A group of teachers from Watsonville High School stopped by Second Harvest this week. Their visit was part of an informational day planned by Jess Brown, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, to help them learn more about careers in the agriculture industry.
Second Harvest CEO, Willy Elliott-McCrea, led the group on a tour beginning with the front desk and hotline where staff members answer calls from people who are down to their last nickel and faced with an empty cupboard. “By the time they call us,” explained Willy, “people are really struggling.” The hotline provides the location of the nearest food distribution site and provides referrals to other services as needed. Last year, the hotline received 6,080 calls from people in need.
After pointing out that Second Harvest was the first food bank in California and the second in the nation, Willy explained how the food bank came into existence. He was working with a handful of people at the local Breakfast for Kids program when a local grower donated thousands of pounds of frozen cauliflower. They had to get on the phone and call programs throughout California to see if anyone else could use some cauliflower. This process of swapping excess and distributing it to folks in need began the transformation of parking lot program into the food bank we now know. Today, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) has 42 members.
Next, Willy explained where the food bank gets its food from and how it gets distributed. He talked about the success of such programs as Food For Children and Passion For Produce, which combine the distribution of healthy food with nutrition education and peer support. “We couldn’t do what we do without the generosity of the ag community and all the others that support our work through their donations,” Willy explained. “We’re all in this together, setting up the next generation for success.”
Last year, Second Harvest distributed close to 8M pounds of food, over 65% of which were fresh fruits and vegetables. Stopping for a moment to introduce Grace Galvan, Director of Agency Network Services, and the woman responsible for managing all this food, Willy asked, “What do you love most about your job?” Grace pointed to a wall of thank you notes from local kids and said, “The end result.”
Moving out of the offices and into the warehouse, Willy showed off the loading docks, cooler, and freezer—all of which play a critical role in enabling us to receive and distribute perishable food in a timely manner. Holding up a pear, Willy told the group Second Harvest purchases fruit for six cents per pound on average, paying only the packing fee. Other cost savings come from the number of volunteers that donate their time. Last year, there were 54,196 volunteer hours given.
The tour wrapped up in the Agency Distribution Area, where members of our 200 agencies and programs come to pick up food; most items are free, some have a small cost associated with them.
After the tour, Willy and Lynn Figone, Deputy Director of Ag Against Hunger spoke to the teachers about the myriad career opportunities in the agriculture industry. “You don’t have to be raised on a farm or ranch to get involved in ag,” explained Lynn. “There are all kinds of jobs, from transportation, to logistics, to science.”
“When I started working at the food bank, I didn’t think about it as being involved in the ag industry,” said Willy, who co-founded Ag Against Hunger with Jess Brown and Tim Driscoll to collect and distribute surplus produce, “But that’s how it turned out.”