Cal State East Bay’s Hayward Promise Neighborhood provides food to hundreds of area residents
On a hot summer day at a small park on the corner of Harder and Cypress streets in Hayward, more than 200 residents — young and old — stand patiently waiting for a truck at the front of the line to open.
While they wait, Cal State East Bay students and other volunteers stack onions, carrots, tomatoes and eggs from the truck high on a table. Once finished, they begin greeting each person with a smile and a friendly “hello.”
A partnership between the Alameda County Community Food Bank and Cal State East Bay’s Hayward Promise Neighborhood, the Fresh Food for Families program regularly provides more than 350 families with an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of food per month.
According to Janevette Cole, community resident engagement specialist of HPN, the program started in 2015 in an effort to leverage HPN’s existing presence in the community to help combat food insecurity in Hayward.
What’s happened since then is a flourishing service-learning opportunity for Cal State East Bay students, staff and other community entities.
“Everyone who [volunteers] says this is the most enjoyable work they’ve ever engaged in,” Cole said.
The bimonthly distribution operates like a farmers market, allowing families to choose which of the items available they want to take home. It’s a conscious effort by volunteers, HPN staff and the Alameda County Community Food Bank to set up the program this way, giving dignity and choice to the families who stop by.
“We don’t want it to feel like a handout,” Cole said. “Our students are encouraged to engage with the families, talk with the children and make sure they are having an enjoyable experience, so it feels more like a farmers market [than a charity].”
Several groups and individuals across campus, including the Cal State East Bay women’s basketball team, nursing students and on-campus fraternities, have given time at the market, helping with everything from greeting residents to carrying their groceries to nearby doorsteps or vehicles.
“These are the experiences that give me the best perspective in the world,” said Alyna Kanae, a junior on the women’s basketball team. “The people at this event were incredibly grateful for the food and services they were being provided ... [I didn’t] realize how much I tend to take for granted the fortunes I have in life.”
Cole said families start lining up at 9 a.m. every other month and distribution runs well into the afternoon.
“It’s hard work for sure, we’re out in the sun, but we see that there’s a need in the community — we see the elderly there, [people with disabilities] there. All of these families trying to supplement the food supplies that they have,” Cole said.
In addition to the market, Cole said several other community organizations grasp the opportunity to offer services on market days that are needed by local families, including HPN’s home visiting nurse and the Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, which provides free and low-cost health care.
The next market will take place Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. For more information about volunteering, contact Janevette.Cole@csueastbay.edu.