By Jondi Gumz
This year the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes locally but one thing remains the same: Second Harvest Food Bank’s Holiday Food & Fund Drive. And this year, food is needed more than ever because thousands of people have seen their jobs disappear or had their hours cut back.
The goal of the holiday drive is to raise $1.25 million, or 4.5 million meals.
Judging from the Nov. 5 kickoff video, the drive has already garnered a lot of support.
If you’re feeling down, Pastor Rene Schlaepfer of Twin Lakes Church has some advice, based on a “free money” experiment at Harvard University.
“Generosity is good for you,” he said, explaining how the group who were told to give the money away felt happier and their performance improved in sales, sports and test scores compared to the group who were told to spend the money on themselves.
Dr. Nanette Mickiewicz, CEO at Dignity Health Dominican Hospital, one of the county’s largest employers, calls the holiday drive “one of my favorite things to participate in.”
She pointed out, “Poor nutrition and persistent hunger makes for very poor health.”
The co-chairs of Dominican’s drive are Jerry Souza, cardiovascular Services director, and Richard Truss, food and nutrition services director, who also led last year’s food drive.
They are challenging other organizations to do their part “to make sure none of our community members go hungry this holiday.”
You don’t have to be a big employer to make a difference.
Malia Nacht, 12, learned how to sew and made masks, selling them for $5 each to raise money for the food bank.
Judy Darnell set up a birthday fundraiser on Facebook and raised more than $11,000 for Second Harvest Food Bank. “It was so fun,” she said.
Soccer players for United, boys and girls, saw the need and took action — they raised 20,000 meals.
The Santa Cruz Warriors professional basketball organization pitched in.
“Our whole front office helped back boxes of food, 10 pallets, 480 boxes for the local community,” said Chris Murphy, Santa Cruz Warriors president.
Since COVID-19 arrived, 100,000 people a month have been relying on Second Harvest Food Bank, almost 40 percent of the county population, he said.
“It’s important our entire community steps up,” he added. “Donate $25, you’re providing 100 meals.”
How can $25 provide 100 meals? What’s the magic? It’s because Second Harvest Food Bank deals with local wholesalers and can stretch donation dollars far enough that a single dollar can buy 4 healthy meals for a family.
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said city employees raised $9,134 last year, enough to provide 36,500 meals.
One strategy city workers used to raise money: Bringing burgers, posole and breakfast sandwiches made at home to sell to co-workers.
Huffaker said this creativity “brings great food and comraderie to our city offices, it’s all about eating for a good cause.”
He added, “We are ready to take his challenge again.”
Shelly Hernandez, who loves to cook, usually hosts a food drive and open house with a meal at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos. This year, due to CVOID-19, she switched to a drive-by food-in-a-basket event at Twin Lakes Church to raise money for Second Harvest.
Last year, Lakeside Organic Gardens in Watsonville provided nearly 570,000 pounds organic produce to Second Harvest Food Bank.
“We are a firm believer in the work that they do, “ said grower-owner Dick Peixoto. “You know one of my frustrations in my business is to watch people come out and work in the fields all day long and then go home and eat junk food at night. I think we can do better.”
The Applied Materials Turkey Trot in San Jose, which has sponsored 2.2 million meals for Second Harvest Food Bank since 2013, is going virtual this year.
So you don’t have to drive over the hill to participate. This means all the registration dollars to go back to the community to provide meals.
Chris Wyler, the race director, thanked sponsors like Poly (formerly Plantronics) in Santa Cruz and residents who participate in the race.
“The last few months of all our lives have been a series of disappointments,” said Maggie Long, an Aptos High freshman in choir, speaking live from her bedroom.
“My choir family will always be there to support me,” she said. “We can all benefit from relaxing, listening to music and simply breathing in and breathing out.”
Next her choir came on, via Zoom, singing in beautiful harmony, “Breathe In, Breathe Out.”
Santa Cruz guitarist Alex Lucero followed, singing an original song, “Holding On.”
Among those holding on are Carina, a single mother with her young son Anthony, who appreciates the Second Harvest food distribution at the fairground.
“My work slowed down, my income changed,” she said. “It’s nice to know we don’t have to worry about fresh food.”
Luz Hernandez, a student at Cabrillo College and a single mom, lost her job. Then had to stay home to take care of her grandmother. She welcomes the food distributions, too.
Willy Elliott-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, advises, “Have fun with your holiday food drive, your positive energy is so contagious… Thank you for the holiday magic you’ll be creating.”
To help, go to www.thefoodbank.org