By Joy Cohan
Bringing with him a unique background in community-based health and nutrition, program development, and public policy-making, former Davis Mayor Robb Davis has joined Yolo Food Bank in the newly-developed role of Impact and Innovation Officer. His first day is March 22.
“The pandemic has worsened inequality of all kinds,” Davis stated. “Combine that with the still high costs of housing in Yolo County and we can see that to reduce food purchases – and, therefore, food intake – is the only option for many residents to make ends meet. This is the very definition of food insecurity. And, despite living in one of the most productive farming regions on the planet, we have neighbors and friends who lack food. That is the very definition of an inequitable food system.”
“Joining the Yolo Food Bank team places me in a dynamic environment devoted to understanding these challenges and opportunities, and engages me in designing creative approaches to addressing the challenges,” Davis continued.
As the Impact and Innovation Officer at Yolo Food Bank, Davis will work closely with Executive Director Michael Bisch and other members of the executive team to ignite and inform organization-wide activities and partnerships that create enhanced outcomes for residents facing poverty and food insecurity, by advancing an equitable, sustainable local food system. A high priority will be placed upon tracking and metrics, impact evaluations and research, and relationships with researchers, academic institutions, think tanks, and other strategic partners supporting these outcomes.
“Yolo Food Bank is committed to ending hunger, reducing poverty, and meaningfully addressing systemic social and environmental injustice throughout Yolo County,” Bisch shared. “As we continue to reimagine and expand our community impact, we are thrilled to have Robb join the Yolo Food Bank team in this new role. Robb has a proven history of driving social change in our community, and we are excited to give him a platform to expand upon his impactful work to improve the lives of our marginalized neighbors.”
Last Spring, Davis served in a significant volunteer capacity with Yolo Food Bank as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator, enabling the organization to nimbly initiate and activate a countywide weekly doorstep food delivery program for senior citizens and other homebound residents within days of the announcement of California’s stay-at-home order. Since that time, he has continued to provide pandemic-related service to the community via Healthy Davis Together, focusing upon an isolation and quarantine program and COVID-19 testing outreach to hard-to-reach residents.
In addition to serving on the Davis City Council from 2014-2018 and in the role of Mayor during the final two years of his tenure, Davis worked for UC Davis for the past five years, most recently in the Global Affairs Global Learning Hub as the Director of Intercultural Programs. Specific to food security, Davis worked for Davis-based, but internationally-focused, Freedom From Hunger in various roles over an eight year period, including as the Director of Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring. Early in his career, Davis was a Technical Advisor for World Vision, leading teams to assess community need and define rural community development efforts related to health and food security.
“Embarking upon meaningful work that creates and documents Yolo Food Bank’s impact is a natural progression of my professional and life experiences,” Davis explained. “I have a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the nonprofit sector, as well as a clear sense of how government and nonprofit actors can complement one another’s roles and work. Here in Yolo County, I feel that I’ve developed trust and a collaborative engagement process with many people and organizations.”
“Mobilizing these experiences and commitments to achieve Yolo Food Bank’s mission inspires me,” Davis added.
In the two years since Yolo Food Bank moved to a three-times larger food recovery warehouse and operations facility in Woodland (serving all Yolo County communities), the organization continues to endeavor to remain sufficiently equipped to respond to an explosive, pandemic-driven increase in demand for food assistance throughout the county, while also experiencing a rapid expansion of food recovery and distribution activity. Moving just four million pounds of food annually as recently as Spring 2019, Yolo Food Bank provided more than 10 million pounds of food to vulnerable residents in 2020. In what has become yet another transformative period for the organization, the potential to meet the full food security need of Yolo County residents appears to be on the horizon, but civic partnership is needed to fully activate the opportunity.
“The state has passed organics landfill-diversion legislation, SB 1383, mandating that all cities and counties in the state develop and fund plans to recover surplus edible food from large-scale generators, such as grocers and distribution warehouses, and re-direct it to nourish food insecure people in the community,” Bisch explained. “This is due for implementation by this January 1, including here in Yolo County and all cities in the county. However, the current approach to implementation by our local governmental partners potentially places at risk the maximum benefit to food insecure Yolo County residents, particularly so in the midst of this devastating pandemic and the anticipated years-long aftermath. It’s an incredible opportunity to feed hungry people in our communities while demonstrating environmental stewardship, and this is exactly the kind of opportunity with which Robb’s experience and expertise will be so valuable. It really creates the underpinning for an equitable, sustainable local food system that is within our reach with the right commitment to making it happen.”
“Private philanthropy – charitable donations from individuals and businesses in Yolo County – currently funds Yolo Food Bank’s food recovery and distribution activity,” Bisch noted. “But SB 1383 provides the opportunity to fund this work critical to the health and wellness of Yolo County residents far more sustainably.”
Together with a network of more than 200 partners, Yolo Food Bank currently offers nearly 130 food distributions to serve 60,000 residents countywide each month. Yolo County currently has the third-highest rate of poverty in California, surpassed only by Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. When federal poverty rates are adjusted for the cost of living in Yolo County, this reveals that nearly one-half of residents do not earn enough to predictably meet their basic needs each month, such as healthy food.
“While Yolo Food Bank’s mission is to step into the breach and provide quality food to our neighbors in need, the organization’s commitment to fundamentally examining our local food system goes beyond emergency food provision to address the very foundations of why people have to go without food in the first place,” Davis commented. “And, depth of outreach – going the final mile to reach those most
geographically or linguistically excluded – is a challenge to any program addressing poverty and economic exclusion. This is what constitutes real impact, and I’m looking forward to contributing to advancing it at Yolo Food Bank.”
To donate, volunteer, or learn more about Yolo Food Bank, visit www.yolofoodbank.org.
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