Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Willson

Emily Willson (far left) with a group of anti-hunger advocates at the Food Bank's volunteer appreciation event.

Emily Willson (far left) with a group of anti-hunger advocates at the Food Bank's volunteer appreciation event.













Every month, thousands of volunteers come through our doors to help sort food. But there are more ways to help. Emily Willson, 24, is a recent Cal State East Bay graduate and a community ambassador at Alameda County Social Services. As a volunteer advocate with the Food Bank, Willson is a part of a forceful team of advocates that organizes events and demonstrations, gives budget testimony, and advocates for policies that work to end hunger and its root causes.

How did you first start volunteering with the Food Bank’s advocacy efforts?
Shanti Prasad, the Food Bank’s senior policy advocate, came to our California Public Policy class and talked to us about ACCFB’s advocacy work. I was a college student, so I was researching a lot – but I was eager to do something that’s on the ground. I went to the Speak Up Project in 2015, and then went to my first Hunger Action Day in Sacramento. Since then, I’ve given public comment at budget hearings, and led legislative visits. I like being around people who are motivated by change.

What successes have you seen? 
The repeal of the Maximum Family Grant was a big advocacy victory. It was a rule that said people who had children while they were on CalWorks could not receive additional aid for their child, ever. I’m an intern at social services, I actually saw how the rule impacted people. Advocates had been working to repeal that for almost 20 years. It had been written on false assumptions, and only left more children in poverty.

Emily Willson educates Food Bank staff and community members on implications of upcoming ballot measures.

Willson educates Food Bank staff and community members on the effects of upcoming ballot measures.

How do you handle frustrations? What keeps you motivated?
It’s just good to know that political change doesn’t happen overnight. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t happen overnight. From studying social and political movements, you see that nothing comes easily.

With so much uncertainty happening at the federal level right now, do you think it’s still important to pay attention and advocate at the state and local level?

We have seen the power of state and local officials to preserve our values and commitments. California has vowed to protect sanctuary cities, access to health care, the environment and many cities have taken action on behalf of causes. Even with so much discord on the federal level we can still make a difference locally by insisting officials work to protect what is important to our communities.

We can make a difference locally by insisting officials work to protect what is important to our communities.

Which historical figure do you admire most and why?

Sojourner Truth. She’s the original advocate for social justice, women’s rights, and women’s suffrage. She was fighting to end slavery, and there were so obstacles she had to overcome.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get involved in advocacy work?
Just to communicate with your representatives. I would have never known that before, but you can contact them, stop by their office. On Hunger Action Day, State Senator Holly Mitchell said legislators need our input now more than ever. Anyone can get involved – you don’t have to be in a group. You can call, email, reach out to them about the issues you care about.

Are you interested in volunteering as an anti-hunger advocate? Visit our advocacy page to get started.

From Farm to Tables

farms to tables

Zorawar, Rich and Louis help get millions of pounds of food onto our community's tables

How our team transforms truckloads of food into groceries for our community

Nearly 600,000 meals worth of food will leave our warehouse this week. Over the next year, 34 million pounds will come through our facility. This only happens thanks to the brilliance of our Operations Team which is hard at work well before most people are even awake. It’s a complicated web of receiving, inventory, shipping – and our team’s one of the best in the business. Meet some of the team that, literally, gets the food from the farms to tables.

Louis Sweet
Shipping and Receiving Coordinator
Q: What does an average day look like for you?
A: All the food that comes through the doors, I receive it. That means putting everything coming in on the chart board, printing out all the labels, and checking that all our paperwork matches what truck drivers actually have on the trucks.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: When it gets really crowded on the floor, you just have to stay focused on what needs to get received. I slow down to avoid making mistakes, and make sure we know everything we’re getting.

Zorawar Singh Bains
Warehouse Associate
Q: How do you start your morning?
A: I pick up my pull sheets and start pulling orders for our agencies from our shelves. I also help in our volunteer area, or in receiving.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your work?
A: Finding spots to store all our inventory! It’s not too hard though – other people on the team will help find space.

Q: How do you support others?
A: We have to work as a team – everybody is going to need help at some point. We’re like a family, if one person has too much to do, our whole work can slow down, so we have to help.

Rich Ferreira
Truck Driver/Warehouse Associate
Q: Describe the Food Bank in three words.
A: Progressive. Intuitive. Efficient.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: The traffic. A lot of times it feels like Los Angeles. There are really only so many routes you can take, and you have to know the back routes – which I do!

Q: Why do you believe in the Food Bank’s mission?
A: Wherever I go in the country, I’m proud to say Oakland is my hometown. I came to work at the Food Bank to support my hometown, and to give back to the place where I was born and raised.

Five Steps to Get Involved in Anti-Hunger Advocacy

hunger advocacy 600 post

When you look around our offices, a group of desks are often conspicuously empty. That’s because our Advocacy Team is always on the road working with elected officials, local schools, anti-hunger advocates, and getting involved in other grassroots efforts to eradicate the ways our society creates poverty and inequity.

Guess what? They need your help. You may have joined us as a contributor, volunteer, or supporter before, but now’s the time to get involved as an advocate. Here are five simple—and impactful—ways to join in our advocacy efforts against hunger and its root causes.

  1. Sign up for our advocacy email list
    You’ll receive updates about legislation we’re advocating for, or programs we’re trying to protect. Each email provides simple instructions for taking action.
  2. Hop on the bus for Hunger Action Day
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    Advocates on the way to Hunger Action Day.

    Bring your comfiest shoes, your voice, and your energy to Sacramento! Every May, hundreds of advocates from across the state come together to meet with State Senate and Assembly members, urging them to support legislation that helps low-income Californians. By far the biggest contingent is ours! Keep your eyes peeled next month for an RSVP link on our website.

  3. Call your elected officials!
    Don’t be intimidated! On January 20, inauguration day, we hosted a panel discussion with staff from elected officials’ offices. As the representatives on the front lines answering your calls, they encouraged your phone calls as the most effective way to make your voice heard.
  4. Join the SpeakUp Project
    Our SpreakUP Project is an ongoing series of events that give you the skills and legislative savvy to advocate with confidence. From illuminating how California’s legislative process works, to exploring how to tell your story to legislators, our events provide the perfect opportunity to get your feet wet in grassroots advocacy and start taking action.
  5. Meet up with Community Advocates Against Hunger
    Are you interested in joining a group of advocates who fight against hunger and its root causes? If you’re looking to join this mighty group and become more deeply involved in our work, this is the spot for you! CAAH meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month. For times and more details, contact Shanti Prasad at sprasad@accfb.org.

Three Ideas to Get Your Fundraising Creative Juices Flowing

pokemon can fundraiserSo, you want to support the Food Bank. You want to pitch in, raise some money, and feel good about helping provide healthy food for our neighbors who rely on the Food Bank. Now all you need is the perfect idea.

We’ve been astounded by the amazing ways people have decided to support us: From the young girls who sold friendship bracelets, to the county employees who crafted Pokemon characters out of cans, to the teenager who constructed an enormous haunted house and gave admission proceeds to us.

We know an excellent idea awaits you. Plus, we make it easy to set up your own customized fundraising page! However you choose to raise funds for us, you’ll be supporting a healthier, more nourished community.

Here are three fundraising ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Host a Party
Every holiday season, longtime volunteer Farae Strickland hosts a wine and chocolate party with her longtime friends. This year, instead of her friends contributing a bottle of wine or a box of chocolate, Farae decided to provide the refreshments and asked her friends to bring donations to Food Bank instead!

From Halloween to Hanukkah, every celebration can be an opportunity to channel your friends’ and family's generosity. Set up a page here!

2. Compete
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and your tennis shoes are just itching to get some road time. Whether you’re training for a 5K or an Iron Man, when you turn your race into a fundraiser you’ll be pushing yourself for a larger cause.

One cool example: Local cycling group C510 has a race all their own called the SuperCat. It’s basically a giant, free-for-all bike race through the East Bay, and each year, by pulling together, they leverage this crazy event to raise thousands of dollars for the Food Bank.

Pro tip: Ask your networks to donate a dollar per mile you bike, run, or swim!

3. Donate Your Birthday
Happy early (or belated) birthday! Turn your big day into a milestone for our community. Consider setting up a page and asking for donations instead of gifts. Or, if your friends from out of town can’t take you out for that birthday cake, consider asking them to put the money towards your fundraiser.

Idea: Turning 32? Set your goal at $320 dollars. Or turning 19? Aim for $190. (You get the idea!)


Questions? Contact donate@accfb.org. We want to hear from you!

So, does anti-hunger advocacy really make a difference?

capitol adjusted copySince the 2016 presidential election, we’ve heard from many in our community who want to join in our advocacy efforts against hunger and inequity. We’ve also heard the question, so can advocacy really make a difference?

The short answer: Yes.

The programs and policies that support low-income families and reduce food insecurity are only as strong that voices that demand they are protected or improved. For years, our grassroots advocacy team and anti-hunger advocates have worked side-by-side with local, state, and federal lawmakers to strengthen our social safety net. We show up to budget hearings, make calls, take meetings with legislators, tell our stories, and so much more.

Advocacy isn’t easy or fast, but with hard work, many seemingly-wonky policy changes make real, tangible differences in our clients’ lives, and in the health and prosperity of our entire community.

Below are just a few of the 2016 legislative wins we advocated for alongside powerful, statewide coalitions.

A look back at our 2016 legislative wins
· Repeal of the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) Rule. This unjust law denied aid to 130,000 children for 20 years. Without tireless advocacy from numerous statewide coalitions, and leadership from State Assembly members, it would probably still be in place.

· Expanded funding for Breakfast after the Bell, a program which provides breakfast for low-income students so they have the energy and nutrition to succeed during the school day.

· Funding to double customers' CalFresh benefits at farmers' markets

· A plan to increase the state minimum wage

· Funding for CalFood, a program that supports Food Banks

· Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit, a credit that will help farmers move excess crops to Food Banks and prevent healthy produce from going to waste.

· A modest increase to the SSI Cost of Living Adjustment, the first COLA since 2009. SSI is a program for low-income seniors or people with disabilities who aren’t able to work, and who aren’t eligible for social security.

Looking Ahead to 2017
In the coming weeks, we will be releasing our legislative agenda for 2017. In this uncertain new political climate, we need your help more than ever. Your commitment—including your voice and enthusiasm—energizes our staff, board, agency partners and all who support us as we pursue a hunger-free community. Advocacy can and does make a difference, but only if we all stand together.
In order to turn some of these priorities into victories for next year, we need your support! Sign up for our advocacy alerts here.

Hunger Advocate Spotlight: Steve Summers

Steve-SummersDuring the height of the Great Recession, Steve Summers saw how the economic downturn was forcing families to struggle and causing food insecurity rates to spike. He too was impacted after losing his job and, eventually, his apartment. Though he had been volunteering in the Food Bank’s warehouse for years, he heard about our advocacy work and thought, “I could really have a voice here.” Since then, Summers has been a non-stop anti-hunger advocate, traveling to Sacramento and encouraging others to join in the movement against hunger and poverty.

How has being an anti-hunger advocate affected your view of hunger and poverty?

The thing about being so impacted by the recession and the alleged recovery is that you can really feel stigmatized and think, “I can’t believe this is happening.” When you start to advocate, your realize there are thousands of people in your position. You realize that hunger and poverty is a function of our economic and our political system—it’s not about personal failings.

Hunger and poverty is a function of our economic and political system—it’s not about personal failings.

What are you most proud of?

The highlights are the successful policy changes that immediately get food into people’s hands, including the recent repeal of the CalWORKs Maximum Family Grant. Also, seeing the political system firsthand is rewarding. I come away thinking, “With enough numbers, this could really make a difference.”

How do you handle frustrations? When bills or budget items don’t get through—what keeps you going?

Try to turn it into action. Ending hunger and poverty is a long-term goal. That’s also why we’re always looking for a new generation of people to keep carrying this forward.

Which historical figure do you admire most?

Astronomy is one of my hobbies and I’ve always admired Galileo. He discovered scientific proof that the earth revolved around the sun which went against a lot of the teachings of the time. Still, he spoke the truth and they locked him away under house arrest for the rest of his life. I admire him for speaking truth to power.

If someone doesn’t have time to travel to Sacramento, can they still be an anti-hunger advocate?

Yes! As a voter, a tax payer, or a Californian, you already have the right to be an advocate. You can advocate by email, phone, or drop by representatives’ district offices and talk to a staffer.

Steve and Senior Policy Advocate Shanti at Hunger Action Day

Steve and Senior Policy Advocate Shanti Prasad preparing for meetings with legislators on Hunger Action Day

As a voter, a tax payer, or a Californian, you already have the right to be an advocate.

This is one of the great things about the Food Bank's Speak Up Project, which is a free advocacy institute that gives people the tools to advocate and be leaders in the movement to end hunger.

What are your best State Capitol travel tips?

Drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen! Also, on any given day in the Capitol, there are going to be a ton of other advocacy groups. Talk to them! They’ll be interested in your issue, and you’ll be interested in theirs. It’s unifying to see everyone involved in issues they care about.


We need your voice. Visit our Advocacy Action Center to learn more about the Speak Up Project and how else you can support our advocacy work.


CalFresh for Food Today—and Tomorrow

Liz Gomez Q&A

Liz Gomez, Associate Director of Client Services, oversees the food bank's 15-person CalFresh Outreach team.

In 2001, Liz Gomez was managing Alameda County Community Food Bank’s emergency food helpline, connecting people with same day food assistance. She often noticed clients calling the helpline often weren’t enrolled in CalFresh, a federal nutrition program which, at the time, was called food stamps.

“It became apparent people needed help applying,” Gomez said. Clients often didn’t think they were eligible for the program, and information wasn’t easily available in languages other than English. “We wanted to make sure people received help with food today, and also had access to food on a more consistent basis,” she said.

Gomez started promoting CalFresh through community outreach and began helping people fill out applications. Today, Gomez is the Associate Director of Client Services and the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach program has grown to become one of the state’s leading programs. The 15 person team helped 4,622 Alameda County households enroll last year.

“We wanted to make sure people received help with food today, and also had access to food on a more consistent basis."

Despite numerous successes, Gomez says there’s still a lot of work to be done in helping more eligible people enroll and access fresh, healthy food. To finish off CalFresh Awareness Month, Gomez sat down to talk about the outreach team’s history and what’s next.

What has been key to CalFresh Outreach’s growth?
From the beginning, we knew we couldn’t do this alone— we got together with a group of service providers that included the City Of Oakland, various school districts, Women, Infants & Children offices, and of course the Alameda County Social Services Agency. We discussed challenges people had in accessing CalFresh and developed a comprehensive plan to tackle some of those barriers.

How have those partnerships helped you evolve?

The CalFresh Outreach team helped over 4,000 households enroll last year.

The CalFresh Outreach team helped over 4,600 households enroll last year.

Our key partnerships have gone a long way. For example, in 2007 I was still driving over to the Alameda County Social Services Department and dropping off clients' applications every day. I thought, “There has to be a more efficient way.” We started working with the county to transition to a secure and private method of submitting applications electronically. At the time, we thought we’d be submitting no more than 50 per month. Today, we submit over 500 applications per month, all of which are about 90 percent complete. About 85 to 90 percent of the applications we submit are ultimately approved. After the county office receives the application, it is assigned to an eligibility worker and they complete the enrollment process.

Only 66 percent of eligible Californians are enrolled in CalFresh—one of the lowest participation rates in the country. Why is that?
California is a big state with 58 counties, and there isn’t a central database like there is in other states. This means that even small changes, including policy and programmatic, can be a cumbersome process.

"It takes a lot of education to dispel misconceptions and myths that exist around CalFresh."

There are also some complicated rules in California. For example, if an older adult or a person with disabilities receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) they aren’t eligible for CalFresh. Again, this is unique to California, and the different rules make eligibility more complicated. Language barriers also exist, especially in Alameda County, though we offer our services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Plus, there is still stigma around public benefits. It takes a lot of education to dispel misconceptions and myths that exist around CalFresh. A lot of our outreach work is about putting the right messaging in place and educating people on the facts.

How does your team overcome those barriers?
Our marketing strategy is research-based. We’ve learned which attitudes and beliefs keep people from applying for the program.

What have you found?

Out of a survey of 500 residents, the top two motivators for someone to apply are the direct benefit on a household’s overall budget, followed by the benefit of having access to more food. So our materials emphasize how CalFresh can help you stretch your food budget and buy more fresh fruits and vegetables.


The CalFresh Outreach team and Alameda County Social Services setting up at a college job fair.

We also did a mapping study—many of our campaigns focus on zip codes where there are a higher proportion of households who aren’t enrolled in the program.

What’s next for the CalFresh Outreach Team?
We we want to reach as many people as possible so we have to get creative. Beyond grassroots outreach, we also coordinate a comprehensive outreach and marketing campaign, which includes online digital ads, marketing at the DMV offices, direct mail campaigns, and are developing a mobile app to help facilitate referrals for CalFresh and emergency food. We’re also continuing to train other community agencies about the basics of CalFresh and recruiting partner agencies to engage in this effort. We’ve always needed to think outside the box when it comes to strategies that help more people apply and access fresh, healthy food. We’ve come a long way, yet there is still so much more to do to connect people with food assistance.


Learn more about the food bank's CalFresh Outreach program.

“Food is the Fuel”

Oakland International student, Dominic, created this beautiful t-shirt design for our Mobile Pantry volunteers

Every day, we are touched by the stories of the neighbors we serve. Thank you so much, Dominic, for your creativity and thoughtfulness!

My name is Dominic Pablo Ahilon, and I am a 11th grade student at Oakland International High School, where we have a Food Truck come every month to give healthy food to our families. I designed a t-shirt for the Food Bank volunteers. Here I will talk about how I got the inspiration for my design and what every detail means. First of all, I can say that every  artist has his/her own source of inspiration. My source of inspiration to become an artist was a very special person, a friend of mine, and when that person left my life, I had to stop doing art. But this T-shirt project made me start making art again, because it inspired me to get involved and support my friends who volunteer at the Food Bank.


This design means a lot to me because it is not just a drawing or a design. In this design I had the opportunity to express myself. The type of font I used for the letters was a tattoo font. I used this type of font because the person I mentioned is tattooed on my heart forever, so I used this tattoo font to express how I felt. The quote I used was “Food is the Fuel” because without food we would be like a car without gas. We would not think, we would not move, we would not learn. We would not have done all we have achieved in this world. So I used this quote because food is where we get our gas to move, think, and get energy. I  used a image of a person’s head filled with small images such as technology, sports, music, art, science--all the things that we do at school, and all the things that bring knowledge. Also I surrounded the head with different types of healthy food as vegetables and meals. This was to represent that from food we get all our knowledge. Which concludes that Food is the Fuel to knowledge.


30 Years, 30 Stories: Janaye and Janette


During the school year, 5-year-old twins Janaye and Janette rely on free school breakfast and lunch for nutrition. Yet with summer break just around the corner, the girls now face the threat of several months without healthy food. Grandma's slim fixed income simply isn't enough to cover the extra cost.

We need your help to provide children with fresh fruits and veggies! Starting Monday, June 1, Give to Fields to Families: The 2015 Summer Produce Challenge by July 15 and your donation will be MATCHED, dollar-for-dollar, up to $100,000. Together, we can provide twice the fresh food -- and hope -- to families in our community.

30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Don C.

People come to our Food Bank for many reasons .. and we welcome them all! For 83-year-old Don, it was a community service requirement for a traffic ticket that brought him through our doors.

Yet, even after Don had completed enough volunteer hours to fulfill his service obligation, he couldn't stay away! Don found his experience so rewarding that he's returned every week since to serve double-shift Tuesdays, bagging and sorting produce for our community.

“Every time I come in to volunteer, I’m met with hugs, handshakes, and even an occasional kiss,” he says. “Plus, the Food Bank’s work is so important.” Not only is Don a regular volunteer; he’s also a regular contributor. Thanks, Don, for supporting our work in so many ways. We're lucky that wrong turn on the road led you to us!

30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!