‘Cooking Matters’ in the Food Desert

By Jonathan Bash June 19, 2018

Exzavier looks intently at a tall can of flavored Iced Tea, examining the nutrition facts label and other minute details. He puts it back down, opting not to open it.

“Heck no. That’s no good,” he declares. “75 grams of sugar? No way – I don’t want diabetes.” The rest of the class nods in agreement.

In lieu, they all proceed to make their own “spa waters” and “Fauxitos” with fresh mint, lime and sparkling spring water – all zero calories and half the price.

Soon after, one of the other course participants asks, “Wait…there’s no sugar in this? Are you sure?” The instructor, Alexis Gutierrez, responds, “I told you it was good!”

Just six weeks before, Exzavier and his fellow classmates hadn’t heard of spa water, let alone Fauxitos.

Many of them reported that soda is cheap and easy to access at the local liquor store, as is fast food. They also mentioned that food expenses are rising, exhausting their budgets. What’s worse, they were often feeling hungry and low-energy after eating a typical meal.

In response, Rubicon Programs, an East Bay-based nonprofit that works to end poverty, enrolled them in their new “Cooking Matters” class, an extensive course offered in conjunction with 18 Reasons, another organization that aims to help low-income communities make quick, healthy, affordable, delicious meals every day.

Kimi Barnes, Rubicon’s Health Resource Manager, made the initial connection.

“Our participants were tired of hearing ‘save money, set a budget,’ without concrete information on how to lower the cost of their largest expenditure on top of rent: food,” she says. “They also made it clear that their number one health goal has always been to eat better, so we thought, ‘why not create a cooking class that shows them how to accomplish all these goals?’”

Kimi soon bumped into the folks at 18 Reasons, who already had an entire curriculum and team ready to roll. She and their leadership were both on the same page, so the two organizations agreed to partner-up.

Clara Obstfeld, a coordinator of the course, began working with Kimi to offer the class to Rubicon participants.

“There are so many challenges for people in poverty trying to navigate the food system,” Clara says. “Misconceptions around labels, marketing terms, and what truly is healthy are so common, and time is a limited resource for many of them, making it hard to make informed choices – especially on a tight budget.”

The Cooking Matters course tackles all of these problems in two distinct ways: by teaching practical cooking and shopping skills, and tying those skills to all the information a consumer needs to cook a healthy, low-cost meal.

To maximize the course’s impact, they customize each course with direction from the class and the community – all the recipes are rooted in the students’ interests and cultural preferences. In fact, many of the educators and cooking instructors are from the neighborhood, and know what works.

“In a typical class, we spend the first half on a nutrition lesson – identifying whole grains and counting calories, for example,” Clara says. “Then we have a Chef’s lesson that puts those facts into action.” Participants learn to cook using toaster ovens and portable stoves, as well as develop sous-chef skills like proper knife technique and measurement skills.

The instructors also provide special assignments to the participants, including a “$10 Challenge” in which participants are asked to buy all the ingredients necessary for a balanced meal for the whole family, all while spending no more than $10. Some contestants prepare recipes from the class, like Fresh Veggie Quesadillas or Low-Fat Chicken Alfredo. Others invent creative new combinations with their newfound culinary instincts.

One participant, Luc, is a fan of seafood and was able to beat the challenge five-fold, making 5 delicious meals at $2 each: sautéed kale, honey-garlic roasted zucchini and smoked sardines – all made in a toaster oven or on a portable burner. He soon fell down the proverbial rabbit-hole, discovering his passion for cooking. After graduation, he continued his culinary education by transferring to The Bread Project, where he learned how to bake in a commercial setting, ultimately launching a new career in baking.

Meanwhile, other participants have improved their home lives in many ways thanks to the class.

Exzavier and his wife Doris, another participant, were both enrolled in the most recent workshop series offered by Rubicon Programs. Both are working with Rubicon to strengthen their careers, build a strong economic foundation, and improve their family’s health and wellness.

“We did the class together as a family – Kimi took care of my five-year-old son Sirod while we focused on cooking – and it was a great experience,” he says. “We reconnected and discovered a new activity for us to bond over. Now, each night, everyone is excited to eat together, even my older kids. We share more at the dinner table. We talk with each other more. We congregate more.”

“We also are able to do more with less. We buy healthier and always bargain shop.”

Kimi is proud of the work Rubicon and 18 Reasons has done with the course, but she also says that there is much more work to do changing the food system.

“It’s not all about education,” she says. “People aren’t stupid. The issue is access. The choices we all make are limited by the options we have. If the only options within walking distance of your home are a liquor store and a Drive-Thru, what choice do you really have?”

She says that more equitable urban planning, incentives for grocery stores to move into low-income neighborhoods, and increased access to community gardens, farmer’s markets and other avenues to fresh food will all hopefully move the needle.

But until then, she, Clara, and her team will continue to chip away at the problem one family at a time.

Luc ​kily, the strategy appears to be working.

​“This class changed my life,” Exzavier explains. “After our first meal, I actually felt full. I no longer felt tired. Honestly, I felt like I could go back to work at 8 o’clock at night. I have so much more energy now – when I wake up in the morning, I feel like I’m on fire!”

Your support can help Rubicon continue to bring courses like Cooking Matters to those in need.  Donate today.

 

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Rubicon’s June 2018 Primary Voter Guide

By Jonathan Bash May 18, 2018

Use the power of your vote to end poverty in the East Bay

 

On Tuesday, June 5th, 2018, voters across California will weigh-in on the state’s future by selecting new elected officials and approving—or rejecting—propositions and measures that impact all of our lives.

It’s crucial that we don’t sit on the sidelines; this election is far too important to be ignored. The future of criminal justice reform, housing affordability and the economy are at stake. Will our government work to end poverty, or will it simply accept the status quo?

That’s why Rubicon Programs believes that encouraging our participants, staff and community to participate in the process is absolutely essential to accomplishing our vision of an East Bay—and California—without poverty. Local elections like this one are where you can truly make your voice heard.

VOTER INFORMATION

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 5, 2018. 

If you have not yet registered to vote, be sure to do so by the state’s voter registration deadline for the June Primary, May 21, online here. If you are unsure of your status, or wish to find your polling place, be sure to visit either the Contra Costa County Elections Office or Alameda County Elections Office online. And remember, many individuals with a criminal record are allowed vote. If you’re unsure of you rights, check here for further information.

You can also vote-by-mail. Learn how by visiting the Contra Costa County Clerk or Alameda County Clerk. Additionally, Contra Costa residents may also vote early at Regional Early Voting Sites located across the county.

ENDORSEMENTS FOR STATE AND LOCAL MEASURES

This Election Day, voters will be able to weigh-in on many specific policy proposals, as well as select our local representatives. Rubicon carefully reviewed each of the propositions and measures on the ballot and have decided to share our positions with you so that you can make an informed decision and help us in our journey to end poverty. We have also provided a brief explainer—listed after our endorsements—for each of the offices on the ballot. We hope this will help you in your decision-making process.

Here are our endorsements for state and local propositions in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties:

PROPOSITION 68: YES

Bonds for Environment, Parks and Water. Permits the state to sell $4 billion in new bonds to fund various projects, including local and regional parks (including creating new parks), flood protection, addressing the effects of climate change and promoting safe drinking water.

Communities of color, and people in poverty, are the least likely to have access to clean drinking water and safe parks, which provide opportunities for physical activity and good health. They are also the most likely to be impacted by the negative effects of climate change. This bond will greatly improve conditions in these communities and will help prevent large-scale natural disasters, with minor impact on the state budget.

 

PROPOSITION 69: YES

Transportation Funding. Amends the State Constitution so that funds from the recently passed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) gas tax and transportation fee increase can only be spent on transportation purposes, protecting those funds from ever being diverted to unrelated purposes by state legislators.

Funds from SB 1 are incredibly beneficial to the community, expanding public transportation and improving roads, all while providing a great boost to the economy by increasing job opportunities in the building trades, which provide good paying jobs to people in poverty. Prop 69 protects these dollars from being diverted to other parts of the state budget, ensuring a decrease in Bay Area commute times that will improve public health and save money in the long run.

 

PROPOSITION 70: NO

Cap-and-Trade Amendment. Amends the State Constitution to require all revenues from climate change fees on polluters to be deposited in a reserve fund until the legislature authorizes the use of the funds by a two-thirds majority.

In an effort to prevent climate change, California requires certain companies to buy a permit for each ton of greenhouse gases they create. Money from the sale of these permits goes into a state fund called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). The state typically determines how to spend money from the fund during the annual budget process. This requires a simple majority vote by the state legislature. Prop 70 would raise the threshold on this vote to a two-thirds supermajority, greatly hindering the state's ability to fight climate change and spend funds on environmental justice programs.

 

PROPOSITION 71: YES

Ballot Measure Effective Date. Amends the State Constitution so that all ballot measures go into effect at the same time. Propositions would become law when the state elections office releases the official “statement of vote,” about 43 days after Election Day.

Currently, propositions in the State of California, if passed, take effect the day after they reach a majority. Since some propositions are counted earlier than others, this means it can be hard to predict when a law will take effect. Prop 71 ensures that every proposition is implemented at the same time, providing predictability for residents who may need to know when they will need to begin complying with new laws.

 

PROPOSITION 72: YES

Taxes for Rainwater Capture Systems. Amends the State Constitution so that the addition of a rainwater capture system to a property would no longer be considered a taxable property improvement.

Prop 72 would ensure that property owners and developers are able to install rainwater capture systems without worrying that their property taxes may go up, effectively incentivizing investments that will conserve water and prevent drought. This will lower costs for homeowners and renters alike, while also helping prevent droughts that would harm the most vulnerable members of our community.

 

REGIONAL MEASURE 3: NO RECOMMENDATION

Bridge Toll Increase for Transportation Projects. Raises Bay Area bridge tolls by $3, and ties toll prices to inflation. Allocates $4.5 billion to fund specific highway and public transit improvements.

Regional Measure 3 has both large costs and large benefits. It is abundantly clear that the Bay Area needs more funding for transportation projects in order to keep up with our growing population and ever-rising commute times. Many of our participants, and staff, have multi-hour commutes that lower their quality of life and negatively impact their health. We believe something must be done to increase highway capacity, clear congestion and add public transit options.

Unfortunately, this particular measure disproportionately impacts low-income East Bay families, while primarily benefiting the already thriving Silicon Valley region. Measure 3 will cost East Bay bridge-commuters more than $700 each year, on average. That’s a lot to ask of someone who may be living on the minimum wage.

The proposal tries to help these people by providing a path to Clipper Card discounts of 30-50 percent or more for low-income families, and improved access to bus and ferry lines. But there are no discounts for low-income drivers.

If you don’t cross a bridge to get to work, Measure 3 could provide you with a great benefit at almost no cost to you. But if you do cross a bridge each day, and are paid a less-than-living wage, Measure 3 could provide a major barrier to employment. Therefore, we encourage you to vote your conscience.

 

ALAMEDA COUNTY MEASURE A: YES

Sales Tax for Childcare and Early Education. Authorizes a 1/2-cent sales tax for 30 years to annually fund $140 million worth of childcare and pre-school programs, programs for homeless and at-risk children, programs to prevent child abuse, and efforts to add childcare locations and employees.

Early childhood education is proven to be one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. Therefore, we believe the benefits of these programs far outweigh the minor costs of the half-cent increase in the sales tax. The average family earning the minimum wage would only lose about $50 in buying power each year, in exchange for low-cost childcare and pre-school that could be worth thousands of dollars each year. We believe this is a worthy investment and a net benefit for all.

 

RICHMOND CITY MEASURES E & K: YES

Richmond Kids First Initiative. Allocates three percent of the city’s budget and amends the City Charter to create a Department of Children and Youth, funding after-school and social programs for children and youth under the age of 24.

Measure E & K would allocate significant funds for programs that would directly and indirectly aide our participants, and the Richmond community, by providing support services to children and youth up to 18 years old, and their caregivers, and to disconnected transitional aged young adults through 24 years old. The package includes programs that range from violence prevention to after-school education and health programs, all of which are desperately needed by the community. (Note: These two measures would only take effect if voters also pass additional funding measures by December 2020.)

 

INFORMATION ON ELECTED OFFICES

 

This Election Day, residents of Contra Costa County and Alameda County, including most of Rubicon Programs’ participants and staff, will also have the opportunity to vote for the following local elected officials:

  • County Supervisors, who determine local housing policy and manage social services.
  • District Attorneys, who prosecute the law, determine who is charged with a felony or misdemeanor, and have a major role in shaping criminal justice policy.
  • County Superintendents, who oversee school districts and provide education to incarcerated minors and those with special needs.
  • County Sheriffs, who manage the jails, coordinate emergency response, and determine law enforcement strategy.
  • County Officers—including Clerk, Auditor-Controller, and Assessor—who manage the administration of elections, budgets and taxation, respectively.

They will also choose State Constitutional Officers and legislators, including the:

  • Governor, California’s Chief Executive, responsible for approving the state’s budget and implementing the state’s laws.
  • Lieutenant Governor, who serves as a critical member of the state’s many policy commissions, and fulfills the duties of the Governor when he or she is out of state or indisposed.
  • Attorney General, who prosecutes the law, determines who is charged with state crimes and plays a major role in shaping statewide criminal justice policy.
  • Controller, Treasurer and Board of Equalization Member, who, respectively, ensure the state pays its bills, invests its funds, and assesses its taxes responsibly.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction, who oversees California’s schools, community colleges and universities.
  • Secretary of State, who manages elections and the administration of business.
  • State Senator, State Assemblymember, U.S. Congressmember and U.S. Senator, each of whom write state and federal laws and legislation covering nearly every topic imaginable.

Since this is a top-two, nonpartisan primary, each of these elected officials will be on the ballot again during the November 2018 General Election, unless they are local or education candidates who are able to reach 50 percent plus one in the primary.

We hope that each of our readers and participants study each of the candidates’ positions, so that they can identify and support candidates that prioritize criminal justice reform, early childhood education, affordable housing, and social programs that will help end poverty in the East Bay and throughout the State of California.

If you would like to compare all of these candidates, propositions and measures, and review nonpartisan, unbiased summaries online, please visit www.votersedge.org.

 

 

Thank you for participating!

 

We hope you will stay tuned for our November 2018 General Election Voter Guide, coming later this year.

 

Sources: Maplight’s Voter’s Edge, League of Women Voters of California Education Fund's Easy Voter Guide, and the California Secretary of State, Alameda County Clerk-Recorder, Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder and City of Richmond.

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Growth through Service: Rubicon Men’s Group Treats Richmond’s Moms for Mother’s Day

By Jonathan Bash May 10, 2018

By Reggie Boyer, Impact Coach

Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all, decompress, and share your thoughts in a safe place. 

This simple fact of life inspired me to work with my participants at Rubicon Programs to create our first Men’s Support Group.

Men at Rubicon have gone through—and are still going through—a lot, whether that means dealing with personal challenges, launching a career or simply raising a family.

It’s tough to get through all of that without a support system to keep your spirits up. That’s why our participants have been so interested in what this group has to offer.

 

Fostering Brotherhood

"I joined the Men’s Group to get support from, and communicate with, men who are on my level,” says Theodore, a Group participant. “Since the first day, these men have helped me restore my self-confidence, as well as regain trust in my fellow man.”

Our Men’s Group provides that crucial social support, as well as a whole host of other opportunities for growth. Each Monday evening, nearly two dozen men convene at our Richmond Headquarters to enjoy a meal, talk about their problems and plan community service projects intended to give back.

“It’s a chance to let loose away from work, family, and our day-to-day responsibilities, and share your thoughts and feelings without being judged,” says Michael, another regular participant in the Group. “And it works. As a result, our group has grown even bigger than we ever expected.”

The weekly program has provided a shift in mindset for all of these men. They’re focused on growth and moving towards change, ready to take action to make the community a better place.

Over the holiday season, the men raised money and bought supplies to help the homeless. They gathered hundreds of articles of clothing, dozens of blankets and tons of food. Then they walked the streets of Richmond handing out care packages, as well as information on how to access services like Rubicon. 

That experience was life-changing for them. It brought a great deal of satisfaction and they wanted to continue to pay it forward.

 

Celebrating Motherhood

In honor of Mother’s Day, they decided to do something special for the moms of the community who aren’t always provided the opportunity to have a day just for themselves.

The Men’s Group settled on a Mother’s Day Brunch to express gratitude to the women who not only raised their own children, but also helped nurture many others’ children.

“What’s better than to support our women and give them a good time, with great food and great service,” Theodore says.

First, we organized a raffle, raising hundreds of dollars to support the event. Then, we reached out to the amazing Menbere Aklilu, owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante. She generously offered to support the project by providing us with first-class meals on the restaurant's beautiful waterfront veranda. 

​The men then bought fresh cut flowers for each of the mothers, dressed up in their fanciest outfits, and donned Men’s Group-branded aprons to provide each of the thirty deserving mothers with impeccable service and a delicious meal of fresh salad, Chicken Marsala, roasted vegetables and a decadent dessert.

“The food was delicious,” says Yolanda, one of the lucky moms. “Each of the men were so sweet, serving us with a smile. I am so proud of them for organizing such a beautiful event, and for providing all of us with food we may never had a chance to taste!”

 

Bringing Love into Our Community

At the end of the meal, Menbere shared her amazing story with all the mothers, and the men by their side.

“I’m one of you. I know how it feels to be lonely, or homeless, or a single mother,” she said. “I, ​once a little girl from Ethiopia, where I walked barefoot and played only with the dirt and the dust, who then came to America, lived on welfare, and gradually rose up, was able to earn my American Dream.”

She continued to speak, nearly bringing each of the moms—and men—to tears.

“Now, even though many people said I couldn’t do it, I own this restaurant. And I get to give back to my community. And gather with my community. And walk side-by-side with my community.”

​“Never forget that you’re worthy. Never forget that you are loved.”

And, that message, at its core, is the message of the Men’s group: love. It’s a space that allows men to love themselves, appreciate each other and grow together. It provides an essential service that’s hard for them to find anywhere else.

Together, we have formed a brotherhood. We’ve become family. And we welcome newcomers with open arms.

Reggie Boyer is an Impact Coach at Rubicon Programs, and the founding organizer of the Rubicon Men’s Support Group. 

 

Click here to support the Men’s Group with a generous donation.

 

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Tickets Now on Sale for East Bay State of Mind ft. Luvvie Ajayi

By Jonathan Bash January 17, 2018

Community connections are a core part of how Rubicon works to achieve its mission because we know that no one person or organization can break this cycle alone. It takes many collaborators -- our participants, staff, and you. East Bay State of Mind is an opportunity to treat yourself, and your guests, to a fun and inspiring evening in support of Rubicon’s vision of an East Bay without poverty.

BUY TICKETS NOW

Thursday, April 12, 2018
Scottish Rite Center map
Oakland, CA 

6:00pm - Doors open + cocktail hour
6:30pm - Fireside chat with Luvvie // The Power of Social Media for Good
7:30pm - Dinner + Values Awards Ceremony // Keynote by Luvvie; Inspiration by Rubicon
8:45pm - Book signing
9:00pm - After party hosted by Rubicon’s Young Professionals Board

OUR GENEROUS SPONSORS

Corporate Sponsors

 

   ​ 

 

 

Individual Sponsors

Ilana DeBare & Sam Schuchat                Dana DuFrane           Paul Leonard       

Claire Levay-Young                                  Sophia Loh                Ereca MIller & John Shrewsberry           

Karen Norwood                                        Scott L. Poland          Mary Purcell                                             

UPS                                                          Travis Credit Union    Michael Wade        

 

Special Thanks & In-Kind Donors

Black Sands                                             Cream Oakland                  Dashe Cellars

Drake's Brewing Company                      East Brother Beer Co.        Faction Brewery

Fort Point Beer Co.                                 Golden State Warriors        Lagunitas Brewing Company

New Parkway Theater                            Oakland A's                        Oaktown Spice Shop

Old kan Beer                                           Punchdown Cellars            Scribe Winery

Two Mile

 

Corporate Event Partners

Charles Schwab Foundation

​Heffernan Insurance Brokers

First Republic Bank

 

About Our Values Awardees

This year, we're doing something special: celebrating the community leaders who made real change happen, all while demonstrating our core values of hope, humility and justice for all. 

Our first annual Values Awards will be given by Rubicon Programs and our partners, the Asian Prisoners Support Committee and the Safe Return Project, at East Bay State of Mind on April 12, and will spotlight the remarkable advocates who passed A.B. 1008, the "Ban the Box" Fair Chance Hiring Act.

  • All of Us or None
  • Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
  • National Employment Law Project
  • Time for Change Foundation

and​

  • State Legislative Leaders
  • State Senator Bill Dodd
  • State Senator Steve Glazer
  • State Senator Nancy Skinner
  • State Senator Bob Wieckowski
  • Assemblymember Kansen Chu
  • Assemblymember Ron Bonta
  • Assemblymember Kevin McCarty
  • Assemblymember Bill Quirk 
  • Assemblymember Tony Thurmond

About keynote speaker
Luvvie Ajayi

Luvvie Ajayi is a New York Times-bestselling author, speaker and digital strategist who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology, and activism. A 15-year blogging veteran, she is the voice behind Awesomely Luvvie, a widely-respected humor blog that covers everything pop culture – from TV, movies and technology to travel, race and life’s random adventures. Her first book, I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do Better Manual, was released in September 2016 and became an instant best seller. The book was recently re-released in hardcover with a bonus chapter and is currently being developed into a series for television.

Additionally, Luvvie is a sought-after speaker and her cultural criticism, analysis and expertise have taken her all over the world, from the White House to various corporations and stages around the globe (Haiti, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Barbados and Kenya). She has been a keynote speaker at numerous colleges, conferences, festivals (including SXSW and BlogHer) and at companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter.

Luvvie is also the executive director of The Red Pump Project, a national nonprofit that raises awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls using red shoes as a symbol of empowerment. She is an avid traveler and her love language is shoes

Sponsorship Opportunities

Sponsorship of East Bay State of Mind connects your business or organization with people who are passionate about creating an equitable East Bay for all. We offer sponsorship packages for both business and individuals. 

View our sponsorship packages:

Corporate Sponsorship >>

Individual Sponsorship >>

Complete your sponsorship online

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