An anonymous foundation in Redwood City is funding a vegan nonprofit called Vegan Outreach to provide food aid to hundreds of local families each week.
Since the pandemic hit, Vegan Outreach, an international nonprofit loosely based in Davis, has retooled its model to focus on food aid in select cities across the U.S., including Redwood City.
Since August, a handful of employees and volunteers have built up a series of partnerships and connections that offers food aid that's vegan, meaning it does not contain animal products, for pick-up to 100 families each week and for home distribution to around 400 families twice each month, according to Ben Gardner, a food aid coordinator with the organization leading Redwood City operations. The foundation supporting the Redwood City efforts has asked to remain anonymous, he said. Other similar programs have been launched in Stockton, Dixon, Los Angeles, Albuquerque and a number of cities in Iowa, he said.
On Thanksgiving week, the nonprofit's weekly in-person distributions, which are usually held Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Fair Oaks Community Center at 2600 Middlefield Road in Redwood City, was moved to Tuesday. Visitors were able to pick up an additional bag of produce beyond the two usually provided. In addition to the fresh produce and vegan "meats" and "cheeses" offered weekly, the Thanksgiving week distribution included faux turkey and holiday roasts alongside traditional Thanksgiving ingredients like sweet potatoes and cranberries, according to Gardner.
Since starting to distribute vegan food aid in late August, the number of families served weekly by the program has roughly doubled, with 73 families served last week, Gardner said. The in-person distributions are open to anyone, although the intention is to serve primarily families in need, he added. The delivery-based distributions are limited to Redwood City households, including those in North Fair Oaks that have Redwood City addresses, he said. People interested in receiving food can email [email protected]
The vast majority of families who receive food supplies through the program are not vegan, he said. In addition to working with small vegan meat-substitute vendors like the East Bay-based Something Better Foods, he said, they also seek to purchase food supplies from small businesses and those run by people of color. For instance, they also work with La Estrellita Market, a local tortilleria, to purchase non-vegan tortillas for the families they work with, he said.
The nonprofit, which is normally based on college campuses and focused on outreach to students, pivoted during the pandemic when college campuses shut down and food aid became a more significant community need. Since April, Gardner said, the organization's efforts have expanded to six or seven cities. Operations in Redwood City are led primarily by about three employees and three volunteers, he said.
While the nonprofit is still interested in raising awareness about how poorly animals are treated in the food system and encouraging people to avoid eating animal products, the focus is less about evangelizing and more about feeding people, he said.
"We don't want to take advantage of people who are vulnerable. … Our mission is to feed people in need during the pandemic," Gardner said.
The vegan meats and non-dairy cheeses that the nonprofit sources are purchased each week in bulk by their team, often from restaurant distributors or chains like Grocery Outlet, and the products they select are designed to be used as easy-to-cook substitutes for traditional meat or cheese products, he said.
"Whether or not they like it is another story," he added.
The program has limited funding to last at least through the end of the year and is actively seeking additional funds. "We'd really like to continue to be able to do this," Gardner said.
Peninsula Volunteers, Inc.
Volunteers from Peninsula Volunteers Inc. on Wednesday morning packed meals that were set to be delivered to Meals on Wheels recipients. The deliveries included extra meals to last recipients through the holiday. In addition, the nonprofit planned to offer a festive drive-thru meal pick up at Rosener House in Menlo Park between noon and 2 p.m.
Pescadero-based Pie Ranch has had a year of difficult changes, adapting first to the pandemic by shifting its focus from youth education to food security by purchasing produce from farmers affected by the pandemic. When the CZU Lightning Complex Fire hit, the organization's historic farmhouse, greenhouse and water tanks were destroyed. With youth, program staff and volunteers, as well as financial support from Bank of America, Pie Ranch continues to deliver and provide organic produce to families experiencing food insecurity in the area, according to spokesperson Cheryl Reiss. Learn more at pieranch.org.
Facebook is donating thousands of Thanksgiving food boxes containing fresh foods and produce, including recipes created by its culinary team, to local organizations. Starting Nov. 30, it is purchasing meals from local restaurants like Menlo Park's Cafe Zoe and Dashi Sushi to donate to local families and frontline health care workers, as well as to food banks, homeless shelters and other organizations. The program is intended to run through December and for most of 2021. In addition, the company is giving away 3,000 turkeys, according to Facebook spokesperson Chloe Meyere.