Virtual Public School Gives Back at Sacramento Food Bank

Sacramento, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photos by Margaret Snider
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Volunteers from California Connections Academy @ Ripon sort food in their service project at the Sacramento Food Bank.

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Jason Meadows, warehouse coordinator for the Sacramento Food Bank, demonstrates methods and procedures to volunteers from California Connections Academy @ Ripon.

California Connections Academy @ Ripon is a tuition free, virtual public school serving students in an eight county region including Sacramento County. While students are widely dispersed and complete course work online, they do get together regularly for field trips.

Amber Manko, School Counselor from Modesto said that she and other counselors and advisory teachers decided a good way to get students engaged in community service would be to schedule a service project. After researching, they agreed that the Sacramento Food Bank sounded like a good choice. “I’ve been pretty impressed with the organization and how it’s run,” Manko said. “I’m really just excited to be able to offer the opportunity for kids.”

At the food bank Maria Zefo, food resource manager, showed the group around the facility on Bell Avenue in Sacramento. The food bank took over the building from Senior Gleaners around two years ago. “At that time, we were feeding about 50,000 people,” Zefo said. “Now we’re at 135,000.”  Zefo took the group through several of the warehouses (there are five) to the one where the group would work. She filled them in on Sacramento Food Bank facts along the way.

The organization serves Sacramento County via 220 other agencies who come to them for food and resources:  churches, soup kitchens, food pantries, senior programs and more. The food bank itself does not dispense food from their facility, but they do send their trucks out to nearly 20 sites to dispense food. “We just completed hunger assessment for this county, what areas are not being served, where there is need and no agency, where we can go and pull up a truck and hand you some food,” Zefo said.

The Sacramento Food Bank serves over 135,000 people a month via family services programs and food distribution. In 2015 donors provided 16,342,858 pounds of food and 175,124 clothing items. Nearly 8,000 volunteers gave close to 90,000 hours of service. Only 7 cents on the dollar goes to operating costs, so 93% of the food bank budget goes directly to programs. The national average, per Zefo, is only 80% directly going to programs.

The California Connections Academy group’s job was to sort food, and they attacked the huge bins with gusto during their three hours of service. School Site Administrator Amy Hunt, along with her 10-year-old son Brady, worked alongside the others. “Brady and I got to the bottom of our barrel, and we moved on to another one,” Hunt said. “I think we were the slowest of everyone there. When we got to the bottom, everyone else had moved on to another one.”

Those volunteers who turned up for the event were happy they were able to help. “We’re already going to start looking for an opportunity in the Bay Area, another area that our families hopefully can attend,” Hunt said.

Though Manko was disappointed in the number of those turning out for this event, she hopes for a better response in the future. “I work with high school students and often they want to know how they can get involved in their community,” Manko said. “So it would be nice if our school can build on this and offer more opportunities throughout the year... It’s important.”

California Connections Academy @ Ripon opened in 2012 and is part of the Connections Education Academy, which was founded in 2001.  In the 2015-2016 school year, Connections education supported 30 virtual public schools in 26 states, serving more than 65,000 students.

For more information on California Connections Academy @ Ripon, call (209) 253-1208 or see www.connectionsacademy.com/california-online-school/about/ripon.

For more information on the Sacramento Food Bank, call (916) 456-1980 or see www.sacramentofoodbank.org.

Volunteers from California Connections Academy @ Ripon sort food in their service project at the Sacramento Food Bank.Jason Meadows, warehouse coordinator for the Sacramento Food Bank, demonstrates methods and procedures to volunteers from California Connections Academy @ Ripon.Brady Hunt, 10, works along with his mother, Amy Hunt, school site administrator for the California Connections Academy @ Ripon other volunteers sorting food at the Sacramento Food Bank, and other volunteers.