South Bay food banks seek more volunteers as demand for food resources grows during pandemic

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Providing food to half a million people every single month during the pandemic is a demand Second Harvest of Silicon Valley said it's never seen before.

CEO Leslie Bacho said the food bank operated just three distribution drive-thrus pre-pandemic and has since expanded to 130 locations.

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Unfortunately, she said Second Harvest of Silicon Valley is finding itself short of volunteers.

"We normally get volunteers from a lot of corporate groups. We normally have a lot of seniors at our distribution sites, we get volunteers from school groups," Bacho added. "And all of those volunteer sources have understandably gone down."

She explained distribution sites across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are operating at half of what they normally need.

Without adequate staffing, she said the volunteer shortage can put their services at risk.

"It just means people are going to have to wait a lot longer," she shared. "The drive-thru distribution goes much slower if we don't have the volunteers that we need. In our warehouse, it can mean we're not able to pack the number of boxes we need for that distribution the next day."

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She continued, "We are literally serving twice as many people. We're providing twice as much food as we were pre-pandemic, and we are really dependent on volunteers."

Bacho said at the warehouse, they have room for 65 volunteers each shift.

"We are open five days a week. We're now going to be open every weekday evening and on Saturday. Because of that, we need lots of volunteer support," Bacho told ABC7 News. "And then at our distribution sites, the need kind of varies by site."

According to Bacho, what's most startling about the pandemic is how many people were in need so quickly.

"More than half of the new people coming to us have never thought about the food assistance before," she shared.

Bacho said the food bank normally received about 180 calls per day, but as the pandemic hit they started getting 1,000 to 1,200 calls daily.

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"The holidays are especially hard when you are struggling to be able to afford food," she added. "It's a time that we all like to have special celebrations with our families. It's a time when we'd like to really come together around food. And that's why at the food bank, we are really doing everything we can to make sure that people have the foods that they need throughout the year, but especially during the holidays when we know how important these celebrations are."

A separate effort in San Jose partners the city with food truck and catering company, Off the Grid.

They've launched the San Jose COVID Food Relief Program, delivering free groceries and meals to those most at risk.

"The idea is to allow people who need to stay home and can't be around other people, the ability to do so," CEO and founder Matthew Cohen told ABC7 News.

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He said through the program, the boxes being delivered are filled with produce from local agricultural entrepreneurs, primarily from East San Jose.

"Our primary partner in helping to facilitate the grocery part of our program is a nonprofit called Veggielution that supports agricultural entrepreneurs from primarily East San Jose," he expanded. "They're a great organization. They're working with their entrepreneurs to help to assemble the boxes, and then they're tapping into local farmers, for the actual agriculture."

"The opportunity to be able to build a program that helps those communities at the same time that we're helping people who are in need, I think is totally unique," Cohen added.

In order to qualify for the program, Cohen said a main requirement is having been negatively affected by COVID-19 in some way.

"So one way might be that your age puts you at risk for COVID. Another way might be that you've been negatively impacted, you've lost hours at your job, or perhaps you've been furloughed or laid off," he told ABC7 News. "And it doesn't extend only to you, it can extend to your family as well. So as long as you're not receiving other food resources through another pathway, say, getting food from the food bank, you're totally able to qualify."

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After launching late last week, Cohen said nearly 1,000 people have already signed up for the program.

With the holidays on the horizon, he shared the program is funded through the end of the year.

"So we'll be doing all these grocery deliveries all through the holidays, until the end of the year. Then we'll see where it goes from there. But it should be a great way to be able to supplement and help people get through the holidays, when their lives might have been impacted in a negative way," Cohen said.

"It's free, entirely free to those people who qualify," he continued. "It's happening just in San Jose. The City of San Jose is supporting and funding it."

Cohen added, "I think people in San Jose should really feel really proud of their government for putting together a program that is really thoughtful and really seeks to meet people where they need the government to be- which is serving them at their homes. And trying to do it with really amazingly high quality food."

To volunteer with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, click here.

To enroll for the San Jose COVID Food Relief Program, click here.

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