The Food Bank of El Dorado County was born out of a request by a father to his son.
Founded in 2000 by Mike Sproull, he said he started it after his father asked him to do something good for the community.
After looking around, Sproull said he found no food bank in El Dorado County so he created one. Twelve years later, he said it’s the biggest charity in the county, distributing on a yearly basis nearly 1.7 million pounds of food worth almost $3 million. On a monthly basis, it helps feed 8,000 to 12,000 people in the county.
Operating with a lean staff of six people, the Food Bank manages owes its effectiveness to hundreds of volunteers. “El Dorado County is a very giving community,” said Sproull, explaining that the operating budget is about $550,000. “We take dollar donations and leverage it with volunteers so people get a five-to one return on their donations. That’s why people donate. They get a lot of bang for their buck.
“We don’t have government grants,” he continued. “Donors provide us with 80 percent of our budget. That way we don’t have all our eggs in one basket. It’s truly a community agency.”
Recently the organization did its largest mail campaign, sending out a direct mail piece to 89,000 residents. “The return is usually very good,” said Sproull. “This is how we build our donor base.”
The Food Bank doesn’t directly provide food. Instead it is a collection and clearing house.
On a daily basis, they field 50 to 75 calls for assistance. The staff then refer people to partner charities that receive the food collected by the Food Bank. In some cases, people get groceries. In other cases, a hot meal, which is served in Placerville, Pollock Pines or South Lake Tahoe. They also deliver emergency food assistance to homebound residents.
Partner agencies include emergency food closets, soup kitchens, maternity homes, abused women and children’s shelters, drug and alcohol transitional houses, homeless shelters, children’s programs, service clubs, school programs and others.
Sproull said they collect food in different ways. They operate a food rescue route that visits 10 to 12 grocery stores every morning. During the route, they pick up roughly 2 tons of food that are within a few days of their expiration date. They also get food from the USDA, senior gleaners and others. Then the food is distributed to different social service organizations and charities spread throughout the county.
“People don’t understand the magnitude of what we do,” he said.
In addition, the Food Bank has a storage facility with another $200,000 to $300,000 worth of goods.
Over the last two years Sproull has seen a 30 to 35 percent increase in the need for help.
“The people we are seeing are a new population, not the regular people living in poverty,” he said. “Because of the economy, they are having to ask for help.”
When he visits distribution sites, Sproull gets to know the people coming for assistance. “They are the working poor,” he said. “With the cost of fuel and food, it doesn’t work anymore.” But he says the purpose of the agency is not to sustain people but rather to subsidize them until they can get back on their feet.
“We’re good stewards and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in,” said Sproull. “While other charities are struggling, we’re ready to move forward.”
Part of that moving forward includes moving to new administrative offices. On Nov. 15 the Food Bank held a grand opening at its new offices at 3291 Coach Lane in Cameron Park, A vacant building owned by Wells Fargo & Co., the bank is allowing them to use the facility for four years, rent free. Sproull said he even convinced the bank to leave the outside ATM machine intact so that people can use it to slip a donation through the slot.
Another arena they are contemplating moving into is providing family services along with food. “For people who want to get out of the rut they’re in, we want to help them work with other social service agencies,” Sproull explained. One way of doing that is rolling out a new food pantry equipped to provide 200 families with groceries. He envisions distribution sites for food that are paired up with social service agencies so people can get the assistance they need at one time.
More than just providing people with food, however, Sproull said the agency gives people a lifeline.
“Being hungry is one thing. Being alone is another. The Food Bank gives them hope and let’s them know that we’re there for them. We provide hope to people,” he said. “At Christmas time, we feed 1,000 people at the fairgrounds. They see community leaders there and realize, they aren’t alone and there are people who care about them.”
For people needing assistance from the Food Bank or who want to donate time or money, the agency can be reached at (530) 621-9950. More information is available on their website: foodbankedc.org.