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A "Circle of Giving" Food Redistribution Model That Nourishes Everyone

A replicable "abundance-to-need" model where we eliminate hunger by delivering surplus food to communities in need - with love.

Photo of Erica Brooks
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

White Pony Express

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Over the past 6 years, White Pony Express's Food Rescue Program has built a network of 70+ regular recipient agencies and 61 regular donors; 100 in total (39-40 occasional donors). Recipient partners include 72 shelters, recovery centers, homes for disabled people, meal providers, school pantries, day-labor centers, community youth centers, and cooking classes for low-income students. We have uploaded a full list of our partner agencies below.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Walnut Creek

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Contra Costa County

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I was born and raised in Contra Costa County. After spending 15 years on the east coast working for NGOs to provide international water access, create opportunity for girls and women, and provide jobs for entrepreneurs, I returned home to help build the White Pony Express Circle of Giving, in my own backyard.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Contra Costa County is just 25 miles east of San Francisco. It is part of the East Bay community and encompasses several regional and state parks and is surrounded by rolling hills and lush wilderness. The impressive Mount Diablo rises almost 4,000 feet above the small cities that line the corridor. There are over a million residents in the county, making it the ninth most populous region in California. The Bay Area has a Mediterranean climate that is temperate year-round: cool and wet in the winter and dry and warm in the summer. It’s no surprise given the natural beauty of the state and the mild climate, that Contra Costa County draws people who love sports and outdoors activities including surfing, skiing, bicycling, hang gliding, hiking, kayaking, and camping. 

Contra Costa County is diverse and, while mostly native born, has significant Asian and Latino populations. More than a quarter of the people who reside in Contra Costa County speak another language besides English at home.

According to the 2010 United States Census, Contra Costa County had a population of 1,049,025. The racial makeup of Contra Costa County was 58.6% White, 9.3% African American, 0.6% Native American, 14.4% Asian, 11% from other races and 5.9% from two or more races. 24.4% people were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry, of any race while 17.1% of Contra Costa County's population was of Mexican ancestry.

Income inequality is on the rise, with African Americans and Latinos among the lowest earning households. The poverty rate for African Americans is more than twice that of the rest of the region, and when adjusted for the high housing costs in the Bay Area, these rates are even higher. Ours is the third most economically unequal region in the United States and is home to families that earn 11 times more than those on the lower end of the scale. While rents continue to rise, wages have stalled and middle income job opportunities continue to decrease, expanding the economic gap. If we aim to create an economy that is inclusive of all, it is imperative that the philanthropic community ensures that economic expansion does not add to further inequities.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

 The need to be addressed is hunger in Contra Costa County.  Our school pantry program particularly holds incredible promise to uplift the lives of low-income children and their families. 

Over 40% of the students in Contra Costa schools qualify for the School Lunch program. For many, that is their only meal in a day. Considering that these students have siblings below school age, the number of hungry kids may be as high as 100,000. From the standpoint of simple human compassion, feeding hungry children should in itself be a justifiable goal. WPE now has 11 pantries in operation, and the anecdotal reports from the schools are heartening. Marco Gonzales, the principal of our first pantry site, at E M Downer Elementary, in San Pablo, actually stated in 2016 that there was “less fear” in his community after the pantry started operating. The principal of one of our most recent pantries noted an increase in attendance following the opening of the program at her school. Since then we have received nothing but positive reactions to our program.

Ongoing challenges continue to be securing sustainable sources of funding, for which we are developing an earned income stream. We believe that everyone in the community can contribute and play a part in "All of us taking care of all of us."  Whether it's through surplus energy, money, food, fuel or other items, we can all show that Contra Costa Cares!

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

In one of California’s richest counties, Dr. Carol Weyland Conner was troubled when she learned that more than 100,000 people were suffering from hunger, while food retailers threw out tons of high quality, fresh food every day due to artificial “Sell-By” dates in order to make room for new inventory. Dr. Conner’s recognition of both need and abundance within the Contra Costa County gave birth to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, White Pony Express (WPE), the largest food rescue delivery program in Northern California. Today, WPE manages a network of 70+ nonprofits and food retailers committed to eliminating hunger and poverty across Contra Costa.

Since its founding, WPE has helped serve over 70,000 people in Contra Costa by rescuing and delivering over 9,000,000 pounds of fresh, high-quality good. WPE operates 7 days a week, because those who go hungry, are hungry every day. Subsequently, the Food Rescue Program has created over 7.6 million meals with high quality food that would have otherwise been wasted. About six months after the Food Rescue program began, Dr. Conner asked WPE to help tackle other basic needs, paving the way for the Free General Store. Today, the Free General store has distributed more than 500,000 clothing items, shoes, coats, toys, and books at 58 community-based mobile boutiques and partner locations. 

The mission of White Pony Express is simple, eradicate hunger and poverty and hunger in the Contra Costa County by working as the link between those with abundance and with those in need. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In the process of combating food insecurity and poverty, WPE has also been at the forefront of fostering a consciousness of generosity. It is fundamental to the organization’s belief that spreading this consciousness is the most permanent safeguard against hunger and poverty. By exercising compassion and love towards the local community, WPE cultivates a sense of unity, championing our motto, “All of us taking care of all of us”. 

We believe that the wealth disparity that creates problems such as hunger, can be eradicated if we work collaboratively in a circle of giving. We have 1,000 volunteers that give of themselves to do this, and treat all neighbors equally. In 2050, we think the Contra Costa Community will see a sharp decrease in poverty, and a significant shift to collective compassion.  Food is just the vehicle through which we can reach each other.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We believe that in this resource rich county, all of us can take care of all of us!  By demonstrating a strong model here, we hope to show that this model can work in other communities in the United States and across the globe. We have already help two pilot project for our organization, one in Butte County in support of the fire survivors, and one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, another region with marked wealth disparity. Where there is a break and a gap, we see opportunity to create connection.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Conference/event


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leonardo Duque

Hello Erika, Thank you for sharing your project in addressing hunger. As part of the team "Empowering rural youth by learning the methods of science in the context of the immense potential of biodiversity to generate employment," I will like to invite you to examine the viability to benefit also the local farmers. Farmers have greater risks, work harder and manage a greater complexity than the other actors in the food value chain. Please read about it in our vision proposal. Please contact me for any support Leonardo

Photo of Mildred Mayondi

Hi there.
I read through what you are doing and I think this is good. Keep it up u know