SAN LUIS OBISPO — SLO Food Bank is on track to provide over 5 million pounds of food in 2020.

SLO Food Bank CEO Garret Olson provided some staggering numbers during San Luis Obispo County’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

“We continue to provide compassionate hunger relief at historic rates throughout SLO County,” said Olson, a retired fire chief who took on the role of SLO Food Bank CEO in May.

In September, SLO Food Bank was named a 2020 California Nonprofit of the Year by the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits) and Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-35th District).

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

According to the California Association of Food Banks, hunger in 2020 skyrocketed an astounding 154%.

SLO Food Bank chosen Nonprofit of the Year by Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham. Photo courtesy of SLO Food Bank

“Our experience validates that sobering statistic,” Olson said. “We are on track to provide over 5 million pounds of food for our struggling neighbors throughout the entire County. That is 153% of the 3.2 million pounds of food that we provided in 2019.”

SLO Food Bank celebrated 30 years of helping feed people in the County in 2019.

It opened as the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County on Valentine’s Day in 1989. It consisted of a 4,000 square foot warehouse space in Paso Robles with a Knudsen ice cream truck in back, acting as its only cold storage and a second truck to use for deliveries.

By the end of that year, the organization was serving 7,000 households per quarter at 17 food distribution sites throughout the County.

Thirty years later, SLO Food Bank operates out of a new, centrally-located 20,000 square foot facility in San Luis Obispo, 15% of which is refrigerator and freezer space.

Before 2020, the nonprofit distributed food to 14,000 households per month, serving every community in the County.

SLO Food Bank provides food through its 60 distribution sites and via 82 nonprofit agencies.

“We are a small team of under 30 people, trying desperately to support the needs of over 70,000 hungry San Luis Obispo County residents,” Olson said. “We could not do it without our strong volunteer core, approximately 250 people who donate their time each and every month to help us with our mission — over 1,000 hours donated each and every month.”

It has been a challenging year for the SLO Food Bank, but it met the demand.

“We’ve not run out of food, nor have we been forced to ration, nor have we deviated from our high standards of nutrition, because we know that hungry people don’t just need food to fill a belly,” Olson said. “Hungry people need nutritious food to fuel their bodies and their minds. Which is particularly true given that approximately a third of those who we have the honor of serving are tragically children under the age of 18.”

SLO Food Bank provides specific programs, like summer breakfast for children and farmers’ markets for seniors, tailored to serve the County’s most vulnerable populations. Its gleaning program harvests 250,000 pounds of produce from local growers each year.

“This year, we will be providing 6,600 additional breakfast bags to hungry SLO County children,” Olson said. “An equivalent of 138,600 nutritious meals that are easy to prepare by a young child.

“2020 has been a difficult enough year for all children. Managing this year on an empty stomach is our unthinkable reality,” Olson added.

While there is a COVID-19 vaccine, the damage from the stay-at-home orders will likely linger, and the SLO Food Bank will be there to help.

“Sustainable recovery for those who are impacted will likely be measured in years, not months, not weeks,” Olson said. “And many of you have leaned in. Thank you so much. We couldn’t do it without you.”

Olson said SLO Food Bank prides itself on the efficiency of its operations and “turns every dollar into an amazing seven nutritious meals.”

Visit SLOFoodBank.org or call 805-238-4664 if you need help or more information.