by David Goldstein
This edition of the VCReporter comes out on Thanksgiving, the one hundred fifty sixth time Americans have celebrated the holiday since Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national day of observance in 1863. At that time, our country was in the midst of the Civil War, and the commemoration made it clear, even in the midst of difficult times, we still have much for which to be thankful.
Similarly, the first Thanksgiving celebration in America, held by the Pilgrims in 1621, came amidst a backdrop of suffering and deprivation. The Pilgrims, who had arrived close to winter, struggled in a hostile wilderness, and nearly half died in the first year. Thanksgiving represented a recovery in a world still dangerous to them.
The Wampanoag Indian tribe credited with helping the Pilgrims learn to track deer, navigate the forest, and develop a food supply, also were recovering from hardship when they joined the Pilgrims for Thanksgiving. The tribe had recently been decimated by disease.
Modern medicine now keeps epidemics at bay, local cultivated fields yield abundant crops, and the threat of a dark wilderness overwhelming a pilgrim settlement has been replaced by a wilderness yielding to human development. However, some in our community still experience deprivation.
Monica White, President and CEO of Food Share, the local non-profit food bank which distributes to food pantries throughout the county, says one in six people in Ventura County is “food insecure,” and 20% of these people are children. Food Share’s web site explains the implications of this data, based on surveys of Ventura County residents served by Food Share’s program: In the month prior to seeking Food Share’s services 69 percent of clients reported they had to choose between food and utilities, 66 percent had to choose between food and medical care, and 31 percent had to choose between food and education.
If you have plenty of food this Thanksgiving, one way to express gratitude is to help organizations such as Food Share, either by donating or volunteering. You can learn more about joining the more than 400 people who volunteer to help Food Share provide sustenance to almost 75,000 people in an average month, by calling Christina Forino, Director of Volunteer Services, at (805) 983-7100.
One upcoming opportunity to help Food Share will be through their canned tree drive on December 5 and 6, from 9 am to 5 pm, at Figueroa Plaza in downtown Ventura. White reports FOOD Share regularly collects over 200,000 pounds of food at this event, which celebrates the holiday spirit by involving teams in assembling donated cans into Christmas trees.
Although canned foods are associated with food distribution programs, 32 percent of food distributed by Food Share is actually produce.
Food Forward is another local non-profit channeling the surplus of those blessed with abundance to those who suffer from need. Rather than focusing on distribution of shelf-stable products, Food Forward focuses on fruit and vegetables, harvesting from donors’ backyards, collecting surplus and visually distressed produce from farmers’ markets, and taking advantage of other opportunities to capture surplus and prevent waste.
Ventura County Branch Manager Ally Gialketsis commented, “Harvesting surplus crops, from backyards or farms, and collecting at the farmers markets is a win-win-win; it not only feeds hungry people, it also generates a tax deduction for donors, and it prevents produce from rotting, which contributes to climate change.”
Food Forward is currently recruiting volunteers to glean from the Channel Island Harbor Farmers Market on Sunday, December 8, from 1:15 pm to 2:30 pm. As of this writing, their web site notes they have 2 spots left for volunteers, but they also have upcoming backyard harvest volunteer opportunities, such as a December 14 event from 2 pm to 4 pm in Ventura, which has 7 spots left.
Produce collected by Food Forward is distributed through some of the same food pantries supplied by Food Share, but Food Forward also holds innovative distribution events. For example, the last Tuesday of each month, they set up a free farmers’ market-style event to distribute produce at Simi at the Garden, a community garden at 1636 Sinaloa Road in Simi Valley.
Waste Free VC, a coalition of public sector agencies, non-profit organizations, and for-profit businesses involved in edible food recovery is currently preparing for implementation of several programs by identifying types and quantities of food currently being donated and edible food being disposed. You can help by completing their on-line survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/wastefreevc .
Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were grateful for having been sustained by their new environment and by the neighbors with whom they shared resources. In that spirit of thankfulness and sharing, this month, show your appreciation by reducing waste and donating food.
David Goldstein is an Environmental Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency