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Debra Kennedy & Dick Peixoto: 2019’s Hunger Fighters of the Year

Debra Kennedy, Lifelong Volunteer

Debra was raised in Washington D.C., the youngest of 4 girls. Her husband, William, was also from back east, and his career in the Army transferred them to The Presidio in San Francisco until William retired from the service. They were offered relocation assistance to anywhere in the United States, and the couple chose rural Watsonville, California.

This was about 50 years ago when there were only a few houses on their street. Debra and William raised four children – all of whom went to Aptos High School — in the home that Debra still lives in today. The young family had animals and they grew their own vegetables. Debra enjoyed raising her children there while also working for the phone company, where she worked for 30 years.

William and Debra joined All Saints Episcopal Church, which serves both English and Spanish-speaking parishioners. They became members of the Vestry, and volunteered to serve meals to homeless people. In the beginning, the program was held at the church, and then later it relocated to the armory, which, at that time, was near the Watsonville Airport. For about 20 years, Debra and William fed the homeless through that program, and then William signed them both up to volunteer with the Salvation Army.

Every Tuesday night for the past 35 years, Debra has been the captain of a team, which provides 75-100 meals to the hungry each week. As she steps down from her leadership role with the Salvation Army, her smile and her dedication will be missed by everyone who has known her through her involvement with the community.

Knowing first-hand about all of her years of volunteering, Debra was nominated by members of her church. Words such as “faithful, “valuable”, and “selfless” were used to describe her.

Debra’s unwavering commitment to serving others resonated with the Selection Committee. “What a heart!” said Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County. “For a person to be so giving for so many years is incredibly special. If anyone deserves to be Hunger Fighter of the Year, it’s Debra Kennedy.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County is pleased to award Debra Kennedy the 2019 Hunger Fighter of the Year Award for her outstanding dedication to her community and for her decades of service helping the hungry.

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Dick Peixoto, Lakeside Organic Gardens

Dick Peixoto, the man behind Lakeside Organic Gardens, is being honored as Hunger Fighter of the Year for his generous contributions to Second Harvest Food Bank and to his community. In addition to the food bank, he has donated to numerous other local non-profit organizations, shelters, cancer support networks, scholarships, and resources for youth and their families.

A native of the Pajaro Valley, Dick’s interest in agriculture began with his grandfather, who emigrated from the Azores in Portugal. The elder Peixoto started a potato farm here in the valley, and later on, his son, Dick’s father, became the commercial fertilizer and chemical supplier for the majority of the valley’s farmers.

As a young man, Dick started out as a conventional farmer and then later converted to organic farming. Today Lakeside Organic Gardens is the largest family-owned solely organic vegetable farm in the United States. The company’s earth-friendly practices keep local honeybees safe and protect the fragile ecosystems of the wildlife refuges, state and national parks and wetlands that are on or near Lakeside’s land.

Lakeside Organic Gardens is a family business, which includes Dick’s wife, Marisela, and their three children; Rickey, who is a tractor operator for Lakeside, Amanda, who works in accounting, and his eldest daughter, Ashley, who helped Dick start The California Grill.

The California Grill is the family’s restaurant in Watsonville. All of the restaurant’s organic vegetables are grown by Lakeside Organic Gardens, and the daily menu features fresh meats, breads, desserts and juices, all sourced from local suppliers.

Local is what it’s all about for Dick. The Pajaro Valley has been good to him and he wants to return the favor.  “I have always felt very fortunate to be part of this community,” says Dick. “So, when things began to go well for Lakeside, I wanted to give back, to ‘pay it forward’”. His charitable giving focuses on local non-profits like the food bank, Jacob’s Heart, the Katz Cancer Resource Center at Dominican Hospital, and Monarch Shelter Services. Dick believes that when the quality of life of individuals is improved, the community as a whole becomes stronger.

As he looks ahead to the future, Dick envisions developing a learning center that would focus on agriculture, specifically organic and sustainable farming.
“There are so many great things happening in farming right now. The interest in organic food has never been higher, and there is all kinds of high-tech equipment. A lot of kids don’t think about going into farming, but we really need them. I’m imagining a place where we can educate young people and show the public what farming all about.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County is pleased to award Dick Peixoto the 2019 Hunger Fighter of the Year Award for his incredible generosity to the community. The food bank is grateful for his sponsorship, his financial support, and the hundreds of thousands of pounds of food that he has donated which have provided over 4 million healthy meals for families, veterans, children and seniors in our local community.