position in the county … where we can really make a difference to those who need it.”

Festivities Tuesday

The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County will celebrate its 25th anniversary Tuesday with a public celebration at its Paso Robles warehouse.

Different booths and activities designed to raise awareness for food nutrition will be on the lawn at the warehouse, 2212 Golden Hill Road in Paso Robles.

The free event lasts from 3 to 5 p.m.

The food bank will also hold an evening celebration at the warehouse with longtime donors from 6 to 8 p.m.

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