A new drive-thru food pantry at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton is giving Tri-Valley residents facing hunger an easy and convenient way to access healthy food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergency food distribution site opened its operations earlier this month as part of a collaboration among partner agencies including the Alameda County Social Services Agency (ACSSA) and Alameda County Community Food Bank.
Nearly every aspect of daily life has been disrupted for most people since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including being able to afford basic food items.
The number of Americans facing food insecurity is projected to jump from 37 million to 54 million this year due to COVID-19, according to Feeding America. The national organization recently declared that "demand for charitable food assistance has increased and is expected to continue to increase for the foreseeable future."
The twice weekly drive-thru food distribution at the fairgrounds -- also known as a community point of distribution, or C-POD -- is a local response to the rapidly growing problem of food insecurity.
Replicating the same process as the Zhone Way Emergency Food Distribution site that's been operating in Oakland since the end of March, Alameda County representatives said the fairgrounds C-POD "provides relief to area residents who have been hard hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"Making sure that every person in Alameda County has access to food during this difficult time is a priority," said Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents District 1, including Livermore and Dublin. "I'm pleased that we are providing drive-thru emergency food distribution at the Alameda Fairgrounds."
Close to 300 cars (or a total of 330 households) lined up for the first day of operation on June 2. Boxes filled with produce, meat and cheese provided from the California Association of Food Banks were loaded inside vehicles, following social distancing protocols.
"With the addition of a second food distribution site, we are able to expand our efforts to ensure that residents throughout the county have convenient access to the food resources needed to sustain them through this pandemic," said Lori Cox, ACSSA director. "The county and partner agencies understand the importance of building and sustaining effective partnerships that are able to rapidly respond to the emerging needs of our community during critical times like these."
Last month, the county also launched an "all-out effort to raise public awareness" about CalFresh, the state's food assistance program (known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), which currently serves about 131,000 county residents.
Public events have traditionally commemorated the month of May as CalFresh Awareness Month in Alameda County but the pandemic forced both organizations to regroup.
The digital outreach campaign, "Healthy Food When You Need It Most," is an effort between Cox's department and the food bank to educate the public on how to apply for CalFresh through social media, websites and email, and help connect residents to food distribution sites near them. With thousands of recent job cuts in Alameda County, new applications for CalFresh to ACSSA are up 120% from this time last year, and many more families and individuals in the area may be eligible.
Recent CalFresh policy changes triggered by COVID-19 include temporarily suspending the "Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents" (ABAWD) work requirement and interview requirement in some cases for CalFresh benefits, and providing emergency allotments to increase benefits to the maximum based on household size.
Due to school closures, children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals will also receive additional benefits to buy food called Pandemic EBT, or P-EBT. Families with children receiving CalFresh, Medi-Cal or foster care benefits do not need to apply.
"The need to increase awareness, outreach, and enrollment in CalFresh has never been greater, while reaching the public has never been more challenging," Cox said.
As part of the campaign, more than 115,000 emails containing a link to apply online for CalFresh will be sent to those on the food bank mailing list. An online informational session for community-based organizations covering options to connect people with food benefits will also be organized by the food bank and ACSSA.
Pleasanton city officials have also given their support to local organizations that are providing food service to needy residents. Last month, the Pleasanton City Council agreed to fully fund the city's annual human services grant requests this year, which include local nonprofits like Open Heart Kitchen, Axis Community Health, Sunflower Hill and Spectrum Community Services.
City staff have also been helping Tri-Valley Haven pack and deliver groceries to seniors during the pandemics and doing meal preparation alongside Open Heart Kitchen at Ridgeview Commons Kitchen on a daily basis.
"The city historically has partnered and supports many local organizations and nonprofits to serve our residents in most need pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, the city continues to work with local nonprofits," city spokesperson Cindy Chin told the Weekly, including assisting Open Heart Kitchen with meal distribution at the Pleasanton Senior Center.
CalFresh recipients can now also use their benefits online to purchase groceries at retailers such as Amazon and Walmart.
The emergency food distribution site at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, located at 4501 Pleasanton Ave., is open Tuesdays and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The schedule may change according to demand. Food is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.