The Berkeley Food Network (BFN) was founded in 2016 as an innovative, community-centered model for providing services to the food insecure residents of Berkeley, both housed and unhoused, in order to close documented gaps in access to food in Berkeley.
Research conducted in 2018 determined that nearly 24,000 Berkeleyans are living with food insecurity. They are seniors, working families, adult students – many with children – and the unhoused. Ninety-six percent of the food insecure in Berkeley are housed or marginally housed. Unfortunately, at that time, only 6,000 individuals were receiving direct food assistance in Berkeley.
Here is how we are working to end food insecurity in Berkeley:
In its first year, BFN created and strengthened a network of Berkeley and Alameda County organizations serving food insecure Berkeleyans in order to increase collaboration among those organizations. By January 2020, BFN’s network consisted of over 50 organizations. BFN hosts periodic membership meetings to raise concerns and share information, delivers trainings, and coordinates donated food deliveries among various member organizations.
Food Sourcing and Distribution Hub
BFN operates a food sourcing and distribution hub from its 9,500 square foot warehouse in West Berkeley. The hub is at the center of our work to end hunger in Berkeley and allows us to provide higher quality food, greater quantities, and more variety, including ample fresh foods, to all Berkeleyans who need food. Through the programs listed below, we provide both groceries and prepared meals for our city’s food insecure community members. We source culturally appropriate foods whenever possible to accommodate our clients’ food preferences and reduce waste.
Warehouse Pantry: BFN operates an on-site client choice pantry at our warehouse. We offer healthy shelf-stable foods, fresh dairy and produce, frozen meat, and frozen individually packaged prepared meals. The BFN warehouse pantry is open longer hours than other pantries in Berkeley in order to serve populations who find it difficult to attend existing pantry distributions.
Mobile Pantry Program: BFN operates eleven mobile pantries in partnership with eight community organizations that serve individuals and families who experience food insecurity. These pop-up pantries offer the same healthy foods that are found at our warehouse pantry and are open at times and locations that are convenient to our clients, making them more accessible and less stigmatizing than traditional pantries.
Public Schools Grocery Bag Program: We provide pre-packed bags of produce and shelf-stable groceries twice a month to nearly 500 food insecure Berkeley public schools families and staff. With the help of a large team of dedicated volunteers, these bags are packed at our warehouse and delivered directly to 17 Berkeley Unified School District sites for pickup after school.
Food Rescue Program: Along with food from the Alameda County Community Food Bank, BFN facilitates donations from local grocery stores, restaurants, and urban farms through a robust recovered food program. We offer a convenient and accessible recovery facility with operating hours that match the needs of local businesses. In addition to improving access to healthy and delicious food for food-insecure Berkeley residents, BFN’s food recovery program helps Berkeley reduce the amount of edible food sent to landfill, thereby reducing greenhouse gases.
Redistribution Organization: In May 2020, BFN will begin to pilot a Redistribution Hub Organization (RDO) program in partnership with the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), bringing all Berkeley-bound ACCFB-sourced food to our warehouse for pick up by our member agencies. The RDO will help solve the transportation and storage logistics problems that many smaller food assistance organization in Berkeley face. And we’ll work to ensure safe food handling practices every step of the way.
The Berkeley Food Network Hub Kitchen Project increases the supply of nutritious meals – both communal ready-made meals and frozen individually packaged and ready-to-heat-and-eat meals – available to food-insecure residents of Berkeley by taking advantage of surplus food from local commercial food businesses and farms. These very popular meals are taken to some of our agency partners who serve or distribute the food directly to their program participants and are available at our on-site pantry. BFN partners with Bauman College, Chefs to End Hunger, Replate, Daily Bread, and a corps of volunteers to operate the program.
To promote coordination and collaboration among our members, BFN holds periodic meetings for our members. These meetings offer members a chance to share knowledge with others engaged in working with Berkeley’s food insecure individuals and families and to find ways to better coordinate services.
BFN offers trainings on topics relevant to agencies working with the food insecure. Topics include client behavior management, safe food handling practices, clients’ civil rights, volunteer management, nutrition, culturally appropriate foods, and other topics requested by BFN members. Trainings are open to the public.
Awareness & Advocacy
BFN promotes awareness about local food insecurity and pursues advocacy at the state and local levels on issues that concern our agencies and the people we serve.
BFN conducts research on hunger in Berkeley and on smart practices for working with food-insecure residents. We share results with our members and any other interested organizations.
BFN Brings Diverse and Far-reaching Benefits to the City of Berkeley:
- Serving more food-insecure people more efficiently with more nutritious food. Our work contribute to the health and wellbeing of Berkeley’s diverse residents, helping the housing insecure to remain in our community.
- Reducing edible food in the waste stream. We work on the principle of best use: useable food will go to people, less useable food will go to animals, then compost.
- Lowering the carbon footprint of existing food distribution programs: We will reduce our member agencies’ current carbon footprint by consolidating ACCFB deliveries to the food sourcing and distribution hub so that Berkeley agencies do not need to drive to the ACCFB, which is located near the Oakland Airport.
- Better food safety: We work with our member agencies and City of Berkeley Environmental Health to ensure that they are using the best safe food handling practices.
- Internship and job trainings opportunities for participants in Berkeley programs: We offer paid internships with on-the-job training to young adults living and attending school in Berkeley, with work opportunities in our warehouse, office, and pantry.
- Innovative model: BFN builds on Berkeley’s existing reputation for innovation. We continually evaluate our model so that we can easily make adjustments to our programs and improve its potential for use in other communities. ACCFB sees the BFN as a replicable model.
- We were able to adjust our programs quickly in order to continue to serve thousands of food-insecure Berkeleyans during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.
- Fill existing data gaps on food insecurity and poverty in the city: BFN will be well positioned to collect data from our member agencies. We will provide extensive data about hunger and poverty in Berkeley to the City.