On Thursday, September 19, hundreds gathered in a large warehouse on University Avenue to celebrate the Berkeley Food Network’s (BFN) transition from operating out of rented food storage facilities to a more permanent warehouse residence. BFN, founded in 2016, is an organization that aids in the distribution of unwanted or unused food to organizations that serve Berkeley’s hungry.
According to a report by the University of California (UC) Berkeley Haas School of Business, there are around 24,000 Berkeley residents who are food insecure, about 3 percent of whom are homeless. The network serves about 4,000 individuals or 900 families over the course of one month.
Co-founder and Executive Director Sara Webber said that the new warehouse will provide the organization with far more resources to help others. “It will allow us to serve a lot more people. It will also allow us to really just get more food in [the warehouse] and more food out into the community, both from the food bank and from food recovery programs,” said Webber.
BFN receives donations from various sources. The network usually obtains food from the Alameda County Community Food Bank and gathers donations of food from grocery stores and restaurants. The organization has about 40 partners, including groups such as Food Not Bombs, Healthy Black Families, and the UC Berkeley Bear Pantry.
BFN delivers food to various locations in Berkeley, including local senior centers, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The new warehouse allows for individuals to stop in and visit a walk-in pantry to get groceries. On September 19, it was stocked with milk, eggs, rice, pasta, cereal, canned tomatoes, apple sauce, and more.
The transition to the warehouse will also help with the expansion of the BFN, according to Webber. “We’re just about ready to start being the mini food bank, the redistribution organization, that will allow us to get more food to local organizations,” she said.
Susan Miller-Davis, a board member of BFN, agrees with this sentiment. “We will have the ability to receive donations of surplus food from restaurants and grocery stores during hours convenient for the donors; refrigerate, freeze and store the food safely; and sort and distribute the food to the places it can best be used. In the growing sector of “food recovery,” this “clearinghouse” function is sorely lacking in Berkeley,” she said.
Miller-Davis also spoke about the multifaceted benefits of the BFN. “BFN is tackling a critical problem of food waste: 40 percent of all food in the US goes uneaten, and much of it goes to landfills where it creates greenhouse gases as it decomposes,” Miller-Davis said. “BFN is one important approach to putting high-quality and nutritious food to its highest use, as one of several approaches to tackling hunger locally.”
Webber hopes other members of the community will provide support for BFN. “It’s really important for readers to know that food security is such a big problem in Berkeley and that we’re trying to be really innovative in our approach, very collaborative, so partnerships are key to everything we do, and that there are lots of spaces for [students at Berkeley High School] to come volunteer,” she said. For more information, visit their website, berkeleyfoodnetwork.org, which will soon allow for volunteer sign-ups online.