Reusable Bags Get Some Love
Beginning in 2009, Farm to Family School Pantries now serves three low-income elementary schools in Santa Rosa, where 90 percent of the students qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program. Each participating family receives 20 pounds, including fresh produce and staple food ingredients, e.g. cereal, milk, beans and rice, peanut butter and bread, and hearty soup from the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
The Farm to Family program is open to all families with children enrolled at three of the highest need elementary schools in Santa Rosa - Monroe, Lincoln, and Luther Burbank. Nutrition education is a key component of each distribution encouraging families to eat healthy foods especially fruits and vegetables. In fact, starting in November, the REFB is working with Network for a Healthy California – North Coast Region, to create bilingual recipes, highlighting the nutritional advantages seasonal produce.
As part of the program, each family has their own reusable cloth bag, which they bring back each week to be filled. Fortunately, this week we had enough room in each Farm to Family Pantry bag for all the fruits and vegetables from the Food Bank available at the distributions. Two cartons of strawberries topped off the bags already loaded with pears, green cabbages, and potatoes. We packed watermelon, corn, huge onions, and cauliflower in the reusable bags so that they have been breaking under the weight of so much use week after week. Some of the handles are ripped, a few split at the seams.
After all the families had picked-up their food, two volunteers, Lauren Cole and Diane Cohen, began talking and decided to see if a sewing circle at one of their churches would be able to mend the damaged bags. This week they came back to ask if they could repair bags from all three Farm to Family sites. I imagine colorful thread and patches decorating, and even strengthening the cloth bags so they can be used for years to come. We need more creative solutions like this one to help feed hungry people in Sonoma County.
Part of our ethos at the Food Bank is to reduce waste in all aspects of our work. We encourage healthy food or beverage donation, and about half of the food we handle is fresh produce (48.1% in 2010-2011). It takes an amazing and dedicated team in our warehouse and in the community to coordinate the distribution of over 13 million pounds of food each year to 78,000 people each month. Any fresh food returned to the Food Bank is composted with a local pig farmer. One way we reduce waste is by using cloth bags in some of our programs.
Our volunteers at Farm to Family sites do a marvelous job helping run this program and even drive the trucks to the schools. But they need help back at the Food Bank. We are finding it difficult to hand out produce that is not pre-bagged the evening before the distribution. If you have a few hours a week to help this program, please call the Redwood Empire Food Bank at 707-523-7900 and ask to volunteer!