Volunteers are a crucial component in what we do at the Food Bank. Prior to the pandemic, Second Harvest, and its 190 partner agencies and nutrition distribution sites were powered by over 3,000 volunteers. Volunteers sorted, packed, and distributed over 8 million pounds of food each year. With the onset of the pandemic mid-March 2020, the need for food doubled within days, while the volunteer workforce sharply dropped off as residents complied with stay-at-home orders. The increase in need, and the necessity to safely distribute food to the community in a safe manner required a major reorganization of efforts.
Within a week, Second Harvest was able to add large scale distribution locations for community members who either didn’t have a nutrition home or lost their location because of the pandemic and lack of volunteers. Pre-pandemic, agencies and recipients were able to select food ‘farmers’ market style’, but that changed to prepacked produce and pantry items allowing for contact-less and safer food distribution.
Strategically located in the north and south ends of the county, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz County Fair Grounds were converted into high-volume, drive-through food distribution centers. Each center required over 60 people to run effectively and often managed with half that number due to limited volunteer availability.
With a shortage of volunteers, the governor’s orders deploying members of California National Guard came as a needed relief to the food bank staff and remaining volunteers. National Guard members were invaluable as they packed, sorted, and helped distribute food. National Guard staffing was recently discontinued at the end of March 2022. As the National Guard assistance has drawn down, the number of volunteers remains far lower than pre-pandemic levels. Moving out of the pandemic, the need for new volunteers remains high. In order to meet food bank and agency needs going forward, we’re calling on interested community members to contact Second Harvest and find volunteer activities in their neighborhood.
Volunteering at Second Harvest fosters a deeper connection to the community, a sense of mission and purpose, and contributes to overall happiness. There are volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups. Volunteers can sign up for a single shift, or an on-going basis. For more information www.TheFoodBank.org/volunteer or email [email protected].