Founded in 1988, Food For Thought is a true grassroots organization dedicated to the proposition that access to nutritious food offers fundamental support to people with HIV and other serious illnesses. The organization, which the New York Times called perhaps “the hippest” food bank around, exists in the small Northern California town of Forestville.
While rural in spirit, Food For Thought was born in response to an urban need. Sonoma County felt the impact of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s since many men were moving to the Russian River area from San Francisco where they could find inexpensive housing, a beautiful natural environment, a sense of community, and relief from the pressures of the city. In 1988, Betsy Van Dyke, a Guerneville resident, noticed that her neighbor, a single gay man with AIDS, was looking more and more frail. She was concerned that he wasn’t getting enough to eat, and might not even have enough money for food. She purchased groceries and left them on his doorstep.
A nonprofit was born, and a group of likeminded activists began collecting food and raising money—two things Food For Thought still does today. Betsy, as director, became the organization’s first employee, and one of the first volunteers, Stewart Scofield, became her first official hire. In 1999, the organization moved to the site where the food bank is still located, surrounded by organic gardens, in a functional solar-powered facility with a welcoming client service area, a walk-in cooler and freezer, a grocery store-style set-up, and room for offices and meetings.
Over the past 30 years, Food For Thought has adapted to meet the changing needs of its clients, moving from providing basic palliative care to providing comprehensive nutrition services. In 2014, Food For Thought realized a long-held dream of expanding its mission: to continue to feed HIV+ clients and provide those same life-giving nutritional services to neighbors dealing with other serious illnesses as well.
Vision, dedication, and serendipity have all helped build the food bank. From the beginning, the organization has enjoyed tremendous support from the community in the form of food, money, and volunteers. The success of Food For Thought speaks greatly to the goodwill of the people of Sonoma County. We have one of the most active volunteer programs in the county, with close to 600 people annually donating their time and energy to the service of our clients.
Today, Food For Thought serves 700 men, women, and children affected by HIV and other serious illnesses in Sonoma County.