Today, March 5, 2021, our Executive Director, Suzan Bateson was invited by U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee to share an update on our COVID-19 response efforts and the importance of the American Rescue Plan being debated by the United States Senate.  A full transcript of Suzan’s remarks are below and you can view the press conference here.  Suzan’s remarks begin at about 12:20, but we encourage you to watch the entire conference.

Hello and thank you for inviting me here today. It’s always an honor to speak with you Congresswoman Lee, and it’s always an honor to represent neighbors in Alameda County.

I’m Suzan Bateson and I’m the Executive Director of Alameda County Community Food Bank, located in Oakland, which now provides enough food to serve 75,000 neighbors daily. A year ago we served less than half that number.

We are in full support of the American Rescue Plan. We have our hearts broken by stories from community members. In their voices we hear their desperation, being thrust from housing, living in cars if they have them. Homeless seniors living out their golden years at the mercy of society. Our emergency food helpline manager, Miriam, regularly takes into her heart stories unlike she’s heard in her 20-plus year history with ACCFB. She told me about community member who called our helpline describing their family – parents and children – evicted. Her husband unable to afford insulin. When his blood levels render him in a life-threatened state they have no alternative but to rush him to a local hospital emergency room – just to get insulin. But this is a cycle for their family, like their homeless days and nights; like searching for the next meal until they find someone like Miriam to bear witness. There are more than 400,000 of these stories in Alameda County alone, at this very moment. But how long can Miriam listen to these stories without harm to her heart, and her psyche? How long will young families be forced to live without shelter or proper medical care.

“There are more than 400,000 of these stories in Alameda County alone, at this very moment”

ACCFB is running a direct food distribution – a contactless drive through from a wonderful County-owned building that Alameda County officials have turned over the keys to us, free of charge. It’s across the freeway from the Oakland Coliseum where just two staff and a dozen or so caring volunteers just provided our 5 millionth pound of food to community members who thread their cars through a parking lot three times a week.

When I go to the Food Bank, I drive by the cars lined up on Oakport Road at 7 a.m. just to collect groceries for themselves and – at times – for their neighbors who lack transportation. Each day a car battery dies as they wait, or a car runs out of gas. Our team of staff and volunteers are ready with jumper cables. Across the freeway is the new vaccination clinic in the Coliseum parking lot. I went there a week ago. By contrast the number of people helping thread fewer cars through was larger by hundreds. The Coliseum vaccination clinic put into context for me how much can get done – 6,000 shots a day! – when the government puts their collective minds and energy to it. That kind of action is what this rescue plan will do for neighbors in line at Oakport. I also thought as I waited to get my first vaccination: The vaccine clinics will be gone long before the lines of people needing groceries at our emergency food drive throughs, and at distributions at our member agency partner’s sites located throughout Alameda County.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has laid bare the effects of race, place, and class on health outcomes. Neighbors of color – here and nationwide – have been disproportionally affected by the virus and poverty. It makes me wonder, which is the real pandemic COVID, racism or poverty?  Poverty lived here generations before COVID; long lines for food resulting from closed businesses started before hospitals were maxed out; those same lines will be just as long once we’re done wearing masks and we can embrace loved ones again.

“Long lines for food resulting from closed businesses started before hospitals were maxed out; those same lines will be just as long once we’re done wearing masks and we can embrace loved ones again.”

Passing the American Rescue Plan is the immediate relief children, adults, and seniors in Alameda County – and across the nation – desperately need…NOW. Although I’m one Food Bank leader I have been involved in this work for 25 years. My bonds with other Food Bank leaders across the country are strong. We feel – each day – the desperation of community members not only here but in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and across the nation where 200 food banks like ours are fighting for the lives of millions of Americans who the Senate is now debating over whether they’re worthy of something as basic as a nutritious meal. And I ask, really?

Frankly, we’re tired, our staffs are exhausted, and Food Bank’s thousands of community partners across the country put their lives in danger – and have for the entire year – to make sure children, adults, and seniors have the nourishment they need. Many of our partner agencies are run by our elders; community members who are so vulnerable themselves – and honestly I don’t know what we’d do without them. They are true community heroes.

Last month, the shortest month of the year – with our amazing and steadfast community partners – we collectively distributed the most food in one month in ACCFB’s 36-year history:  5.2 million pounds. When I came to ACCFB 20 years ago, an epic year would have been 10 million pounds.

Thinking about the Senate’s opportunity, there are many elements of the American Rescue Plan that will help food banks so that we don’t have to carry the full burden:

  • SNAP increases: We must hold onto the 15 % increase in SNAP food benefits for the duration of the pandemic and during economic recovery;
  • P-EBT: this smart, proactive program literally saved families last year, and nourished children who would have slipped through the cracks. We need this; families need this. In short it’s a lifeline;
  • WIC: a godsend to families with young ones, and expectant and postpartum mothers;
  • TEFAP and government food programs: we particularly want to call out support for Black and Brown Farmers included in the package.

We are grateful for you, Congresswoman Lee, for your vision, your bravery, and your heart. You, like me, used SNAP (although it was called Food Stamps in our day). We’ve both shared our gratitude for this program, which helped us through rough waters. We were supported by a government that offered us support when it was most needed.  And that’s the opportunity the Senate has before them… right now.

We hope that our nation’s Senators can truly focus to help neighbors like us during this time by offering a lifeline. Because no one should go hungry in a country as wealthy as America.

Thank you.