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As Pandemic Takes Toll, Marin Organizations Band Together for Good Food for All
Posted on Category CEO Updates, Stories

Good food is a human right. Hunger and poor access to healthy food are realities for people of low income in Marin, despite the county’s general affluence.

During the past year, food insecurity among too many individuals and families intensified because of COVID-19 and its impacts. The statistics are pretty astounding, with one in five families (one in three seniors) struggling to put food on the table.

Compounding the challenges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food access research atlas tells us that many Marin families live in food deserts—areas where low-income census tracts make up a significant share of residents—are more than one mile from a supermarket due to systemic inequities. Inequitable food access in Marin is most prevalent within communities of color in Marin City, the Canal, Novato and West Marin’s coastal communities due to longstanding systemic racism.

These families are left with few options aside from highly processed foods available at convenience stores. They lack access to fresh produce—food widely available in well-resourced neighborhoods.

Our invitation this holiday season is to bring food to the heart of our actions and into conversations about how we recover from the pandemic together. Food is a meaningful part of our county’s safety net. It unites us as people in ways that can help to drive an equitable response to current and persistent challenges. It is a powerful symbol of our connections to land, community and one another across generations.

We can give at a food drive, invest in a community garden and teach youngsters where their food comes from by developing outdoor learning classrooms. We can hold space together around the holiday table to consider these and other important aspects of food security and food justice.

For example, Community Action Marin’s early childhood educators teach children about healthy eating and support the agency’s learning gardens and production farms filled with nutritious, healthy food. The agency’s central kitchen offers space and training for those seeking a food industry career or food entrepreneurship. The agency does this and more in service to its mission to alleviate the causes and consequences of poverty in Marin.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s mission is to end hunger, and key to achieving this mission is to partner with valued community-based organizations like Community Action Marin and many others throughout the county. Together, we ensure that over 6,000 families in Marin have access to a weekly grocery bag of nutritious food.

Last year, the Food Bank distributed food for more than 10 million meals in Marin, almost 60% was fresh produce. In a recent participant survey reaching thousands of program participants, 50% said they turned to us for the first time during the pandemic.

There is no vaccine for hunger. A just pandemic recovery will include creating a community free from hunger. Our imperative is not only to address the urgent gaps in healthy food today, but to also strengthen the safety net, increase participant access to CalFresh food-stamp benefits and continue to advance effective policy — like the recent historic win that every child in California now receives free school meals.

Our commitment to make real progress toward ending hunger is why the Food Bank and Community Action Marin are working in partnership together with others across the county, including the county’s Healthy Eating Active Living initiative, Agricultural Institute of Marin, Marin Agricultural Land Trust and Marin Food Policy Council, among others. We want to help people learn what’s being done to address our community’s food needs. Our call now is to gather together and take #FiveMinutesforFood during the holidays.

The #FiveMinutesforFood social media drive asks each one of us to watch a short, five-minute video, download the discussion guide (available in English and Spanish) and reflect on the meaning and importance of healthy, nutritious and good food for all that centers equity and justice.

Together, we are striving for a healthy, local food economy for all in Marin by growing food, distributing food and making food more accessible to people who need it. Together, we are finding pathways forward that will help Marin be a place where no one will ever go hungry. We hope you can join us, because ensuring nutritious food for all takes a community.

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This article was written by Chandra Alexandre, CEO of Community Action Marin, and Tanis Crosby, CEO of the SF-Marin Food Bank. (Photo by Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)