On November 13, the Planning Board unanimously approved a development plan and use permit for the Alameda Food Bank and the City of Alameda to develop a permanent community food market (Island Community Market) at Alameda Point serving the city’s most vulnerable households.
The Food Bank has been operating at Alameda Point since the spring of 2020 when it moved its distribution center from a trailer at Atlantic Avenue and Wilma Chan Way to a larger warehouse on West Ranger Avenue. The new location allowed the Food Bank to increase its distribution significantly.
Pre-pandemic, the Food Bank served 60 clients per distribution. During the pandemic, the Food Bank temporarily waived the Alameda residency requirement and allowed anyone in need to come. The Food Bank then served 500-900 clients per distribution and became Alameda County’s largest food distributor.
By July 2021, when the worst of the pandemic had passed, the Food Bank began transitioning from serving all comers to limiting distribution to those who lived, worked, or attended school in Alameda. The number of clients plunged, but the numbers have steadily increased since then. In 2022, the Food Bank saw 912 new clients. In 2023, there were 1,151 new clients. The Food Bank has seen 2,925 unique families year-to-date, representing 7.7% of Alameda’s population.
Executive Director Teale Harden attributes the increase partly to the effects of inflation but also to the Food Bank’s welcoming atmosphere.
“Sometimes people who qualify are afraid to come because of a feeling of shame, a fear of judgment, and an expectation of poor-quality food,” Harden said. “But we’ve worked hard to make the market a welcoming place offering a choice of foods.”
The Food Bank proposes to buy 1.7 acres of City-owned land on Pan Am Way containing Building 607 and an adjacent parking lot. The project will rehabilitate and expand Building 607, adding space for food storage and related operations, resulting in an 18,000-square-foot facility with site improvements, including ample parking and landscaping. The Food Bank currently provides services across the street in a leased space. Its proximity will facilitate the transition.
Board Treasurer Steven Campbell said the Food Bank is seeking its forever home and wants a facility that can be scalable to serve the community in the event of a disaster. He noted that the site will be accessible by AC Transit Route 96 and a planned network of bicycle facilities and sidewalks. Alameda Transportation Management Association will also serve the site. The parking lot will include three ADA parking spaces and electric vehicle charging stations.
Public speakers unanimously voiced support. Food Bank board member Thuy Nguyen, who has been a resident of Alameda for 47 years, said she found food, housing, and health care insecurity mind-boggling in our country. Still, while she didn’t know what to do about the last two issues, she found that the Food Bank makes a big difference in local food security.
Julie Yim, Senior Policy Advisor to Alameda County Supervisor Lena Tam, said when she advocated for a low-income constituent, the only bright spot was working with the Food Bank, which made it easy for her to ensure the constituent received food.
Chris Tam, Executive Director of All Good Living Foundation, noted that the Food Bank donates food to the Foundation’s community closet program in schools. The closets offer hygiene products, clothes, shoes, and food to students, their families, and educators in need.
Board vote and next steps
After reviewing draft plans for the development, the Board unanimously approved the development plan and use permit on condition that the Food Bank and the City show more details of certain elements such as landscaping, garbage enclosure, and sustainability plans when returning for architectural review.
The Food Bank will now pursue a Purchase and Sale Agreement with the City Council. If approved, the Food Bank will invest in architectural plans and submit them for review and approval from the Planning Board and Historical Advisory Board. After receiving the necessary approvals, the project will take approximately 12 months to complete.
Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.