Hunger lives next door.
Bakersfield ranks first in the nation with the most people in a metropolitan area who can’t afford to buy the food they need. One in 4 children in Kern County goes to bed hungry every night. Ironically, 40 percent of all food produced in America is wasted, and wasted food consumes 21 percent of all freshwater, 18 percent of all cropland and 21 percent of all landfill volume.
Led by the Kern County Department of Public Health Services, Waste Hunger Not Food strives to make a change in these somber statistics.
“We developed this program in an attempt to help our neighbors who are hungry by rescuing and delivering healthy, wholesome food that would otherwise be thrown away” said Matt Constantine, director of Kern County Public Health Services.
Thanks to grant funding from CalRecycle and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Kern County Public Health launched this innovative program late last year and oversees the transport of donated surplus food from local restaurants, schools and markets to distribution sites where the food will be made available to local residents in need.
“It’s been an incredible partnership” said Eric Sabella, nutrition services director with Bakersfield City School District. “The kids really seem to understand how important it is to donate their uneaten food instead of throwing it away in the trash.”
BCSD helped pilot the program late last year with five schools participating and has recently increased to 15 schools. Edison, Fairfax, Fruitvale, Greenfield and Kern High School districts are also donating food, making a total of 28 schools currently participating. Sully’s markets, Frugatti’s, La Costa Mariscos and Subway are also donating food to the program.
Three refrigerated vans are deployed daily to rescue food around Bakersfield. Drivers, also known as food rescuers, are participants in Kern County homeless shelters’ job development programs. They themselves have experienced hunger, oftentimes homelessness, and now are given an opportunity to be employed and part of a communitywide effort to feed the hungry.
Each driver is trained by Public Health’s Environmental Health Division on proper food handling and transport and are learning other important job skills like customer service and data entry.
So where is the food going?
Waste Hunger has partnered with CityServe and dozens of community churches in an attempt to deliver food directly into neighborhoods and into the hands of those in need.
“Some churches receive a delivery of fresh food and then volunteers walk directly into the neighborhood with signs reading ‘free food’ and the families are so blessed, often crying because of their appreciation,” said Pastor Robin Robinson, CityServe Kern County coordinator. The donations are healthy products like milk, juice, fruit, vegetables and other wholesome foods. The goal is to bring food directly into neighborhoods rather than residents having to ride a bus or walk a long distance to get the food they need. Each church is trained by Public Health to ensure that food is stored and distributed properly.
Waste Hunger Not Food is just in its infancy and has already rescued more than 110,000 pounds of food. Currently operating in Bakersfield, the intent is to expand to other Kern County areas in the coming years. ￼
Michelle Corson is the public relations officer for the Kern County Public Health Services Department. For more information on health resources and programs, go to www.kernpublichealth.com.