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Fund cut hobbles food bank

Anthony Martinez Jr., 13, of Sonora, unloads boxes of cookies at the ATCAA food bank in Jamestown. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2-13
With recent cuts to funding, the local food bank is looking to the community and beyond for support.

The Amador Tuolumne Community Action Agency’s food bank budget for this year was more than $160,000 shy of its usual revenue because of changes to the state distribution of the Community Development Block Grant program.



Food Bank director Lee Kimball said this week that food bank operators will work this year to find ways to make up for that loss in the community and prevent further cuts to outside funding.

And Kimball will also spread the word to Washington, D.C., next month, where she will meet with other food bank operators around the country and talk with legislative officials about issues facing rural communities like Tuolumne County.

“I’m not going to be asking for more than I need,” Kimball said Monday.

“I’m asking specifically to get to an end. How do you do that?” she later asked. “I don’t know, except that there are people in the community who get it.”

With adjustments to California’s administration of the CDBG program, competition has tightened for the federal funding source that goes to programs ranging from housing to food.

Tuolumne County is not guaranteed food bank funds through the program like larger cities are, and Kimball confirmed that this year they did not receive more than $160,000 for both operations and food purchases.

That is a significant amount to an operation that runs on between $350,000 and $400,000 a year. This year, the organization received a six-figure grant from the Sonora Area Foundation to bridge the gap for the budget. But because the competition is expected to remain high for the funds moving forward, Kimball said food bank representatives will be reaching out to the community this year to try and find ways to make up that shortfall.

“We have a significant portion we’re going to have to backfill,” she said.

The ATCAA Food Bank operation runs with 1,046 volunteers and three staff members.

In 2012, they made more than 93,000 service calls to more than 11,000 individuals in almost 4,000 households, not including other food programs that receive help from ATCAA. That is up from the beginning of the recession in 2007, when they served about 7,300 people with 867 volunteers.

Kimball said she will take the local message to the capitol in March with help of a grant for the program, talking with officials in Washington D.C. about the challenges faced by rural food banks like this one. While she cannot lobby legislators as a public employee, she will lay out the realities that rural food programs deal with in the wake of the Great Recession.

“We’re working on it locally, and we’re representing the issues at state and federal tables,” she said.

A self-described “believer,” Kimball pointed out that ATCAA already has a track record for making legislative change. They were instrumental in changing requirements for funding to help rural programs receive baseline funding, and the ATCAA food bank also was an original participant in the federal Backpack Program, which distributes needed food aid through schools to homes. She also said they have been actively involved in statewide drives to improve the nutritional quality of food bank food.

“We’re sitting in a really good place,” Kimball said of the local organization’s track record for making an impact on legislative matters.

“They need to hear from us,” she said.

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