Second Harvest’s Community Food Hotline, in operation since 1989, provides information and support to Santa Cruz County residents in need of food. The outreach team typically answers 400-500 calls each month—with peak times occurring in the winter and early spring months—when less work in the area increases hardship.
Hotline Outreach Coordinator, Erika Flores, says a lot of the calls are from people new to the area. Others have lost their jobs or have a medical condition that is preventing them from working. Many are frustrated and upset at their inability to find work. She does her best to calm them, looking up the nearest food distribution site, and providing street-by-street directions. It could be one of Second Harvest’s direct food distribution locations for families, or one of the non-profits or churches in our network with food assistance programs.
“We’re here to help,” explains Erika. “But it takes an emotional toll. You feel so bad for people and you try to do whatever you can to help them. Sometimes you just need to listen and let them get it off their chest.”
“We work really well as a team,” she adds. The Outreach team maintains a resource binder with up-to-date information on assistance programs in the area. They are able to refer callers to other agencies for specialized assistance. For example, if a person is too ill or doesn’t have transportation to a food distribution site, they will refer them to Grey Bears or Meals on Wheels (or make the call for them if necessary). They also provide information, pre-screening and assistance in applying for CalFresh benefits.
In January 2014, the hotline received an unprecedented 664 calls. Of those calls, the largest number of referrals went to Pajaro Valley Loaves & Fishes a community supported food pantry and kitchen located in Watsonville. The pantry provides a hot meal at midday Monday through Friday, year-round, as well as staple foods and fresh produce through their pantry program. The second-most referred pantry was Our Lady Star of the Sea on Frederick Street in Santa Cruz. They provide a weekly meal and also maintain a pantry.
“Sometimes when I get home from work, I find myself thinking about the people I have talked to and I have to sit in the car for a few minutes to collect myself before I go inside.” Remembering the time she drove to a neighborhood in Santa Cruz to bring formula to a woman with a four month old, Erika says, “Things like that stay with you.”
“It gets stressful, but at the end of the day, I know I have helped someone.” Brooke Sampson, Chief Operations & Programs Officer, notes, “It is incredibly stressful for people to reach out for help too, especially the first time. Erika and the outreach team do an amazing job of providing assistance in a compassionate and respectful way.”
The Community Food Hotline operates 8:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday-Friday, and provides information and referrals in English and Spanish.
Information is available on:
- Neighborhood pantries
- USDA food distributions
- Food For Children distributions
- Hot meal kitchens
- Summer lunch sites
- CalFresh and WIC
- Covered California (ACA)
- Healthy Families, Healthy Kids and MediCal
- Help with Utilities
- Voter Registristration