Second Harvest’s farmers market model provides food and dignity
It’s a shopping spree like thousands of other moms and dads in Silicon Valley do. But this isn’t Safeway or Lunardi’s food. She’s in the parking lot of Santee Elementary School, along with more than 300 other people, picking up a weekly supply of groceries from one of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s market-like distribution centers.
Customers get lean protein like chicken and ground turkey, as well as eggs, dairy, pasta, rice, beans and other dry foods. The week Bacho was there, product options included lettuce and squash, as well as an abundance of Driscoll’s strawberries – donations from an unexpectedly strong harvest this summer.
“It’s helping, especially now because of inflation,” said Bacho, who brought the two younger of her three daughters, 14-year-old Kaylee, 7-year-old Keyla and 2-year-old Kendra. “It helps my family eat at least two or three days a week and takes the pressure off of spending money on groceries.”
Wish Book readers can help Second Harvest meet the great food aid needs of our community. The food bank distributes free groceries to low-income customers at more than 900 program locations in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The requested $30,000 donations will be used to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, protein and grains – enough for 60,000 meals.
Second Harvest’s distributors and partner agencies include 81 K-12 schools, several community colleges and 50 affordable housing locations. “Generally, we try to locate our services where people are already going and are comfortable and known partners in the community,” said Leslie Bacho, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, who is not related to Diana Bacho.
Just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Second Harvest was feeding 250,000 people every month. That number doubled as people lost their jobs — after all, nobody needed janitors when people didn’t show up for work — or stayed home to look after children who were suddenly locked out of classrooms.
Leslie Bacho said Santee Elementary was the last food distribution facility she visited before shelter-in-place rules went into effect in 2020 and she realized her model needed to change. With amazing speed, Second Harvest shifted its distribution to prepackaged groceries that people could drive up to receive contactless.
This offered a degree of security when fears of infection were at their height, and was also more convenient, allowing customers to get their food without having to leave their car. But it left customers no choice as to what they received, and sometimes families ended up with items they wouldn’t use.
The CEO said the sites reverted to the farmers market style as soon as possible. “This is our ideal method, where people can choose what they want,” she said. “And it’s a lot more empowering for all of us who want to be able to choose what they need.”
While the number of COVID-19 infections has declined in Santa Clara County, the economic impact of the pandemic remains. As of September, Second Harvest was still feeding 450,000 people a month — about 80 percent more than pre-COVID. The slow recovery for much of the community – coupled with soaring inflation – has left countless families scrambling for any relief they can find.
Diana Bacho found herself there. She worked in sales and at a local supermarket to supplement her husband’s income as a contractor. But during Santa Clara County’s mandatory protection regulations, her husband was unemployed for four months, so they’re not paying rent on the San Jose one-bedroom apartment they’ve lived in for the past 10 years, or repairing their car .
Both she and her husband are back to work, but accumulated debt and rising expenses took their toll, and she turned to Second Harvest for help, signing up for food distribution at the elementary school her middle daughter attends.
Leslie Bacho said that in some ways this moment seems more challenging than the pandemic. A recent Second Harvest survey found that 60 percent of their client households had less than $250 in savings, leaving them just a car breakdown or a rent increase from getting into serious trouble. Almost three-quarters are worried about not being able to make their next rent or mortgage payment, up 25 percent from 2021.
“Since inflation, we’re almost back to those numbers at the peak of the pandemic,” she said. “So many of those pandemic benefits have been wiped out and people are now facing months of lost income that they are financially devastated. As we think about the future, we anticipate that need will continue for a long time to come.”
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Wish Book is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operated by The Mercury News. Since 1983, Wish Book has produced a series of stories throughout the holiday season that highlight the wishes of those in need and invite readers to help fulfill those wishes.
Donations help Second Harvest purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, protein and grains—enough for 60,000 meals—and distribute the groceries free of charge to over 900 program locations in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Goal: $30,000
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