The first Friday of June marks Hunger Awareness Day and along with it, a long list of events from SLO Food Bank, a local non-profit providing healthy food to those dealing with food insecurity in San Luis Obispo County.
The organization's mission is hunger relief and improving the health of the community.
“Through 85 other nonprofits and through 60 distribution sites, we serve everyone in need in SLO County,” said SLO Food Bank CEO Garret Olson.
This year’s Hunger Awareness Day activities included 10 donation sites across the county, four CalFresh application assistance sites, social media content, the teen boy band “Awkward Silence” performing in the food bank’s warehouse parking lot, and a baseball game between the Blues and Solano Mudcats that evening.
“Hunger Awareness Day is a county-wide event that helps us not only raise virtual funds to support our hunger relief effort but also raises awareness about our life-enhancing programs and services,” said SLO Food Bank Development Director Branna Still.
According to Olson, prior to the pandemic one in six SLO County residents was food insecure. A third of those that the non-profit serves are children under 18 and a quarter are isolated seniors.
The rate of hunger increased dramatically during the pandemic and Olson said the community is seeing a second surge in food insecurity with inflation.
“We’re paying more for food. We’re seeing more people need that food and some of those donors are donating at a lower dollar amount. Instead of being able to donate to us, they're putting that money into that fuel tank or they’re buying groceries with it,” he said.
Hundreds of volunteers are behind this day’s effort. In 2021, over 1,300 people stepped in to help out.
“We are in our warehouse and we’re surrounded by volunteers right now, so volunteers are absolutely vital to what we do. No food that reaches our clients is not touched by a volunteer,” Olson said.
Volunteers like Mary Donnelly and Mark Moseley helped rally support to get people to donate.
“People can’t do things when they're hungry. Donating time and donating money, that’s the best thing you can do,” said Moseley.
“It's a great time to go to the website, make a contribution and you can be a hunger hero and multiply being a hunger hero today,” said Donnelly.
A new aspect of this year’s events is CalFresh application assistance. CalFresh is a program that gives participants a monthly allowance on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to use for groceries. Volunteers set up at four libraries across the county where people could sign up for the program.
CalFresh Outreach Manager for SLO Food Bank Venessa Rodriguez said this service is severely underutilized in the area.
“We want to bring up those enrollment rates and allow people who need the benefits to have them,” Rodriguez said.
In her own time as a Cal poly student, Rodriguez used CalFresh and now wants to give back to the community that supported her.
“CalFresh was a program that allowed me to go to school and only have to focus on going to school,” Rodriguez said. “I never had to worry where my next meal was coming from and that's a big stress for a lot of students, especially being a first-generation student.”
The team hopes to raise $130,000 which works out to be 910,000 meals since $1 provides 7 meals.
“Right now, I think we’re hovering at $64,000, so if you look at our goal, we still have a long way to go,” Branna Still said.
Walter Ruzzo was just one of the many donors on June 3.
“It’s people that you wouldn’t realize are [food insecure], but it’s kind of a hidden problem in our society that a lot of people don’t want to address so anything that I can do, even in a small way, to be a part of the solution, I think is worth it,” Ruzzo said.
Those interested in supporting the SLO Food Bank can visit their website, slofoodbank.org [slofoodbank.org], or one of their 10 distribution sites across the county.
Those in need can also visit their site [slofoodbank.org] to look for the food locator and find a distribution site or partner near them.
More information on Hunger Awareness Day can be found here [slofoodbank.org].