Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 29th
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The Giving Keeps Going

newz_harvestSecond Harvest Food Bank, CAP Report, show that giving is strong, despite down economy

Sarah Owens, marketing director for New Leaf Community Markets, is getting ready to head to Watsonville. She and a handful of other New Leaf staff are taking turkeys to the United Farm Workers, just one of the groups that are receiving such a donation from the local natural food grocer this holiday season.

“I’m excited to go,” she says. “It’s definitely not in my job description, but giving to the United Farm Workers is really great because they are the ones working in our fields. It’s nice to give back to them.”

So far, New Leaf has donated more than 500 pounds of turkey breast to the Homeless Services Center and 150 turkeys to other organizations, including the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center. The store gives back in several other ways, including their Envirotokens program, community days (when 5 percent of the day’s sales go to a local organization), and their school program, which has given $150,000 to local schools. Although New Leaf has, like most businesses, seen some affects from the economic downturn, and has also seen two major competitors open this year, Owens says they “have remained strong and…are still able to give back to the community.”

“We’ve definitely had to cut back on some of our smaller, monthly donations, and focus on our larger donations,” she says. “We have to pick and choose more wisely now.”

Despite these changes, New Leaf, along with over 75 other local businesses, has chosen to participate in a new food drive of sorts this December—Second Harvest Food Bank’s Give a Little, Feed A Lot campaign.

Throughout the month of December, participating retailers will ask customers to donate $1 to Give A Little, Feed A Lot. The garnered donations will go to Second Harvest Food Bank, the county’s largest food service organization, where it will be used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as staple and protein foods. The food will then be distributed to the more than 180 agencies and organizations the Food Bank supplies.

Willy Elliot-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest, says they hope to raise $40,000 with the campaign. Together with their longstanding holiday food drive, new efforts like Santa Cruise and Food Drive, and countless other drives the food bank is sponsoring, they expect to raise at least two million pounds of food by the end of the year.

This task is complicated by one major factor: the economic recession.

“Hundreds of people who helped in the food drive last year are eating the donations this year,” says Elliot-McCrea. “We were serving 47,000 people a month, [and] we’re doing an average of 60,000 now.” He adds that Second Harvest’s demand is up 25 percent. This is standard for food service organizations as of late—other local organizations like Ag Against Hunger report a 30 to 50 percent increase in need of their services.

Elliot-McCrea says that local hunger is the worse he’s seen it in his 30 years working at the food bank. “It reminds me more of the [Loma Prieta] earthquake than of anything else,” he says. “After the earthquake, we received as much food in two weeks as we [normally] did in a year. What’s different is that after a couple of months things settled down. This ‘economic earthquake’ has been going on for 14 months.”

But there is hope for the hungry in our area and places that assist them, like Second Harvest: people and businesses, like New Leaf, still give when times are tough.

According to the 2009 Community Assessment Project (CAP) report, released on Nov. 23, giving has actually increased in Santa Cruz County in the last year. Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents said they regularly donate to charities, and the number who do regular volunteer work went from 40 percent in 2007 to 47 percent in 2009.

Accordingly, Second Harvest has seen larger commitment to giving this year than in years past. “We’ve seen a tremendous number of people volunteering,” says Elliot-McCrea, noting that over 50,000 volunteer hours have been logged at their warehouse alone.

There are 1,000 barrels (drop-offs for their holiday food drive) sprinkled throughout Santa Cruz this year, up from 600 last year. UC Santa Cruz, a longtime participant, hopes to exceed its goal of 30,000 pounds of food raised. Twin Lakes Church in Aptos has “raised the bar,” according to Elliot-McCrea, by setting the record for the most food donated to the drive by any organization or business—400,000 pounds in 2008. As of press time, the church had collected more than 337,000 pounds of food through food and cash donations, the equivalent of 543,713 meals. “It is amazing to think that this is enough to feed every single person in the whole county—and most of them would be able to come back for seconds!” says Twin Lakes Pastor Rene Schlaepfer.

In addition, Elliot-McCrea says Give A Little, Feed A Lot has been met with a huge response. They hope that the $1 dollar requested donation is a reasonable amount for most people to contribute, although larger donations will also be accepted. “Nobody is able to do as much as they were able to in the past, so we just need everybody to do a little bit,” he says. In this case, a little really does go a long way: Second Harvest can distribute 6.5 pounds of food for every dollar they receive, which equates to five meals or enough to feed a family of five, according to USDA calculations.

“There is a general understanding that if we are going to get through this down economy we really have to stick together,” he says. “Every one of us knows people who are unemployed. If we get a cup of coffee instead of a latte, if we make a tiny little sacrifice, we can help someone who is hurting more than we are.”

Neither the food bank nor participating businesses can predict the success of the first annual drive, but if the CAP Report findings are any indicator, it’s going to be a holiday hit. In Owens’ opinion, the effort will be worth it even if the new drive doesn’t meet its goals in monetary or food collections. “This is a good opportunity for Second Harvest to tell everyone their story, and say ‘this is what we do and how we connect right into your neighborhood,’” she says. “Even the awareness, if anything, will be a great outcome of this.”

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