SJ food pantries worry demand for food won't be met if city, county stop pandemic funding

The pantries say the city and county funding that has aided them during the pandemic is set to expire at the end of 2021.

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Saturday, November 13, 2021
SJ food pantries fear demand won't be met if COVID funding stops
Food pantries in San Jose worry that when pandemic aid ends at the end of the year, they will struggle to meet demands of families in need.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The County of Santa Clara and City of San Jose allocated funding to food service providers in the South Bay to help keep up with the unprecedented need during the pandemic to feed the most vulnerable communities.

The funding is set to stop at the end of this year, but Martha's Kitchen and Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen worry loss of funding could result in the lack of food access to only get worse.

"What we saw over the start of the pandemic is a problem that was already significant prior to the pandemic, simply be magnified," Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen CEO Gisela Bushey said. "In our case, it was magnified three-fold."

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Loaves & Fishes and Martha's Kitchen in San Jose provided more than 2 million meals throughout the pandemic.

They normally operate on private funding, but the city of San Jose and County of Santa Clara provided $1 million in American Rescue Plan funds to each of them to help with the pandemic burden.

The contract provided will expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

"We don't want to get to the place where we have to start deciding who we can serve and who we can't," Bushey said.

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"The food need is very dire and it's all over, and that's what's really amazing," Martha's Kitchen Exec. Director Bill Lee said.

As this map created by our data team indicates, the issue is truly widespread. Nearly 80 areas in the San Jose metro area of low income also have low food access.

Graph not displaying correctly? Click here to open in a new window.

This highlights the importance of the grant funds to these food pantries.

"The reality is, while the pandemic may be winding down from hospitalizations and deaths from COVID, our numbers aren't decreasing," Bushey said. "Our numbers continue to go up."

"As much as we wish that our services weren't needed and these people didn't need help with food, they do," Lee said. Until things change, to pull the plug and abandon them and leave them without food resources is just a frightening and horrible thought."

We reached out to the county and city for comment.

The City of San Jose says:

"The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis exacerbated existing inequalities. At the request of the County of Santa Clara in March 2020, the City assumed countywide food services to feed our most vulnerable communities - our children, seniors, and the unhoused. All of our food service contracts end on December 31, 2021. On November 30, the City Council will discuss the use of the American Rescue Plan funds to the end of June 30, 2022 with possible extensions for several food service providers including Loaves and Fishes."

The County of Santa Clara says:

"The County, City of San Jose, other cities and agencies have been coordinating and funding higher levels of food assistance in response to the pandemic and the recovery. This continues to be a priority policy area for the County. However, contracted services are periodically evaluated and modified. Loaves and Fishes and Martha's Kitchen are currently under contract with the City of San Jose. We are meeting with these and other organizations to firm up plans for the remainder of the fiscal year."