"Everyone is appreciative of this effort," said Valerie Jonas, chief development officer at Axis. "These are people who would not have access to fresh produce."
Because eating healthy can be expensive.
Axis coordinators reached out last year to the community food bank, which was seeking more partners in the Tri-Valley at the time. The program concept arose because they saw a need to improve access to nutritious foods for low-income patients enrolled in their system.
"Access to healthy food is a major factor in achieving and maintaining wellness; food access is regarded as a key social determinant of health," Jonas said. Poverty can lead people to make tough choices, between food, utilities, transportation, housing and medical expenses. According to research by the Alameda County Community Food Bank, 52% of their clients eat food past the expiration date and 74% purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food, leading to higher rates of health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
After three months of logistical planning, Axis and the food bank launched their first distribution on Feb. 15.
The distribution takes place from 11:30 to 1 p.m. in the Axis parking lot, with a long line of participants winding down Railroad Avenue, shopping bags in hand and sometimes umbrellas -- for the sun or rain, depending on the weather.
At the event, about 20 volunteers set up the array of seasonal produce and some shelf stable foods -- the assortment varies.
"For example, items at one month's distribution included apples, cabbage, spinach, corn, and plums along with cans of chicken and pineapple, beans, rice, eggs and boxed milk," Jonas said.
The items are arranged in assembly-line style, allowing attendees to pick and choose what they want.
"One of the positives of this distribution model is that because the food is arrayed down a line, participants can select their preferred items and pass on items they are not interested in -- not everyone likes bell peppers," Jonas said. "This model is different from receiving a prepackaged bundle of food items."
The health care center alerts clients to the distribution taking place through text messages, posting on community boards and word of mouth. Between 140 and 160 people have been showing up every month, and about one-third are new clients each time, Jonas said.
Also serving the Tri-Valley, the nonprofit Open Heart Kitchen is another partner of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, and finds avenues to provide needy residents of Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore with fresh fruits and veggies. Though the nonprofit primarily serves hot meals -- they're not a food pantry or distribution program -- the food bank does give Open Heart two palettes of fresh produce every week for distribution at one of their hot meal sites, said Clare Gomes, the organization's operations director.
"It's about a thousand pounds of produce that we hand out," Gomes said.
Healthy produce is a focus for their standard programs too, though, and Open Heart Kitchen has been shifting their donation policies, focusing more on fresh produce as opposed to sugary desserts.
"As grateful as we are for donations, sometimes people are cleaning out their pantry, and they're not thinking," Gomes said. "They're donating items we can't use, or they're dented, or they're open or they're expired. And we can't use those, and so we did create this nutritional policy, on the kind of items we do accept."
Both Jonas and Gomes said that one of the biggest challenges they face is perception, that people don't realize poverty and affordable food needs exist in the Tri-Valley.
"The community needs to be supportive of these opportunities," Jonas said. "Because our friends and neighbors really need the support."
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