Written by Chris Ryan
By Holiday Food & Fund Drive Co-Chairs Dr. Nan Mickiewicz and Jess Brown. Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel Jan. 1, 2017.
Jeff Simpson is a hard-working guy. He does maintenance for affordable housing properties, full time, and since his rent eats up over 60% of his paycheck, he finds handyman work on weekends. His rent is about to go up another 20%, so he may have to move. He found a unit available above a garage, but it needs renovating, and he’d have to do it himself. He’s about to turn 60.
At Second Harvest Food Bank, we’re hearing such stories more and more. People who have built their lives in Santa Cruz County, who work hard, often for long hours, finding themselves unable to afford necessities like shelter and food. They’re facing choices like moving into an illegal granny unit, cutting back even further on food or medication, or moving out of the community where they built their lives.
First the housing bubble of the mid-2000s made shelter harder to afford. Then the Great Recession put many out of work or put them close to the edge. And now the economy is improving, but few workers are seeing the benefits.
Fortunately, though Jeff is not eligible for CalFresh, the County’s first line of defense against hunger, he does have access to a program that brings fruits, vegetables, and healthy portions of advice on cooking and nutrition to low-income families. “Passion For Produce” fills a crucial need in the community, bringing nutritious foods to families that normally can’t afford them, and the social support to make healthy lifestyles stick.
Because when hard choices cause people to fill up on cheap calories or skip meals, they can’t do their jobs well, and their children can’t concentrate in school. Productivity drops, social problems increase, the health care system gets overwhelmed, costs rise for everyone—the effects ripple outward. Together Second Harvest’s Passion For Produce and CalFresh Outreach programs are more than a safety net for families — they are a safety net for the whole community.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Jeff is attending the bi-weekly Passion For Produce session at Neary Lagoon Co-Op Housing, one of 30 Passion For Produce sites around the county. Amid boxes of celery, carrots, pears, oranges, and more, AmeriCorps volunteer Josie Thomas leads a group discussion on health and obesity. Then the participants select some healthy produce to take home and prepare for their families.
Jeff relies on the food and nutrition he gets here, but he doesn’t want it for free, so despite the long hours he already works, he volunteers another eight hours a month for the program he knows is so critical.
Would he rather not have to rely on it? Would he rather that the work he does fixing appliances, solving plumbing problems, and keeping people’s houses and apartments in good working order allow him to cover the rent and buy enough food?
Of course. But until we find ways to make Santa Cruz County a more affordable place to live for everyone who works so hard to make it the wonderful place it is, the community will still need The Food Bank—and The Food Bank will still need you.