Donation helps keep Food Bank's plate full

A  large holiday donation to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County has trickled into the new year, allowing the organization to keep some of its food distribution sites open longer to help working families.

The Paso Robles-based organization, which provided nearly 3.6 million local meals last year, raised nearly $60,000 in the recent Hope for the Holidays Food Drive sponsored by television station KCOY.

That has helped fund the new service.

The money allowed hours to be extended for a distribution program called Healthy Food for Local Families. It also went to ongoing food costs and a program to help provide lunches to children out of school during the summer.

The Healthy Food program features 13 pickup locations, such as public schools, throughout the county.

Half of the Food Bank’s recipients have at least one working family member at home who often has trouble picking up food in the early afternoons, according to the organization.

Donations to the program resulted in support for keeping the sites open longer.

“We had one mom, who had never been able to make use of the Food Bank’s services before due to a conflicting work schedule, come in to get a box of produce and such staples as canned tuna, spaghetti, rice, beans, bread and meat,” said Food Bank Associate Director Wendy Lewis.

The Food Bank hopes to continue to grow the program with additional evening hours at new and existing locations to help those who may have been underserved before, organizers said.

The holiday fundraiser also generated funds to provide 280,000 meals to locals from Thanksgiving to Christmas, helping an estimated 44,000 people countywide.

Young children of working families accounted for 40 percent of that group, and an additional 12 to 15 percent of those served were seniors, said Food Bank executive director Carl Hansen.

“Many don’t want to ask for help because they grew up in an era when you just didn’t do that,” Lewis said. “In many cases, these elderly citizens are unable to get around on their own, and not getting the nutrition they need.”

While donations of food are always needed, the extra boost in monetary donations allows the organization to buy more produce.

Of the 5.4 million pounds of food distributed last year, Lewis said 48 percent of it was produce, compared with the 15 percent annual stock of fresh fruit and vegetables provided four years ago.

Donations make up about 66 percent of the organization’s annual revenue, or approximately $1.2 million of the total budget of $2 million last year. The remainder of the money comes from government contracts and foundations.