Body & Soul

River City Food Bank provides more than nutrition

By Tessa Marguerite Outland
October 2019

River City Food Bank has been providing the community with nourishment and compassion since 1968. Two years ago this month, the nonprofit opened an additional site in Arden-Arcade at The Center at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Edison Avenue to further alleviate hunger in the Sacramento community.

“We planned to serve 15,000 clients (at the St. Matthew’s site),” says Amanda McCarthy, executive director of River City Food Bank. “But we served 44,000 in 2018, half of them children.” This year, the food bank expects to distribute 450,000 pounds of food and serve 70,000 clients.

The Center at St. Matthew’s is serving a record number of people, likely due to increased housing prices and low-wage jobs, McCarthy says. Many of those in need are working poor—individuals who have jobs but sometimes cannot pay for the necessities.

“Hunger is one of those things you don’t always see,” McCarthy says. “People are having to make choices between paying for rent, utility bills, medicines and food. They’re coming to us to help ease some of those burdens.”

With one site in Midtown and one in Arden-Arcade, the food bank can extend its reach wider to be the link between food and people experiencing hunger.

The River City Food Bank receives donations from local grocery stores and food vendors, including Whole Foods Market, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, farmers markets, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, food drives, CalFresh and Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The organization is a client-choice food bank, which means people receive more of a shopping experience than a box of pre-selected items. But there’s no junk-food shelf in this pantry. The food bank does not give out soda, candy or sugary treats.

 

“Healthy food is a fuel for all the things we need to thrive,” McCarthy says. Children especially need fresh produce and protein to concentrate, learn and grow. The Center at St. Matthew’s is building several raised garden beds to help families learn about growing fresh produce and reaping the benefits of gardening.

While the food bank’s primary goal is to provide the community with healthy nourishment, it is also fertile ground for nourishing lives.

Many of the food bank’s clients at St. Matthew’s are refugees. “We treat everyone who walks through our door with dignity, compassion and respect,” McCarthy says. Many refugee families have struggles beyond food insecurity, such as lack of transportation, limited knowledge of community-assistance programs and the need to learn a new language.

Fred Gorsira, program coordinator at River City Food Bank, recalls a day when he was approached by a mother with her two children and a friend. “The family had just arrived from Russia and literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Gorsira says. In addition to fresh produce, the food bank provided the family with shelf-stable food and diapers.

“Despite a lot of uncertainty, they had healthy food to eat and the mother had assurance that she could come back to The Center at St Matthew’s to access nutritious food for her family,” Gorsira adds.

Shamlah Haydar fled Afghanistan with her two boys in December 2017 and started volunteering at the food bank in Arden-Arcade a few weeks later in January. “I didn’t know about volunteering when I moved to the U.S.,” Haydar says. “No one spends their time or money to help others in Afghanistan.”

The first time Haydar approached the food bank, it was out of curiosity and necessity to feed her young sons. A neighbor brought her on a chilly Saturday morning. “I saw everyone can choose what they need inside,” Haydar says. “I’ll never forget it. I felt welcome. I didn’t think about helping. I just wanted to be with these happy and welcoming people.”

The next week at food distribution, Haydar asked if she could volunteer. Among other productive jobs, Haydar serves as a translator for Dari to English, having learned some basic English in Afghanistan from watching movies and from friends. “It was a very good thing for me,” Haydar says. “I helped for the first time.” Haydar is now employed, but still volunteers at the food bank every Saturday.

McCarthy appreciates the contribution of volunteers to strengthen the food bank’s efforts to bring fresh healthy food to community tables. “We’re growing and trying to meet the need,” McCarthy says.

“Anyone interested in serving the community and getting involved with the River City Food Bank is welcome to volunteer. It’s more than just food—it’s wellbeing.”

For more information, visit rivercityfoodbank.org. For volunteer opportunities, contact Jena Robinson, program and operations manager, at jrobinson@rivercityfoodbank.org.

Tessa Marguerite Outland can be reached at tessa.m.outland@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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