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Brown Alisha Cancio 11/26/12
Table of Contents Pages 1 – 10
Introduction, Conclusion, Compilation Proof- reading, & Editing
The Historic Foundation of RCS, Mission and Purpose
Specific Data on Hunger and Poverty in the Community
Private Organization and Government Agency Contribution & Large Scale Analysis of Hunger and Poverty
What Can Potentially Increase the Success of RCS?
A citizen is defined as “an inhabitant of a particular town or city.” However, after volunteering in the community, our group feels that the word “citizen” may be a misnomer; being a true citizen requires so much more than merely existing in an area. Effective citizenship is more like symbiosis, which is “a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.” At RCS Food Bank, we five classmates came together to be a part of something bigger. We witnessed first-hand how not only does the community give to the needy, but the needy are able to become stable in life and give back to the community in the long term. It all began in the 1960’s, before RCS was an official organization, with churches that had a mission to strike down hunger. Church congregations often stored canned goods to give to those who came because they were hungry and needed help. These congregations joined together to combine their food resources to meet the needs of the growing number of people in need. Then, in 1967 the non-profit agency called “RCS Food Bank” was officially founded. The food bank started out distributing the government’s additional food items from a small building with a dirt floor. Since then, the local RCS Food Bank has expanded to be a warehouse so large that it is likely some people may get lost! The organization’s primary purpose is to serve and support the Pinellas County community who are in need. Tens of thousands of individuals and families receive groceries each month. One main mission of the RCS Food Bank is “To serve and strengthen those in need as they return to self-sufficiency.” Their goal is not to simply provide food to anyone who comes through their doors, but also to help the people of the community gain confidence while they get back on their feet. For these people, this food is a sense of security in knowing that they can feed
their families for a few days each month. The leaders of the organization make sure volunteers understand the emphasis on the dignity and respect which guests must be treated with. When discussing the mission with an RCS employee named Darin Dumpson, he explained how many people, whether they are dealing with a medical illness or a loss in the family, really need the emotional support as much as the food aid. He described how some people are living paycheck to paycheck and if something comes up like a flat tire or a sick child then they will fall short financially if they do not make a sacrifice. Here, they hopefully will decide to come in to RCS Food Bank to help them get caught up instead of choosing between food and some other necessity. However, majority of people deal with heavy shame having to come and ask for help; they have their heads down and are embarrassed to be in their situation. This is where volunteers and staff are very important in asking if the guests are okay and doing what they can to show they care. Volunteers harbor a positive and caring attitude, a warm smile, and the alertness to respond when something is not right. When one of our group members, Alisha, was confronted with a woman who was talking about how she was very sorry to be at the food bank, she comforted the woman by saying, “People who come for help when they need it should not be ashamed. The people who should be ashamed are the ones who need help very badly but are too prideful to accept what is offered to them.” The woman thought about this notion and confidently agreed. Alisha thanked her for coming in and told her that it was a smart step toward making things better. It was apparent that the woman was happy when she left and no longer bashful; the sincere mission to nurture confidence in guests echoes through every vain of RCS.
So how great are the needs in Pinellas County? What is RCS Food Bank contributing to make a change? As of January 28, 2010 an estimate counted 5,949 individuals in Pinellas County who were homeless or experiencing homelessness. Within those numbers, 1,644 individuals were unsheltered. It appears that 73.6 percent of this group was male and 66.2 percent was Caucasian. 1,116 were literally homeless meaning that they live on the streets with nowhere to go. The rest were at major risk of losing whatever housing they had. Clearwater is the second most likely place where unsheltered homeless individuals stay, accounting for 16.1 percent of the unsheltered homeless population in Pinellas County. In the 2009-2010 school years, 2,529 students were classified as homeless in Pinellas County. A majority of the homeless students were in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Almost 1,800 students were sharing housing with other people while the rest were living in cars, parks, motels, or awaiting foster care. With cooperation from Pinellas County homeless shelters, a number of 1,474 homeless individuals were counted to be staying in shelters. 34.1 percent had a disability and 19.8 percent were veterans. RCS sheltered 2.7 percent of these homeless individuals. With all the homeless people in the community, places like RCS are very much needed and they can’t run their programs alone. According to the RCS 2010-2011 financial statements, their total revenue and support was $6,987,440. This money came from donations, thrift store sales, fundraising, and government grants. They also hold the Blue Jean Ball to fundraise and provide more meals to families. The expenses just for the food bank were $3,961,396, which means most of the money that comes in goes towards the food bank. Other services they provide are housing and haven. It’s clear that the RCS Food Bank needs volunteers and donations; in fact, they have specific requests to help satisfy their recipient’s needs. They have provided a wish list on their
website of items that they need. This list includes: a 28-foot USDA approved refrigerator truck, a stand-up forklift, and generators for coolers and freezers. They also have food on the list such as baby food and spaghetti. These items are just needs for the food bank in general, but they also want to help out their consumers that have type II diabetes and those who need gluten free items. They cater to people of all ages. In fact, over 50 percent of their recipients are under the age of 18. Other than donations, they are in need of volunteers every day. Volunteers sort, package, and distribute so that the process runs smoothly. Without volunteers, the food bank wouldn’t be able to hand out items fast and efficiently. So overall, the community needs places like RCS and they need the members of the community to help. The people and the donations are a necessity to help feed and shelter the homeless people of Pinellas County. Moreover, it is plain to see that RCS has identified the specific needs of poverty and hunger and is working hard to successfully meet these issues with solutions. From here it is important to understand how private organizations and government agencies aid RCS and how these same needs are met on a larger scale. 18,843,326 people live in the state of Florida. The food insecurity rate is 19.2%, child food security rate is 28.4%, poverty food rate is 13.8%, child poverty rate is 19.5%, and the unemployment rate is 11.5%. There are a total of 754 food banks in Florida with seven of those being here locally in Clearwater. RCS alone feeds about 216,000 people per month with the average age aided being between five and thirteen; all thanks to volunteers, private organizations, farmers and USDA who donate time and goods to the food bank. Because of the donations, RCS Food Bank distributes food to people at their Clearwater warehouse and delivers
food to local food pantries, homeless shelters, domestic violence safe houses, soup kitchens and housing programs for the disabled and elderly to ensure access to food in the neighborhoods that need it most. Individuals and families may access services once per month, receiving 3-4 days’ worth of food for all household members per visit. There are many other food banks in Florida that are able to do the same including, The Bay Area Food Bank, Feeding America Tampa Bay and Second Harvest North Florida. RCS wishes they could provide more, and they do during the holidays. However, with the high need in the community and their limited resources, they maintain inventory levels to ensure they can equally serve everyone who comes to the doors. In addition, RCS has a focus on nutrition. They make every effort to provide healthy nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. While they rely on donations of nonperishables, RCS Food Bank also purchases perishable food to ensure they can provide nutritionally balanced food baskets. The USDA donates “emergency food” to RCS which is very beneficial because they ensure the safety of our food and educate Americans on nutrition and food products. With that being said, the USDA provides plastic bags filled with canned goods to the food bank that is given to each person that walks through the doors. The USDA is very important to the RCS food bank and is substantial to the organization’s effectiveness. Currently, there are other opportunities for people to get involved with RCS besides just the food bank. The Haven of RCS, the RCS Grace House, and the RCS Thrift Store are in need of volunteers. The Haven of RCS is a chance to make a difference in someone’s life. They recognize how valuable volunteers are and how they are the banks best ambassadors. Not everyone can volunteer the same amount of time. Therefore, they offer many opportunities with
various time commitments. Persons interested in working directly with clients need to complete the state mandated 30 hour training class. For those who would like to get started right away or cannot take the training programs there are other opportunities available. The Grace House looking for enthusiastic volunteers to organize donation drives for programs essential to the needs of our residents. Also, there are many opportunities for landscaping, gardening and general maintenance available. Finally, at the thrift store there is a need for volunteers to sort donations as they are received. RCS Food Bank does a very successful job at providing food to the homeless, poor, or those who are just down on their luck. Even though the RCS is such a success, they can always use more help and can always improve. They are able to help many more people when they have enough food, donations, and volunteers to do so. The food bank has plentiful resources when it comes to food because they receive input from two areas: the government and donations. The foods that are either donated or paid for by the RCS are usually much better in comparison than what the government provides. To continue their mission with high quality and quantity, there is a constant need for donations of food and money. This year, because someone generously donated 10,000 dollars, the organization was able to give turkeys to everyone who came through during the entire month of November. The more donations the RCS receives, the more they are able to provide for those in need of their services. Therefore, it is important to attract attention so people can be a part of the important work RCS is doing in their community. One method to get more donations would be to spread awareness about RCS and their contributions through social networking like Facebook.
In addition, RCS can always use more volunteers. In fact, that may be an understatement; RCS only has about six paid employees and the rest of the work is done by volunteers. Of the many volunteers at RCS, few are able to come frequently or consistently because it seems most of them are students or people serving community service only looking to meet a certain amount of hours. Perhaps if more people knew about RCS and how fun and rewarding it is to volunteer there, there would be a more regular, organized volunteer staff. Another potential way to make the RCS even more successful would be to expand it. They would be able to expand by acquiring more property and starting new locations with food services. By doing this, they could reach beyond local need and into state and federal needs. In one particular section of the building called “the government section,” people will complete the last step out of four. The room has about twenty binders which contain alphabetized last names of returning guests; the filing system is refreshed annually, so if someone has not been to RCS since July they will not be in the binders. If someone is indeed a returning guest since July, the volunteers are responsible to find their page in the binder and the person has to sign the back to confirm that they are receiving government aid. If they are a brand new guest, they will come already holding a page which they received in the second section of the process and the volunteers have to make sure the page is signed and filed properly to be easily accessed when the guest returns. Unfortunately the binders are often misfiled and messy, so it can sometimes be difficult to locate a page of a returning guest. A way our group suggested this could be improved would be to use a computer system. However, when we offered our suggestion, it became apparent that using a computer system would be a personal privacy issue. We learned that computers can be
easily hacked and that confidentiality could be compromised; RCS has a very careful and intuitive process to protect the information of their guests. With this taken into account, any observations our group has made about what could be done to improve the success of RCS should be “taken with a grain of salt” because it seems that the food bank is very organized and effective the way it currently stands. In conclusion, RCS Food Bank is a wonderful organization devoted to striking down hunger in Pinellas County. Through volunteering and researching, our group has become enlightened about what it truly means to be an active citizen and to make a difference in our community. In the words of pop star Lady Gaga, “tolerance, acceptance, and love are some things that feed every community.” Perhaps she is right, with one important addition: food.