Posted by: acbuildingblocks | August 24, 2012

Sharing Food to Families: Site Visit Stories

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I make my way into a conference room, excited to learn more about the Kresge Foundation’s Safety-Net Enhancement Initiative (SNEI) Grant Recipients. When I arrive my eyes are drawn to the place cards on each large round table spread throughout the room. California, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts and Ohio. A sense of connection to a larger purpose pours over me. To my right I see each grant recipient’s logic model, filled with trees, roots and Venn diagrams. They represent how their program intends to produce results and is informed by their program’s goals. These logic models demonstrate varying but strong connections to the community. This conference allows the SNEI grantees to learn from each other while focusing on best practices spanning program evaluation, program management and sustainability. This year the annual Kresge SNEI conference is taking place at our home base in AlamedaCounty and highlights the Food to Families (F2F) program. After breakfast and introductions wrap up, we split into two groups representing each of the F2F Partner Sites. One heads out for a tour of West Oakland to visit the West Oakland Health Center and Mandela Marketplace and the other to Ashland-Cherryland to visit Dig Deep Farms & Produce and Tiburcio-Vasquez Health Center.

West Oakland:

We all loaded onto the buses outside of the hotel. For the crew going to West Oakland, the tour began as soon as we started moving. Ms. De Linda Horton of the West Oakland Health Center (WOHC) mentioned that she grew up in the area, and that Swan’s, a shop at the border between Old Oakland and West Oakland, used to be (and maybe even still is) a hub for familiar southern-inspired things. It was like a meeting ground, she said. You would always run into people you knew there. She spoke about how the community used to be vibrant—shops, lots of music, and a great self-sustaining community. Before the highway cut West Oakland in half, and before the Bay Bridge was widely used, West Oakland was the port for all the East Bay. She spoke about PreservationPark, the Old Oakland home of the many gorgeous Victorian houses that had been moved for the creation of the highway that split the neighborhood in half many years ago. According to Dana Harvey of Mandela Marketplace (MMP), the 1989 Earthquake turned out to be a saving grace for West Oakland. Residents did not allow the highway to be rebuilt. Now, the current maze of highways goes around the neighborhood and Mandela Parkway is a popular spot for dog-walking and morning jogs.

The SNEI grantees were interested in the history of West Oakland, but they were really here to see F2F in action. Our first stop was the WestOaklandHealthCenter. After a brief tour of the campus, we all sat down and Dr. Cooper, Executive Director of WOHC, spoke about how WOHC began. Their goal was to make non-emergency care possible for low-income and uninsured people at local health centers instead of resorting to the emergency room at Highland Hospital. Initially it was a trial, but after much work it paid off.

After the WOHC visit, back on the bus we went. We drove up to one of West Oakland’s Healthy Neighborhood Store Alliance stores, Bottles Liquor. As we arrived, two members of MMP’s West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered (WYSE) team and their coordinator, Monica Monterroso, pulled up on their tricycles with baskets overflowing with produce. They were about to stock Bottles with its produce for the next couple of days. They explained their process—rotating the produce, taking inventory, and counting waste. After, everyone took a look around and admired the produce display that the WYSE team members were making for the week.

Our final stop of the morning was Mandela Foods Cooperative. Mandela Foods focuses on sustainably grown, local, and pesticide-free foods. None of the products they carry contain high fructose corn syrup and they have a good variety of fresh produce. There is even a deli where future business owner and former WYSE team member, James, makes sandwiches, soups, etc. Cool right?! Upon arrival at Mandela Foods, most of the SNEI visitors headed straight for the bulk cases and fruit section. They selected fresh cherries, various stone fruit, trail mix, dark chocolate covered almonds, and yogurt covered cranberries. After everyone had their fill of snacks, we loaded back onto the bus, and headed back to downtown Oakland.

Ashland-Cherryland:

I ride on the bus with the Ashland-Cherryland tour group, with many people who have never been to Oakland or AlamedaCounty. It is very surreal: I am witnessing the county through an outsider’s perspective. As we drive down 580, Hank Herrera of Dig Deep Farms & Produce (DDFP) frankly states that if we look to our left, we will see the hills and to our right, the flatlands. In a sense, 580 serves as a divider between those that have clean air and those that do not – between those that have access to grocery stores and those that do not. The list goes on.

Finally after driving past CampSweeney, an Alameda County Juvenile Justice facility, we arrive at DDFP’s City View Farm. This beautiful plot of land is their newest and largest site. DDFP strongly believes in creating wealth within their community. They do not just grow fruits and vegetables; they also create economic opportunity where they live.

The view from the farm was gorgeous. Lisa Hill, the Superintendent at CampSweeney, points out this is a place where youth can make amends with their community. The farm site overlooks San Leandro and has a great view of the San FranciscoBay. Kids can observe where they come from at this vantage point and gain a renewed connection to their community. The youth can see beyond their house, their street and their school all as individual components of their life. They are able to put themselves into a larger perspective and see themselves as a member of the whole Bay Area community.

Jose Joel Garcia, CEO of Tiburcio-Vasquez Health Center (TVHC) made his way up to the group at DDFP’s City View Farm. He hands out delicious fruit smoothies that the youth team made. As we enjoy, we look out over San Leandro and the San   FranciscoBay. Mr. Garcia points out that Ashland-Cherryland is unincorporated. Its 250,000 residents do not necessarily have easy access to many basic services.  In order to mediate this, non-profits and health centers do their best to work together to meet the needs of and advocate for people in this community. Finally, before we loaded back on the bus to Oakland, he hands out copies of the WIC cookbook. The pictures were so clear and crisp I felt like I could reach onto the page and take a bite!

All in all, both groups had a pleasant and inspiring morning.

Written by Deja Kono & Nora Downs

Click here for more information about SNEI

For more on the F2F Partners, check out the following links:

Tiburico-Vasquez Health CenterWest Oakland Health CouncilMandela MarketPlaceDig Deep Farms & Produce

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