Second Harvest’s farmers market model provides food and dignity

On this particular afternoon, Diana Bacho is strolling past a row of food, picking out the best for her family. She selects a plastic container of strawberries, a treat that she’ll use to make agua fresca and fries with crema for her three children. She balances it out with vegetables — carrots and sweet potatoes — plus a whole chicken to prepare chicken tinga or serve with mole. It’s a shopping trip like thousands of other moms and dads make in Silicon Valley. But this isn’t food from Safeway or Lunardi’s. She’s in the parking lot of Santee Elementary School, picking up a weekly supply of groceries together with more than 300 other people from one of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s farmers market-style distribution centers. Clients receive lean protein like chicken and ground turkey, as well as eggs, dairy, pasta, rice, beans and other dry goods. The week Bacho was there, the produce options included lettuce and squash and a bounty of Driscoll’s strawberries — donations from an unexpectedly strong harvest this summer. “It helps, especially right now because of inflation,” said Bacho, who brought along the younger two of her three daughters, 14-year-old Kaylee, 7-year-old Keyla and 2-year-old Kendra. “This helps my family eat at least for two or three days a week, and alleviates the pressure of spending money on groceries.” Kendra Bacho, 2, nibbles on fresh carrots as her mother, Diana Bacho, picks up groceries at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s giveaway, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in San Jose, California. The family is among the 450,000 people each month who receive free groceries from Second Harvest. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) Wish Book readers can help Second Harvest support the high need for food assistance in our community. The food bank distributes food free of cost to low-income clients at more than 900 program locations throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. The $30,000 in requested donations will be used to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains — enough for 60,000 meals. Among its distribution points and partner agencies, Second Harvest is at 81 K-12 schools, several community colleges and 50 affordable housing sites. “Generally we’re trying to locate our services where people are already going and are comfortable and are 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 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Second Harvest was providing groceries for 250,000 people every month. That number doubled as people lost their jobs — after all, no one needed office janitorial staff when people weren’t coming to work — or stayed home to provide childcare for kids who were suddenly locked out of classrooms. With her two youngest daughters Keyla, 7, and Kendra, 2, in tow, Diana Bacho picks up groceries at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s giveaway, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in San Jose, California. Bacho is one of the 450,000 people each month who receive free groceries from Second Harvest. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) Leslie Bacho said Santee Elementary was the last food distribution site she visited before shelter-in-place rules went into effect in 2020, and she realized their model would have to change. With amazing speed, Second Harvest shifted its distribution to pre-boxed groceries that people could drive up to receive without contact. That provided a level of safety when infection fears were at their peak and was also more convenient as it allowed clients to get their food without leaving their cars. But it left clients little choice about what they received and sometimes families ended up with items they wouldn’t use. The CEO said sites have returned to the farmers market style as soon as possible. “This is our ideal method, folks being able to select what they want,” she said. And it’s a lot more empowering for all of us who want to be able to choose what we need. While the number of COVID-19 infections in Santa Clara County has waned, the economic effects of the pandemic linger. In September, Second Harvest was still providing meals for 450,000 people a month — about 80 percent more than before COVID. The slow recovery for huge swaths of the community — coupled with rising inflation — have left untold numbers of families looking for any relief they can find. With her two youngest daughters Keyla, 7, and Kendra, 2, in tow, Diana Bacho picks up groceries at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley’s giveaway, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in San Jose, California. Bacho is one of the 450,000 people each month who receive free groceries from Second Harvest. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) That was where Diana Bacho found herself. 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 shelter-in-place regulations, her husband was out of work for four months, leaving them unable to pay rent for the one-bedroom San Jose apartment they’ve lived in for the past 10 years or to repair. their car. Both she and her husband are working again, but the accumulated debt and rising costs took their toll, and she reached out for help from Second Harvest, registering for food distribution at the elementary school her middle daughter attends. Leslie Bacho said that in some ways, this moment seems to be 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 with one car breakdown or one rent increase away from being in serious trouble. Nearly three-quarters 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 height of the pandemic,” she said. “So many of those pandemic benefits have gone away and people are now facing months of lost income so they’ve been financially devastated. When we think about the future, we expect this need is going to continue now for a long time.” THE WISH BOOK SERIES Wish Book is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by The Mercury News. Since 1983, Wish Book has been producing a series of stories during the holiday season that highlight the wishes of those in need and invite readers to help fulfill them. WISHDonations will help Second Harvest purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains — enough for 60,000 meals — and distribute the food free of cost to low-income clients at more than 900 program sites throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Goal: $30,000 HOW TO GIVEDonate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail in the coupon. ONLINE EXTRARead other Wish Book stories, view photos and video at wishbook.mercurynews.com.

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