Volunteers Fill Gaps with Food and Compassion

Every day is a busy day at the Second Harvest warehouse in Watsonville, but  Tuesdays through Thursdays it teems with activity as volunteers representing non-profit and church-based member agencies throughout Santa Cruz County arrive to pick up supplies for their meal and pantry services. Loading up carts with fresh produce and staple foods, they prepare menus on the fly, quickly calculating what they will be able to use and how much of it they will need.

Volunteers from Calvary Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz and the Church of the Nazarene in Watsonville were able to take a few minutes to chat about their programs.

Margo, Arleen, and Elaine from the Church of the Nazarene make a powerful team. Every morning they prepare meals at the church, which they bring to the Pajaro River levee to feed people in need. The meals typically include soup, cereal, milk, coffee and fruit. They also make sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos, adding salad whenever they are able. “We love the variety we get from Second Harvest,” says Margo.

Church of the Nazarene volunteers

They feed 30 people on average at the levee during the summer months. That number rises to 90 in the winter when less work is available and more people are in need of a hot meal. The ladies also bring food to the day laborers outside Home Depot in Watsonville where they feed anywhere from 10-25 people daily.

The Church of the Nazarene also has a food pantry, supplying emergency food on a monthly basis. They participate in Second Harvest’s Passion For Produce program, providing nutrition education and distributing fresh produce twice monthly. The church has also been housing four women who were displaced by the recent closing of the Salvation Army shelter in Watsonville, including Noreen, who was helping them shop on Thursday.

In the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, Calvary Episcopal Church serves a hot meal to more than 150 homeless people at their “coffee hour” every Monday. When there is a fifth Monday in the month, that number increases to 190.

Calvary volunteers

Husband and wife team from Calvary Episcopal, Chris and Russ, were just wrapping up their shopping when we had a chance to check in. Chris explained that volunteers, including homeless and former homeless people along with church members start arriving at noon to prepare the meal. She shared a story of one former homeless person who has been clean and sober for thirteen months and is now back in school. He has become a central member of the kitchen crew, helping to cook the meal each week.

Chris was planning to make shepherd’s pie for the following Monday, along with salad, at least one vegetarian option and apple cake. “We try to provide several options and treat people with dignity,” says Chris, explaining the careful planning and thought that goes into each week’s meal.

Any fruit that can’t be used immediately is prepped and frozen for future use. Nothing goes to waste. The church recently used an infrastructure grant from Second Harvest to purchase a new 17 cubic foot refrigerator. Calvary is one of sixteen  member agencies that were awarded this grant as a result of exceeding our Holiday Food Drive goal in 2011. We have the overwhelming generosity of our community to thank for that.

“The refrigerator was a miracle,” says Chris. “We had a very old refrigerator that had been donated and didn’t work well. It died hours before the new refrigerator arrived.”

Volunteers show off new refrigerator

Calvary is a member of the Associate Faith Community, which currently includes five churches. They provide 15-20 people a place to sleep for a night and breakfast. Chris is hoping the number of churches participating will soon grow to seven.

We hope you find these stories as inspiring as we do and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers who do whatever it takes to get the food in our warehouse to people who need it. It wouldn’t be possible without your hard work and dedication. Thank you!

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