Local food pantries battle on the front line of food insecurity. But they're small and they don’t have trucks to transport big loads of food, not to mention refrigeration to store adequate supplies.
So, a network of more than two hundred food aid organizations across Sacramento County relies on the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services to aggregate, store and distribute food aid to them.
Spokeswoman Kelly Siefkin points out local food pantries face another organizational challenge: they have little or no paid staff.
She says volunteers with limited time and resources often keep these operations going.
"If those volunteers are responsible for shopping for the entire local agency and distributing the food, there are probably ways we could streamline the process," says Siefkin.
To that end, local food pantries can now order online from the Sacramento Food Bank and tailor their order to the community’s needs. The food is then delivered from a giant, central hub in Natomas directly to partner food banks in urban, suburban and rural areas across Sacramento County.
This strategy is a welcome development for Pastor James Seiler of the Real Life Church of Galt. He says volunteers at the church’s food pantry are relieved not to drive an hour each way for food pick up two times a week.
Seiler says another factor is helping him do more with less. He says the Sacramento Food Bank negotiated with local retailers in Galt to get them to donate directly to the church food pantry.
“Now, twice a week, we go and pick up items from grocery stores and a Walmart in our area,” explains Seiler.
“We don't have to drive all the way to Natomas. They give them to us and we stock our shelves and we make them available to the people."
In turn, the Galt church pantry distributes food to six nearby food closets.
The Sacramento Food Bank calls this strategy the Neighborhood Food Access Network. Kelly Siefkin says three “NFANS” are up and running now and two more will open by the end of the year.
James Seiler estimates the church food pantry has boosted the number of clients they’re reaching from 250 to 1,000 over the past nine months.
Food pantries serving rural communities have different needs than, say, the urban food closet that may be walking distance or a bus ride away for city residents.
“We’re spread out geographically. We go all the way to the river and all the way towards the hills,” says Seiler.
“So there’s a need to go out to people who often don’t have access to a car.”
Looking ahead, Seiler aims to launch a mobile unit to reach another vulnerable population in his community: farm workers whose immigration status may make them leery of driving to a food bank.
“We’ve set up a couple of ‘depos’ to supply food and we’re trying to build trust,” says Seiler.
“With the issue of immigration, they’re afraid or concerned to come to us. So we’re starting to go to them.”