Working to improve the health and well-being of Merced & Mariposa County residents affected by hunger, the Merced County Food Bank has distributed more than 25 million pounds of food since 2014.
Pooling from hundreds of resources and working with the help of 1,300 volunteers annually, the Merced County Food Bank strives to ensure that no one in the area has to go without a meal. In addition to working to advocate for, increased access to, and consumption of, nutritious fruits, vegetables, nuts and other foods, the Merced County Food Bank also works tirelessly to address hunger’s underlying cause and related issue.
Currently Merced County’s rate of food-insecurity is 27.3% among children, placing it third in the nation according to a report released by Feeding America that collates data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Current Population Survey.
When you look across Merced County, the fertile soil and open crop fields can provide a deceptive picture regarding our neighbor’s ability to get food for their families. While our neighbors are able to eat, the problem comes when considering how often and reliably they are able to obtain those meals.
The Merced County Food Bank’s website notes that “Food insecurity can be seen as more of a hidden hunger, because the people that experience it often still have a house and a car, yet due to an outstanding circumstance, they could have lost the ability to maintain their lifestyle.” It continues by saying that in these cases, many people start making trade-offs that involve facing hunger versus paying for transportation, housing, medications, and other bills that they need to sustain.
“When faced with a limited budget and hunger, bills go unpaid because, when push comes to shove, food wins out. You aren’t going to let your child or your family starve.”
To combat the hunger facing too many Mercedians, the Merced County Food Bank has implements a number of partnerships and programs that help to get food into the hands of those who need it most. After securing food and grocery manufacturers, retailers, shippers, packers, growers, and from government agencies, individuals and other organizations, volunteers with the organizing inventory, inspect and catalogue the donated items into the food banks 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse at 2000 West Olive.
From there, the organization passes the food along to soup kitchens, food pantries, emergency shelters, daycare and community centers, faith-based organizations, and non-profits that then join them in getting it into the hands of those who need it. The Merced County Food Bank also operated numerous Direct Food Distribution Programs that help to feed local children, senior citizens, families, the working poor, homeless, those impacted by drought, and other victims of disaster.
Additionally, the development and implementation of a new program, The Kids Backpack Program, works to provide weekend food packages to chronically hungry elementary and low-income households. Often times, families facing food insecurity rely on the nourishment provided by school meals to help fill gaps, presenting a problem when Friday rolls around. Every Friday afternoon students will discretely be given a bag of food which is tucked into their backpacks. Each bag contains enough food to see the students through the weekend, and the discreet distributions remove the stigma that might be attached to the program.
Currently the Merced County Food Bank is looking to raise $50,000 to launch the program by the fall. Monetary donations can be send to the Merced County Food Bank at 2000 West Olive Ave. Merced, CA. 95348, or handled online at MMCFB.org. Donations to the food bank can be earmarked by the donor for specific programs, allowing those who wish to help the food bank to target their donations to any of their worthwhile programs.
In addition to monetary donations, those who would like to help the food bank in other ways can do so through food donations or through helping the organization achieve its goals by volunteering. By making your way to the Merced County Food Bank to help sort food donations, either as an individual, family, group, or organizations, you are able to raise the amount of man-hours exponentially, allowing all onsite to reach higher outputs and efficiency.
To become a volunteer, or learn more about how the Merced County Food Bank works, residents are encouraged to log onto MMCFB.org or stop by their warehouse.
[photos: mural painted by Mariposa Art Company]