findBy Frank V. Furino  

When I first saw the statistics, I thought it had to be an error.  How is it possible that in our Coachella Valley – the recreational destination of people from around the world – how is it possible that an average of 90,000+ people seek food assistance here…each month?  But in triple checking the figures, it turns out to be spot on.  And we’re not alone.

 

In fiscal 2013-14, FIND Food Bank distributed 10.6 million pounds of emergency and supplemental food assistance in eastern Riverside and southern San Bernardino Counties. If you’re like me, you might be asking, What exactly is FIND? Having spent time recently touring their operation, I can tell you that first of all, FIND stands for “Food In Need Of Distribution.” And secondly, they are the regional food bank serving the Coachella Valley and several points beyond.

Specifically, FIND is a major food-receiving and distribution operation, receiving millions of food items from farmers, corporate food manufacturers and local food retailers. From this hub, FIND partners with a host of community-based programs to assist tens of thousands of people each month in having enough food to help make ends meet. And this is where the story becomes about people.

FIND’s partnering agencies in our Coachella Valley are organizations so many of us know and support – organizations like Martha’s Village & Kitchen, Boys and Girls Clubs, and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, just to name just a few. With food distributed through FIND, these wondrous organizations are able to fulfill their extremely worthwhile objectives. And just who are these needy people who seek a helping hand? FIND’S President & CEO, Lisa Houston filled in the blanks.

“The numbers may surprise you,” she said. “A majority of our client households all too often have to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities, transportation, even medical care. And sadly,” she continued, “One third report having to do so monthly.”
The numbers from FIND’s national member organization, Feeding America, were equally surprising. Of those served nationally in 2014, 43% identify as Caucasian, 26% as African-American, and 20% as Latino. More than half of households had a least one household member employed in the last year; 41% of households have a least one adult member with an education beyond high school; 21% have someone who has graduated from college; and 20% of households have at least one member who is, or has served, in the U.S. military.

Looking at a different set of numbers, I was impressed to see that FIND is able to provide 7 meals for every $1 donated to them. That’s what I said. Every $1 donated provides 7 meals — balanced meals, including protein, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, juice, cereal — and more. As I thought about it, at that rate, the average dinner check for two, at a decent restaurant in our Valley, would provide hundreds of meals through FIND. And something else caught my attention when I spoke with Ms. Houston…The way FIND maximizes their donations.

“More than 95% of the food that moves through our warehouse is donated,” said Houston. “The funds we raise are used to cover the cost of processing, transporting, housing, and distributing 11+ million pounds of food each year, of which 6+ million is in the form of highly perishable — and very nutritious — fresh produce.”

Such numbers began to make more sense when I toured FIND’s warehouse in Indio. If I didn’t know any better, it would have been easy to think it belonged to one of the major supermarket chains. A huge complex, stocked floor to ceiling with foodstuffs, cleaning products, and non-food items. All the essentials for a typical, well run home. And while I was there, massive trucks coming and going, delivering and redistributing¬ — impressive, to say the least.

Another FIND objective that is important for overall community health is reinforcing the connection between healthy eating and good health in general. “We know that a healthy diet is a major component in the equation of all around good health,” Houston said. “Providing healthy food to those in need helps reduce future health care costs associated with long-term food insecurity and poor health.”

Houston pointed out that FIND’s ultimate aim, in essence, is to put their organization out of business.

“Our goal is to become an unnecessary entity in our Valley,” said Houston. “Yes, we have a long way to go, but I can envision a day when all those we are now helping, no longer need our help. But in the meantime, we are an essential food source to many of our fellow Valley residents and we intend to be there for them as long as is necessary.”

I would very much like to write the story of FIND no longer being needed in our Valley, or, for that matter, any food program, anywhere in county, the state, the country…and dare I say it… the world. But I’m a Capricorn and a realist. For those of us who live a self-sufficient life, it shouldn’t be difficult to look outside our own world from time to time and see how we might help those less fortunate in our own neighborhood. FIND helps us do that. I urge you to take a moment and visit FINDFoodBank.org. See how you might help in the cause of ending hunger in our Valley. It couldn’t hurt.