SJ nonprofit provides seedlings to struggling families, bicyclists volunteer to make special deliveries

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- As shelter-in-place orders remain across the Bay Area, nonprofit organizations like Valley Verde in San Jose are hoping to help build new habits and encourage better health.

Specific to those currently out-of-work, or living in low-income households, the effort starts from the ground up.

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"It's really been a mission of ours to really try and explain the concept of food sovereignty to our families," Valley Verde Exec. Dir. Raul Lozano said. "To take a hold of your own future and how you grow your food, and how you manage it and put it in your own hands."

Lozano said, during the pandemic, Valley Verde has already put between 10 to 12 spring seedling varieties in the hands of those needing help.

He explained hundreds of households fall into that category, from all across the region.

Lozano explained, "I talked to my staff to ask them, 'Do you think we could grow enough seedlings to support 500 families with enough seedlings so they can grow a healthy garden?"

His staff said it would be possible.

Using the seedlings, provided at no cost, families are expected to grow their own vegetable gardens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They're going to get some tomato plants - seedlings, they're going to get cucumbers, they're going to get zucchini," Lozano said. "They're going get chili, they're going to get seeds - radish, lettuce..."

The effort sparked a special partnership between the nonprofit and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC).

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The partnership provides a way to cover more ground as families struggle to navigate today's normal.

"We were really trying to figure out, as a bike coalition, what could we do to help," SVBC Exec. Dir. Shiloh Ballard said. "What is the role that bicyclists can do to help stem the pandemic?"

In the first distribution, 50 riders delivered seedlings to more than 100 families.

"I was really concerned that maybe we might get 15 to 20 volunteers," Ballard admitted.

However, Ballard said it only took one week for 150 volunteers to reach out about riding. In the end, they had to turn down 100 riders.

Both Ballard and Lozano expect far more families will be helped in the second distribution, this upcoming weekend.

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"Our folks will just show up. They pick up their seedlings, they pick up the addresses of the families that they're going to be delivering to, and off they go," Ballard said.

In the end, the effort will help 500 families through drive-thru seedling distribution and special deliveries by SVBC.

Lozano said in addition to seedlings, Valley Verde also provides soil, raised beds and drip irrigation.

"What we're trying to do is help them become self-sufficient," he explained. "So they hopefully go in their backyards, plant their gardens and hopefully this is not a one-time thing for these families. We're hoping that they continue to garden."

He said Valley Verde is considering partnering up in the winter months to do the same for those interested in planting winter gardens.

In a note to those who visit the Valley Verde website, the organization explained, " To qualify: Your household MUST BE low-income OR struggling financially due to COVID-19. You MUST HAVE roughly 4ft x 8ft space in your house that receives a minimum of 6 hours of sun to plant and grow your seedlings.

If you qualify: Text (408) 831-1481 the following information: Your full name, phone number, email, home address and if you prefer pick-up or delivery."

Registration will remain open until May 19.

For more information, click here.

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