Posts Tagged ‘Sacramento hunger’

New year, new building, new hope

January 14, 2012

Marion Welch offers healthy options to Ken

The word is out: River City Food Bank is back in business, and it’s better than ever.

After two weeks out of operation as we moved, we re-opened Monday to a relieved crowd. Short on money for basics like healthy food, people in need found our new home at 1800 28th Street. By the end of the week we provided emergency 3-day groceries to approximately 1,300 clients.

The open-plan facility also allowed us to do something we’ve been wanting to do for years: offer people a choice of healthy foods. We believe it will help people eat better if they can choose things that fit their family’s tastes and habits. But it also reflects our philosophy of serving people with dignity. We want to respect their preferences and give them more control over what for many is a devastating experience: not just a loss of income, but the loss of a way of life.

The building not only looks shiny and new, it smells fresh. “The smell of fresh paint instills a sense of pride in our volunteers, staff and clients,” Eileen says. “It feels new and hopeful.”

Who needs new-car smell when you can have this?

Besides the many volunteers who helped improve the space and pack and unpack boxes of supplies and food, Eileen says she is grateful for John Rohveld’s facilitation with Shannon Trucking, which moved RCFB’s enormous commercial freezers and refrigerators. Goodwill also provided the truck that loaded up our food and moved it to the new location a half mile away.

Posted by: philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

More pictures:

Ivan Trinidad of Christo Rey


Rebuilding the food bank with help from the Metro Chamber

November 14, 2011

A little is enough if enough people do it.”  – Project Inspire motto [check it out and join the 2012 project!]

As Crystal Say (pictured above) swept stray top soil off the street next to River City Food Bank‘s new home last Friday, she explained that she had come to know the organization by participating in RCFB’s Harvest for Hunger in October through her involvement in XOSO sports league, which provided cleanup volunteers for the event.  She’s been receiving RCFB’s periodic e-newsletters and now, she says, “I love this organization.”  Lots more pictures here.

Randy Sater and Eileen Thomas

Thursday night, the Sacramento Metro Chamber celebrates the conclusion of its first Project Inspire effort, which has helped to convert a 3,275 square foot former agency for the hearing impaired into a food bank that is ready to serve the growing population of Sacramentans in need of emergency food.  Randy Sater, who was the Sacramento Metro Chamber Chair when the program kicked off last year, puts the value of the project at over $250,000, including a $10,000 cash award and LOTS of in-kind donations.

River City Food Bank asked the Chamber for $75,000 in in-kind help to improve the building that was purchased after its operational home was lost to arson on Oct. 21, 2010.  Since it was picked from 48 applications last February, a group of committed Metro Chamber volunteers has been busy behind the scenes helping River City Food Bank to secure the permit to operate as a food bank, plan the new space, and recruit companies and individuals to donate materials and labor toward the effort.

Kyle Glankler

As with any building project, the RCFB project took longer and cost more than anticipated.  Kyle Glankler of Roebbelen Contracting Inc. steadily pushed the project forward as a key volunteer leader of the effort, cajoling community partners and Metro Chamber members to support the effort. Wayne Kirkling of Teichert also had a big hand in securing partners that delivered top soil and trimmed trees last Friday.  Paula Desideri of Lionakis, who spearheaded space planning, got so involved that she’s since joined the RCFB Board.

ADP volunteers

Last Friday, more than 50 people added their sweat equity to the effort by sweeping, digging, trimming, prepping, hauling, pouring and compacting soil, hauling and washing.  Lots of pictures are on our flickr site, here.  The volunteer effort was followed this week by interior and exterior painting.

Take a minute to look over the list of the great and giving people and companies who stepped up to do a little – and in many cases, a lot!  We’ll continue to add to this list as we identify more of the many companies and people who have been helping to rebuild this important part of Sacramento’s food safety net.

  • Project Inspire/RCFB Project Committee: Roebbelen Contracting Inc., 3fold Communications, Carpenter’s Union, Downey Brand LLP, Lionakis, Northern California Construction Trades, Sutter Health, Taylor & Wiley, and Teichert
  • In-kind donors (those *asterisked contributed $5,000 or more in goods and services)
    • 3fold Communications
    • Air Systems*
    • AP Thomas
    • Atlas Disposal
    • Bonney Heating and Air*
    • Capital Engineering Consultants
    • Carpenter’s Union
    • Chipotle
    • Downey Brand LLP*
    • Fallen Leaf Tree Service
    • Green Acres Nursery
    • Harry A. Yee and Associates*
    • Hastie’s Capitol Sand and Gravel
    • JD Pasquetti General Engineering
    • KHS&S Drywall
    • Lionakis*
    • Nohoch Production
    • Pacific Coast Building Products
    • Roebbelen Contracting Inc.*
    • Rosendin Electric*
    • StoneBridge Properties
    • Summit Air
    • Sutter Health*
    • Taylor-Wiley*
    • Teichert-Capitol Builders Hardware
    • Turman Commercial Painters*
    • Winzler & Kelly
  • Volunteers on 11-11-11:  Nor Cal Construction & Training Program students, The Berejikian-Lack family, Deirdre Bigus, Mike Borchard, Giselle Carrillo, Kristin Casey, Joe Cava, Allie Cole, Neil and Susan Cunningham, Marie Fiore, Kevin Garvin, Andrew Geniesse, Kyle Glankler, Luanne Hansen, Peggy Hoyt, Nicole James, Antonio Jimenez, Kristian Jimenez, Hanna Kauffman, Scott Kauffman, LaSheathe Lampkin, Steven Livingston, Karl Lohse, Mona Lucero, Gregory Moore, Mike Norris, Sean O’Brien, Ron Parsons, Liz Purcell, Shareen Rendon, Judy Robinson, Delilah Rojo, Randy Sater, Crystal Say, James Schubert, Katherine Sherman, Michael Smith, Shirley Smith, Larry Stanfill, Keri Thomas, Scott Thomas, Heidi Thomas, John Thomas, Sheree Thornton, Elise Walden, Kerri Warner and Laura Wilder

Project Inspire is a program of activities focused on promoting community through inspiring civic-minded leadership, volunteerism, and philanthropic giving in the Sacramento region.  Anyone can join in this collective effort to do good for a donation of $250 or more!  The Metro Chamber is offering organized group volunteer activities, opportunities to contribute to a philanthropic giving circle, and recognition of giving efforts of businesses addressing the greatest social needs of the region. The program’s goal is to encourage participation by businesses and individuals, and to make it easier to give time, knowledge, talents and donations.

Want to get involved in 2012?  Secure donations may be made through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation’s website or by sending a check to the Sacramento Region Community Foundation earmarked for the Inspire Giving Fund.  Any business or community member who becomes a member of Project Inspire gets a voice in deciding which charity or charities will receive funds in the next funding cycle.

The need for River City Food Bank’s services has skyrocketed this year, especially for seniors and children.  By the end of 2011, an estimated 47,000 people will have turned to the food bank for emergency food assistance. Thirty percent of the meals provided now go to feed children, and the number of seniors served has climbed 55% since January of this year.

River City Food Bank, an independent 501 (c)(3), is completely funded by individuals and corporate donations and grants. Senior Gleaners and Sacramento FoodLink help supply RCFB with food, along with businesses that provide day-old items, frozen food and fresh fruits and vegetables. Individuals and groups donate non-perishable food, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as formula and diapers for families with infants and young children. The organization is governed by a vibrant and skilled 16-member Board of Directors.

Posted by: Philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tough strategic choices

October 11, 2011

What guides us: concern for clients like this little one

Ninth in a series

In the wake of what we would eventually learn was arson – part of a string of fires in Midtown and not targeted at destroying River City Food Bank – our Board of Directors faced a series of difficult strategic decisions:

  • Is there a distinct need for a Midtown-based food bank, and a food bank that serves the entire county with regular weekday hours, regardless of zip code?
  • Should River City Food Bank lease or buy space for a permanent location?
  • Should River City Food Bank formalize a capital campaign?
Reaffirming need
Nonprofits can and should evaluate whether they can sustain their mission as an independent organization, and whether they have a distinct reason for being that does not duplicate what is already being done well in the community.
River City Food Bank’s main program is straightforward: it provides compassionate food relief in the form of healthy, three-day emergency groceries to people in need.  Those people can live anywhere in Sacramento County.
There are other food banks, but they either don’t serve some zip codes, or they have very limited operations (for example, only one or two days per week).
Serving over 4,000 clients a month in mid-2011, River City Food Bank is not the biggest hunger relief program, but it is an important part of the food safety net in Sacramento.  We also try to distinguish ourselves by offering more than empty carbohydrates; our goal is to help our clients be able to provide healthy meals that include fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as protein.  Quality of food, not just quantity, is important — especially since one in four families with children now struggles to put enough food on the table.
With more children hungry, and the recession far from over, the need for River City Food Bank is evident in the growing numbers of people turning to us for help.
Lease or buy?
It sounds like a simple business decision: what costs less over the long run — leasing or buying?  In the case of River City Food Bank, however, that decision was related to the plans of one of its most important and valued partners, the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California. Until the fire,  the Diocese allowed us to operate from one of its small buildings on 27th Street.  The Bishop’s office, located next door, was also destroyed by the fire.
As the Diocese looked forward, it hoped that RCFB would become part of its long-term plan to replace the burned buildings on 28th Street with a new building.  How could River City Food Bank secure a permanent location while keeping open the possibility of a future location with the Diocese and Trinity Cathedral?
In the end, depressed real estate prices opened up a possibility that no one could have expected in the aftermath of the fire: buying a building outright without need for a loan.  Tony Whittaker (CB Richard Ellis), Doug Bayless (Bayless Properties) and Todd Stone (Ray Stone Inc.) conducted a survey of properties in the Midtown/East Sacramento area that met the organization’s criteria list. A building that conformed perfectly to RCFB’s current needs was on the market due to a bankruptcy.  The sellers were eager to negotiate before they lost the asset to bank foreclosure.
Of course, it took a little process… submitting for a use permit and gaining the support of the City of Sacramento Planning Commission, while reassuring some anxious neighbors that the area surrounding 28th and R would be better off, not worse off, by our location there.
The opportunity to purchase the 1800 28th Street building came up so quickly that River City Food Bank didn’t have time to plan and mount a capital campaign, a natural opportunity after the fire.  It would have been a wonderful opportunity to secure a strong financial base that enabled RCFB to fully develop its program of compassionate relief from hunger.  For example, RCFB employs the only full-time food stamp outreach coordinator in the community, Edith Martinez.  As wonderful as Edith is, we know we are only scratching the surface – especially when it comes to vulnerable low-income seniors.  We’d also love to be able to expand our innovative BackSnacks program, through which we provide weekly supplies of healthy snacks to kids on Fridays, so that they have the energy they need to stay healthy, participate in activities and do well in school.
Thanks to spontaneous donations, RCFB was in a strong enough position to purchase the building without incurring debt, debt which would have cut into funds available to supplement its stores of donated food.  The organization postponed consideration of its long-term needs for capital investment and operating funds.
When someone accepts an appointment as a voluntary member of a Board, there is always the possibility that he or she may be asked to step up in a big way.  Every member of the RCFB came through for the organization and its mission. Besides the many extra meetings and conference calls, Board members took on individual projects in the face of pressing deadlines.
The organization is deeply indebted to the officers and Board members who shepherded the organization during the Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 Board terms:
Susan Timmer, Board President
Chris Swanson, Past President
Pam Kepler, Treasurer
Jordan Blair, Vice President
Britt Olson, Secretary
Bill Coyle
Kevin Davis
Bill Edwards, PhD
Sheila Hard, J.D.
Harry Hills
Norma Lammers
Diane Cummins
Joseph Mendez
Michael Rivera
Marion Welch
Tony Whittaker
Next: Last in the series: getting “Inspired” for our new building, and the one year anniversary of the fire

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone
To stay up to date on RCFB’s progress rebuilding, and the status of hunger in our community, look for the “join our secure email list” on the home page of the website.

Longing for working phones and computers

October 4, 2011

Eighth in a series

We all know how frustrating it is when a computer or mobile phone crashes.  We could never have imagined the longing we would feel for basic technology.  How do you run an agency without working phones and computers?

River City Food Bank was forced to manage without phone lines for nearly six months. And every hour counted when we were trying to restore operations, keep the permit process moving, field calls from interested donors and media, and maintain normal communications with volunteers, funders and agencies who refer clients.

Despite repeated calls to the telephone service provider, and even a plea to KCRA’s Call 3 Problem Solvers, nothing seemed to work when it came to getting phone lines installed.  It wasn’t a proud moment for us, hamstrung by a three-year contract with a company that was swallowed up by a merger.  Let’s just say that company won’t be getting a recommendation from us.

While the phone lines were down, we had to rely on an awkward system to receive and respond to inquiries.  Not surprisingly, Eileen’s mobile phone rang “off the hook.”  Her phone was the only way to reach a live person.  3Fold Communications routed voice calls to an electronic recording system that attempted to turn messages into texts, often with hysterical results.  Unfortunately, we had no computers with speakers, so we weren’t able to listen to recordings. That meant interpreting the slaughtered text messages as best we could. Those were very long months before we were able to restore the most rudimentary of phone services.

In the days after the fire, we also kept our fingers crossed about another vital resource: our donor and financial database.  Although we had been assured that it was appropriately backed up, no one relaxed until we received confirmation that it was safe.

Our computers and server were nothing fancy before the fire, but we depended on them to keep client records. Organizations that fund us require solid documentation to demonstrate our accountability in handling the funds they donate or foods they distribute through RCFB.

Western Health Advantage relieved us of a huge burden when they stepped forward with an offer of seven surplus Dell computers.  Mike Libby of Downey Brand, the firm’s IT leader, stepped forward with an offer of a Dell server and a Microsoft operating system and license, which he then configured.

Until we had a roof over our heads, however, it fell to volunteers to work for hundreds of hours to enter data from our paper forms into our client database – a tedious job if there ever was one!

After moving to donated temporary space in the Heller Pacific building on Capitol Avenue, we had the semblance of a working office (minus ringing phones):  a folding six foot table as Eileen’s desk, several computer work stations, and a server.

Sending and receiving emails was still an exercise in frustration.  A law firm located on the floor below the borrowed office allowed access to its secure wifi connection.  Unfortunately, the barrier of the floor tended to interrupt the signal every 30 minutes or so, usually in the middle of an email or online activity.  To complicate matters, the password changed daily.

Our last bit of critical technology was the website.  The website provided information to clients about our hours and locations (and limitations on our service since we were no longer able to provide housing assistance).  It also was a constant source for people who wanted to know what type of food or volunteer assistance we needed.  Lacking administrative access and tools to be able to maintain the content on the website, 3Fold Communications supported the mission by keeping the website up-to-date.

Before the fire, we might have complained about our computers and phones out of irritation. After the fire, we appreciate as never before what vital infrastructure they are to our mission of feeding the hungry in Sacramento.

Next: Tough strategic choices

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

Unexpected side effect of the fire: new volunteers

September 27, 2011

New volunteers included a group from the Metro Chamber

Seventh in a series

River City Food Bank has long prided itself on its low overhead and incredibly diligent volunteer workforce.  Many of our 100+ volunteers made working at River City Food Bank part of their weekly lives for dozens of years.  You’d see them greeting our clients and processing information, weighing groceries, restocking, preparing bags for clients, and helping with administrative activities like mailings.

Our stalwarts hung in there through the long fall and winter months, first huddling under tents in the rain for our scrappy street operation, then “camping” at Trinity Cathedral, and finally stomping their feet to restore some warmth and circulation in our unheated temporary location in the Sutter Medical Center Sacramento parking garage. (They missed the winter chill once the summer heat set in!)

A welcome side benefit of the fire was an influx of new volunteers.  By the time we wrapped up in late December, 79 new volunteers had come forward.

Welcoming, training and orienting that many new volunteers takes a lot of effort. Thankfully, our volunteer coordinator Barbara Edwards, was committed to the task.  To Barbara, working on behalf of River City Food Bank is her quiet response to Christ’s call to take care of the poor and hungry.  You may never talk with her about her reasons for getting so involved, but you can see it in her dedication and gentle, kind demeanor.

Traditionally, our volunteers signed up to work at the food bank on a scheduled day each week, week in and week out, and often, year after year.  Barbara found creative ways to schedule groups of colleagues who wanted to volunteer together, and to harness the outpouring of offers to help.

The fire also brought in far more people who wanted to host private fundraisers or food drives.  With some days delivering as many as a dozen offers to our email inbox or our Google Voice message system, it was obvious that it would take yet more time and effort to make sure that people heard back from us.  Few things would be worse than greeting an offer of help with silence.

Diane Malcolm, a volunteer at Trinity Cathedral’s bookstore and relative newcomer to town, offered to take charge of food drive coordination. Diane’s diligent follow-up, on top of Barbara’s steady support, made it possible for us to engage a whole new group of volunteers.

Even though late November and early December found RCFB very much in the throes of food drive coordination, securing permits for construction, and media interest, we stopped to take time to thank the volunteers who had hung in there with us through difficult conditions since the fire.  Each of our regular volunteers was presented with a porcelain ornament designed by Daisy Sugiyama of Boniform Design, bearing a photo of Mac & Cheese and the sentiment, “comfort and joy.”

Comfort and joy is exactly what our volunteers brought to River City Food Bank’s many desperate clients throughout the especially difficult fall of 2010.

Next: Longing for the mundane

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

The best Christmas present(s) ever

September 20, 2011

Sixth in a series

Late on December 21, 2010, River City Food Bank at last received the use permit that allowed us to occupy the donated temporary space in the foot of the Sutter Medical Center Sacramento garage.

While we worried how we would make it through the critical holiday giving season without operating phones and an office, Sacramento businesses, organizations and individuals came through with so many generous donations.  In addition to financial donations, many businesses made generous in-kind donations; Sierra Office Supplies dropped off boxes of paper, pencils and more, Ferrari Color printed five banners for us to use as temporary signage, and Caltronics found a copier for our Christmas stocking.

In 2009, approximately 30 organizations held large scale food drives benefiting RCFB.  In the 2010 holiday season, 224 people and organizations conducted food drives, yielding approximately 65,000 lbs. of food.

Eileen was surprised on December 3 when she attended the Partners in Philanthropy luncheon at the Business Journal’s invitation.  Sponsors AT&T, Wells Fargo and Western Health Advantage huddled before the event and decided to consolidate their donations. Eileen walked out with a $13,000 check.

Local businesses and professionals donated approximately $50,000 worth of materials and labor to improve our temporary space.  Our list of heroes included Richard Sambucetti and Lane Borges (owner) of Borges Architectural Group; Valley Commercial Contractors (Jeff DeWeese and Hal Franscioni); Weckworth Electric (Rod Weckworth and Nate Petee); River City Restoration (Scott Joseph); Norberg Engineering (Bill Norberg); T&S Plumbing and Fab Works (Tim Patton); Barnum and Celillo (Fred Barnum); Panattoni Construction (Steve Soderburg and David Everman), Airco Mechanical (Matt DeWitt); and Roscoe Glass (Dan McGoldrick).

As we completed construction, one big worry remained: how would we replace the commercial freezers and refrigerators that burned in the fire?  One of the thing that distinguishes RCFB from other food closets is its inclusion of protein — dairy and frozen ground meat — in our three-day emergency food supplies.  Without large commercial appliances, we had no way to store such foods at a safe temperature.

Steve Heath of United Way offered to approach Hobart, which agreed to donate two commercial refrigerators and two commercial freezers from its refrigeration division, Traulsen.  When the guys from Jericho Electric installed them, they said, “These are the best boxes made.”  Hobart and Traulsen saved RCFB approximately $24,000 through their generous donation.

The holiday just kept getting better when our Google Voice answering service picked up a message on Christmas Eve from Rabo Bank in Roseville.  Rabo asked for our address to send us a check for $20,000 to support our rebuilding efforts.

Besides food drives, so many organizations and businesses thought up clever ways to get involved.  Organizations donating proceeds to RCFB included the Bel Tempo Handbell Choir, Elite Fitness, Bounce U, Selland’s, the Urban Hive, and Peet’s at 19th and R.

Next:  The most welcome gift of volunteers

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

Sutter to the rescue! (Now for the permit)

September 13, 2011

Braving the cold: Susan Timmer, Steve Heath, Kim Tucker and Lesley Miller

As everyone reeled in the hours following the fire, a very large and very welcome life preserver was thrown to us in our turbulent sea.  Sutter Medical Center Sacramento offered River City Food Bank temporary operating space in the lower floor of their parking garage, just across from our still-smoking agency home.

Saying “yes” was the easy part.  Eileen wasn’t daunted that the Sutter space was unimproved – a shell with no walls, electrical or plumbing – but she didn’t know what lay ahead even with a very straightforward plan to make the space operable for what she expected to be a matter of months.  Richard Sambucetti of Borgess Architectural guided the process of space planning through the sometimes tedious, sometimes frustrating process of permitting.  The City’s Planning Department, operating in very lean times, did its best to provide prompt feedback and to turn the permit request around as quickly as possible.

Not surprisingly, River City Food Bank wanted to make the minimum improvements possible given that it would not benefit from the bathroom, sink, walls and venting that were eventually required.  Equally understandably, the City wanted to make sure that its building codes – intended to protect public safety – were enforced fairly.

As time passed, what would become one of the wettest winters in years started to make it impossible to operate on the street.  Another blessing: Trinity Cathedral offered their Great Hall and Sunday School classrooms when November and December rain and wind moved in.

When we set a date of December 1 to celebrate our new temporary home, we were confident that construction would be completed.

Instead, we hadn’t been given permission to start.  Eileen and Susan Timmer, Board President, braved the cold for the early morning media event and let visitors see the space that would soon be bustling with activity.  The “star” of the event was Eileen’s laptop, from which – miraculously – RCFB’s computer consultant, Dan Goodlet, owner of Enable Network, had been able to retrieve emails, documents and data.

It was short but sweet: most of all, a public opportunity to recognize Steve Cohn, Sacramento City Council member for the third district, and representatives of two our our major sponsors, Keri Thomas of Sutter Medical Center Sacramento and Joanne Bronsen of Wells Fargo.  We also thanked Sierra Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sacramento Region Community Foundation, Golden One Credit Union, Delta Dental, the Sacramento Bee and the van Loben Sels/RembeRock Foundation.

Hours later, the day went from good to great.  Eileen sent this email to the Board thanking them for their participation in the morning event, and relaying news of an amazing donation:

Let me begin by thanking everyone who was able to be present and very cold at this morning’s ceremonial move-in media event.  Of course, the building is far from move-in ready, but the spirit of support was strong.
The day before Thanksgiving I received a phone call from a Bank of America representative who asked me to write a grant proposal ASAP, due by 5 pm Wednesday (the day before thanksgiving).  It was an on-line application and I was using wifi from the 2600 Capitol Ave. office.  So, I began, and with Pam’s budget help, slammed out a proposal and thought I was finished about 3:45 pm.  But when I went to submit, I found that the main proposal had not been saved because of wifi interruption.  So I began anew, wrote & saved in Word, and at 5:45 pm emailed to Pam who cut and pasted it in the electronic form and decided something was better than nothing.  If Pam had not been so gracious, cool, and encouraging, I don’t think I could have finished at all. 
Today the B of A rep called and said she was pleased to report that Bank of America had approved a $50,000 grant award to River City Food Bank to help us rebuild. Unbelievable!
Next:  The best Christmas ever
Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

River City Food Bank’s scrappy post-fire street operation

September 6, 2011

Fourth in a series

We were blessed with clear skies in late October, but we knew we would have to get a roof over our heads as quickly as possible with winter coming.  We also had to find a way to resume our administrative activities, something that was harder to do after Eileen’s laptop burned in the fire.

Our first step was to resume food distribution through what we called our “scrappy street operation.”  After Goodwill received permission to park a trailer at the curb of our burned out locatio, Eileen wrote on October 27:

Parked in front of our charred building is a huge trailer sporting the Goodwill/RCFB partnership logo.  We will be sorting, loading and storing our food donations tomorrow.  Yay!  Can’t thank Goodwill and Joe [Mendez] enough!”

On October 29, we erected folding tables and chairs under pop-up red tents loaned by Jesuit High School, and with our paper orms and clip boards, prepared to start receiving clients on the sidewalk.  The brick wall adjacent to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California office (also burned out by the fire), became our staging area to weigh groceries and set up stores of bread and other non-perishables.  More than 100 people showed up for help that first day, even though we had not promoted our opening.

Those who came reflected the new profile of those in need.  Since the recession began, we have fed more children and seniors.  Among the people who came to us was a frail elderly woman.  Helen did not have enough money to buy healthy food and had a difficult time getting around.  Scerese, her social worker, drove Helen to our location and offered a steadying arm as she approached the table to answer our questions.  Children were also in evidence.  Even though it didn’t fit with our emphasis on healthy snacks, the children in the crowd enjoyed the lollipops that were handed out.

Our staging area doubled as a receiving station for food drives.  People began calling right after the fire offering to hold food drives to help us replace the 10,000 or more pounds of food that burned.  Individuals began pulling up with trunks full of non-perishable foods.  The Mountain Lions even got in the act when they arrived to sort food after inviting their fans to bring canned food to their October 30 game.

Among the many calls were those from clients and former clients.  They made us realize that many of our clients viewed RCFB as more than an agency they used:

I’m so sorry that happened to us, and I say “us” because I really feel a part of you.  It hurts.”

Former clients like Anthony, owner of Mileena’s Thrift Store, called to say they couldn’t do much, but he and his family wanted to help.  They gave their customers 15% off of their purchase if they brought in five cans of food to donate. “Many people in this area need help themselves, but they still wanted to help the food bank,” he told us.

During the most sleepless nights, messages and offers of assistance like these kept Eileen and the volunteers going.

Next:  the challenge of getting a roof back over our heads

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone

Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

Brutal reality sets in after the Oct. 21, 2010 fire

August 23, 2011

Sharon Nelson and Gary Dinnen of Trinity Lutheran picked up donated items

Second in a series

When faced with a crisis, we are buoyed by a burst of adrenaline.  But once the moment passes, we come back down to earth and brutal reality.  For the person closest to the tragedy, Eileen Thomas, executive director, it also meant nights when sleep would not come, or when the night would end too soon, interrupted by a mind overloaded with mental lists of what needed to be done next.

The response from the community was gratifying, but posed a challenge.  Donors needed to be thanked.  Businesses who offered in-kind donations and other support needed to be called back.  Organizations and individuals who wanted to sponsor canned food drives over the holidays needed bins, information about what to collect and when to wrap up the drive, and often, someone to pick up donated items.

River City Food Bank had no phones, no stationery, and no canned food collection bins.  Those had all burned, along with the holiday newsletter that was about to be mailed, signs and brochures.

This was no ordinary time to lose materials.  Holiday appeals traditionally brought in 30-40% of RCFB’s operating funds for the entire year.  And canned food donations from holiday drives had become an important supplement to the agency’s budget.

Our small staff of three — the executive director, a program manager and a food stamp outreach coordinator — was stretched in the best of times, but not up to handling the overnight expansion of work that had to be completed.  The crunch left Eileen and the Board worrying about how RCFB would:

  • set up a temporary “street” operation so that needy people would not go hungry
  • get out its holiday appeal letters
  • restore its fund development database, which held the records of all individual and corporate donors
  • develop a space plan for the temporary space that Sutter had offered, and get permitted by the City to operate there
  • find an affordable semi-permanent location for its use going forward
  • keep plans for its major fundraiser, Empty Bowls, on track

In an emergency strategic planning session on October 30, the Board of Directors developed a “guerrilla” operating plan to address two fronts: immediate re-establishment of operations, and longer-term purchase or lease of a building that would be RCFB’s home for the foreseeable future.  Among other actions taken by the Board, Eileen was encouraged to hire an assistant.

Richard Sambucetti of Borges Architectural began putting in what became hundreds of hours helping RCFB to figure out how to make the temporary Sutter space as functional as possible, while minimizing costs to improve the space.  He led the lengthy process of securing a building permit from the City of Sacramento.

Volunteers stepped in as temporary extensions of staff.  Bernadette Kraft and Sheila Hard (Board member) took care of acknowledging gifts by preparing thank you letters.  Pam Kepler, Board member, worked long hours depositing donation checks and keeping the organization’s accounting books accurate and current.  Betsy Stone (author of this post) assisted with communications, including checking Google Voice for recorded messages that had come in to the agency’s main phone number — especially since donors and media were calling and needed immediate responses.

That old saying about “it takes a village” applies just as well to the challenge of re-establishing a nonprofit’s operation.  It took a lot of work from a lot of people to handle the extra work, and preserve the organization’s commitment to put as much of its resources as possible into providing food for people in need.

The day after the fire, a man rolled up in his wheelchair.  One of the volunteers asked him if he was there to donate.  No, he said, he was hoping for food.  He – and many others – hadn’t heard that River City Food Bank had burned.  Another volunteer offered him $20 to enable him to buy food, but he refused – pointing at the bread and canned pork and beans that had been dropped off by one of RCFB’s supporters.  He said he wouldn’t take the money, but a few cans of food would make a difference.  It was a reminder that restoring RCFB was a matter of urgency.  For many individuals and families, a 3-day emergency food supply makes the difference in very lean times.

Next:  Mac & Cheese, the comfort cats

Posted by @philanthrophile, also known as Betsy Stone


Tip:  If you’d like to keep up on the latest news about area hunger, RCFB’s efforts to rebuild or major events like Empty Bowls, subscribe to the e-newsletter by signing up on the website.  Look for the email signup field, “Join our secure email list.”

Harvest for Hunger kicked off Empty Bowls on a PERFECT Sacramento evening

October 8, 2009
Nancy Fisher, Sandy Smoley, Susan Timmer and Gay Goff celebrated the Empty Bowls kickoff at Harvest for Hunger

Nancy Fisher, Sandy Smoley, Susan Timmer and Gay Goff celebrated the Empty Bowls kickoff at Harvest for Hunger

Just a quick post to share our photos, which are posted on  We also posted a message on Facebook (not a fan yet?  Join us!)  Thanks to everyone who came to support our important mission.