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After Fearing He was Killing Clients, Sacramento Food Bank Director Focuses On Fresh Produce

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento Food Bank once was one of those standard food distribution centers where bags of processed foods, carbohydrate-laden government commodities and day-old breads and sweets were bagged and handed to people who stood in line for hours to get it.

One day five years ago, then-new CEO Blake Young had an epiphany: "I kept seeing people coming through the line and they were getting fatter and fatter. I realized we were killing them."

So Young set about to remake how food banks operate, taking advantage of Sacramento's location in California's rich agricultural heart.

He and his staff forged partnerships with local farmers, most of them organic, and upped the amount of fresh produce to more than half of clients' food allotment. Then knowing that most of them live in food deserts without transportation to grocery stores and the region's many farmers' markets, they moved distribution sites to about two dozen neighborhood schools and churches they visit once a month.

Just like at farmers' markets, the produce is laid out on tables, and clients can "shop" for fresh carrots, kale, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, squash or whatever else is in season. Background music lends a festive air, and informational booths offer clinics on smoking cessation and health screening.

The number of families served has grown from 8,000 to 20,000 over the two years since it has taken off.

"My health has improved, I have more energy now," said Marlene Hill, 57, at a recent event the Sacramento community of Del Paso Heights. "What we don't eat we juice up in a blender, and that's something I'd never done before."   


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