Volunteers with oranges in Oakland.
September 21, 2015
by Michael Altfest

Greetings from Alameda County Community Food Bank – and happy Hunger Action Month from Oakland, California – the nation’s most diverse city, the top (yes, top!) food scene on the west coast and now one of the top (yes, top!) places to visit in the world!

Hunger Action Month has long played an important role in our Food Bank’s endeavors to end hunger in our community. We’re proud to have one of the most aggressive and accomplished grassroots advocacy programs in the nation, and are honored to share some thoughts for this year’s “HAM” efforts! 

As you know, orange is the official color of hunger relief. Though our Food Bank’s official color may be red, orange is actually more indicative of the work we do. Actually, oranges are more indicative of the work we do… 

We recently learned that our food bank distributes the largest quantity of oranges in the network.  Admittedly, it was pretty cool to hear that news. But when we got to thinking, we realized: an achievement like this shouldn’t be surprising. Back in 2005, we were the first food bank to cease distribution of soda, deliberately replacing the million-plus pound gap with farm-fresh produce – committing to make items like oranges the core of our food distribution.  Farm-fresh fruits and veggies now make up more than half of the 32 million-plus pounds of food we distribute annually.  And living just a half-day’s drive from California’s vast orange groves, it naturally makes sense that oranges play such a huge role in our work.

But the sheer volume of oranges that come through our facility (well over 2 million pounds annually) only tells part of the story about their significance to our work:

  • Oranges go hand-in-hand with our volunteer activity! More than 18,000 volunteers this year will contribute time as integral parts of our food distribution operations. The hours they serve equal more than half of our staff’s time. Because oranges are our highest-volume item, there’s no image that embodies our volunteer efforts better than a group volunteers huddled around a bin, packaging oranges for distribution to families in need. But, oranges can also be a go-to on those (rare) days when we have a lot of volunteers but perhaps not a lot of work. 

This is because…

  • Oranges are available year-round!  Oh, the California climate. It not only makes for pleasant living year-round, but it also makes for an ideal climate to grow certain crops. While others – say, watermelon, stone fruit, squash or corn – are very limited to certain seasons, we’re able to access oranges 365 days a year. 

That’s important, because…

  • They’re really the perfect product! As a food bank, there are two big factors (beyond availability) that go into our food procurement: cost (because we buy most of what we provide) and nutritious value (because we have very rigorous nutrition standards).  

With California’s drought, we’ve experienced significant increases in the cost of many produce items we distribute. Oranges haven’t been spared from this, but they still remain a few cents per pound more affordable than many other items we provide. 

The nutritious value of an orange is well-documented. You can achieve most of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C in just one orange. But, oranges are also known to contain anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and they help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. The latter property is critical when serving low-income communities prone to disproportionately high rates of diet-related illness. 

But set all that aside for a second, because…

  • They’re yummy – and familiar! Oranges aren’t tofu (personal opinion, folks – calm down!).  Oranges taste great on their own … and they’re versatile enough to make basically any meal taste better (I dare you to prove me wrong). Plus, oranges are recognizable and common in many regional cuisines, which is important for a service area as diverse as ours. 

And for good measure – because diversity is a critical part of our food bank’s values – did you know that oranges are grown on every continent except Antarctica?

As I type this, an acknowledgement email was just sent to our entire staff by our volunteer manager. Last week, we held a special volunteer shift to help clear our facility of an abundance of produce that needed to get out into our community. By some accounts, it may have been the single most productive volunteer shift in the history of our food bank. More than 75,000 pounds of food examined, sorted, packaged by our volunteers … and now most of it is already on its way to our community. 

No surprise here: more than 57,000 pounds of that food (over 75%!) was – you guessed it – oranges!

Quite a fitting start to Hunger Action Month, huh?! 

*Michael Altfest is the communications manager at Alameda County Community Food Bank.

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , Hunger Action Month , California , Alameda County Community Food Bank

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