Paul Ash of Marin Food Bank on Tackling Hunger in Marin
Paul Ash is the executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which he has led for nearly 30 years. When he started, the food bank distributed 3 million pounds of food annually; today it’s 48 million pounds. We caught up with Ash on why hunger persists in Marin and what his organization is doing to address it.
1) If you could share one little-known-fact about hunger in Marin County, what would that be?
Hunger exists in every nook and cranny of our community. It’s a health crisis that nobody is really talking about. Just because the economy is booming, not everyone is doing okay; after paying for the high costs of housing, thousands of our neighbors are having a hard time putting together three square meals a day. It’s children, seniors, and people with disabilities who are most at risk, but many of our participants are low-wage, working families with multiple jobs who are still not earning enough to make ends meet.
2) Speaking of which, you just opened a food pantry in Tiburon, which is one of the wealthiest areas in the already affluent Bay Area. Why Tiburon?
Our pantry at the Hilarita Apartments in Tiburon started when a few residents saw a need in their community and took action. They reached out to us, while also advocating with the complex’s property manager. This pantry now serves about three dozen families, with the help of those same resident advocates who volunteer every week. Food assistance helps these families stretch their dollars, so they don’t have to choose between buying food, buying medicine or paying bills.
3) One would assume that the approaching holiday season — with Thanksgiving this month — is the busiest time of the year for your organization. What does this time of the year mean to you?
The week before Thanksgiving, the SF-Marin Food Bank will provide more than 30,000 families in the Bay Area with ingredients to make a special meal with their loved ones: whole chickens, yams, mashed potatoes, cranberries and gravy, plus lots of fresh produce. Distributing this special holiday menu to so many families is truly a team effort that takes thousands of people. Personally, it’s a time for me to reflect on the work that we’re doing at the food bank, recommit myself to our mission and inspire my staff.
4) Your organization recently expanded operations in Marin with a larger warehouse in San Rafael. How do you anticipate the new space will impact the food bank’s ability to better serve Marin’s residents?
This new property is a game-changer for our organization. About three times larger than our old warehouse, it will allow us to increase food distribution, add more services and engage with more Marin residents who wish to volunteer their time.
5) How does the food bank manage to secure so much fresh produce to hand out to those in need?
In 2000, we started our Farm to Family program, which fosters relationships directly with farmers and packers. As a result, 60 percent of the food we distribute is fresh produce, which is essential for our participants’ health. Today, Farm to Family serves a statewide network of 43 food banks, nourishing 600,000 Californians every week.
6) Is it really possible to end hunger in Marin, and if so, what do we need to do as a community to make that happen?
We believe hunger is a solvable problem. The key is for us to get action from everyone who has the time and energy to give it. Donating and/or volunteering with the food bank are great ways to start. We especially need people to lend their voices to our advocacy efforts, which aim to solve food insecurity on a systemic level. Our advocacy team conducts research and advances legislation that increases access to food assistance, which is key to ending hunger at a local level.
7) Many people that live in Marin tend to like to support global causes, so how do you make the case for Marinites to give back closer to home?
I know that people can understand how fundamental food is to a person’s well-being. That’s not just true for individuals, but for our community as a whole. When everyone in our local community has enough to eat, our community is a better place for all. We urge Marinites to help provide food to neighbors right here at home – it really makes a difference and can get a struggling family or individual started on the path to success. Food makes it possible for kids to learn more at school. Food helps low-wage neighbors to focus at work and face life’s challenges. Food helps seniors stay healthy and active. With the community behind them, our neighbors can get the nutritious food they need to thrive.
To learn more about the SF-Marin Food Bank and get involved, visit sfmfoodbank.org.
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